ScienceGuide talked with Terry Aladjem, Executive Director at Harvard's
Derek Bok Center, before next week's Roosevelt/Harvard seminar on excellent teaching. He says that
major developments in technology and our understanding of learning
will redefine the way we teach. This would be a great opportunity
for teachers themselves to "reclaim and redefine the mission of
What are your expectations regarding the upcoming
Roosevelt/Harvard seminar and the exchange you will have with your
Last year we had a wonderfully collegial exchange with our Dutch
collaborators, and expect to do so again! We learn a great deal
from these interactions, and we have found that the faculty of the
Netherlands have thought deeply about teaching and have received
many sorts of training that they bring to a conversation like this.
An international exchange about teaching can spark many ideas and I
expect the week will be inspiring and eye opening.
Which new priorities/challenges are coming to the
forefront in your work on excellent teaching at
Of course we are facing a new frontier in which online learning
and digital media are changing the landscape of higher education.
This is compelling educators to rethink their mission and
reconceive their best practices. Even the great research
universities like Harvard are being challenged to redefine
excellence and to be more deliberate in generating their curricula
and classroom practices. Our new program in General Education at Harvard
for example is launching numerous innovative courses that engage
students in different ways, as it is focused more deliberately on
their present and future engagement with the world. This is a
challenging time for all of us, but also an exciting one that is
ripe with new opportunities.
How will you address this here in
We will focus on two principles of teaching excellence that are
borne out by research:
1.) Designing courses based on learning objectives that are
intelligently thought out by faculty-something that many teachers
do already in the Netherlands.
2.) Active learning, or the principle that students actually
learn best from what they do (as cognitive science tells us) even
in a classroom. We will have sessions with our Dutch colleagues on
course design, and we will engage in a practice we call
micro-teaching to closely examine and critique one another's
classroom practices. These exercises are bound to make us all more
reflective about what we do.
Is teaching professors about excellent teaching
different from teaching students in a classroom?
We are fortunate to be working with a group of highly
experienced faculty. A great deal of what we do will involve
drawing upon their expertise, discussing its virtues and thinking
about how we might capitalize on and improve it. You can do
something similar in teaching students, but re-imagining the best
practices of teaching with experienced faculty is a distinctive
How does the Derek Bok Center affect teachers at
We work with faculty and others teaching at Harvard at all
Senior professors planning a course may work
with us to think through effective assignments or elements of
course design. We have a seminar on designing the courses of the
future for graduate students, who will be the faculty of the
future, in which participants explore the research on teaching and
think deeply about the practice. This has begun to affect the
entire teaching community at Harvard, and to stimulate a broader
conversation. The Center has become a place to which more and more
faculty want to come to have that conversation in a way that makes
it clear that the Center truly belongs to them.
How do you translate your findings into real
Translation is indeed the challenge, it is one thing to say that
research tells us that active learning works, and quite another to
discover how to make it happen. Our website is full of good advice. We create
events in which experts on teaching share their findings with
Harvard faculty and deans. In an initiative launched by the
Dean of our faculty, Michael D. Smith, we have created a series of
short films of excellent teachers at Harvard, which we hope will
inspire all who teach here to reflect on the best practices of
teaching and to experiment with new things. There are other big
things happening at Harvard that are exciting thinking about
teaching: a very large gift to fund the President's Harvard
Initiative for Learning and Teaching (HILT); a partnership with MIT to put courses
online. These projects will involve all of us
who care about teaching and change the practice in our classrooms,
and will inspire others who don't have such resources.
Liberal Arts are growing increasingly popular in the Netherlands with 6 colleges set
up already. What do you think can the Netherlands learn from
American style liberal arts degrees???
At its best, liberal arts education produces independent
thinkers who are well-rounded, quick learners who have transferable
skills to offer any future employer. They are learned people with
the breadth of knowledge and will also be well-informed citizens.
Specialization is highly important for the education of our youth
and the young adults of the Netherlands, but so is the opportunity
to think broadly and deeply that is afforded by liberal arts
education. It is not my place to say what should be done in your
country, but I do believe that both kinds of education are
The next International Summit on the Teaching Profession
will take place in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. What is your main
message to the world regarding what excellent teaching looks
We are at a crossroads at which the conveyance of knowledge
through the Internet requires us to reimagine what we do as
teachers. There is a great opportunity for our faculties to reclaim
and redefine the mission of higher education. We must be more
deliberate in the design of our courses and curricula, thinking
freshly about the learning objectives we have for our students, and
we must find innovative ways to engage them through active
learning. I think we should not be afraid to try new things and
that we should bring our natural talents as researchers to bare on
our own efforts to educate our students so that we become truly
reflective practitioners of teaching.
This week, ScienceGuide publishes a series of articles on
the Roosevelt Academy workshop on teaching excellence. Follow our
reports on this event via Twitter or www.ScienceGuide.eu.
To stay up-to-date with latest developments in teaching,