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Committee on Pedagogical Improvement- Meeting Summary, 12-1-08


The full Committee on Pedagogical Improvement met for the first time since adding new members on Monday, December 1. The committee is composed of 3 subcommittees: assessment, peer review, and learning spaces. Each subcommittee chair presented what the subcommittee has worked on so far and its goals for the academic year. Below is a compiled list of what was discussed.

Learning Spaces

General Issues On Which to Focus:

  • Access to Power
  • Blackboards vs. Whiteboards
  • Internet Access

Classroom Design Issue

  • Projectors over blackboards
  • Walk through of rooms to figure out what works best (SC rooms)

Goals for the year

  • Document to describe issues with space
  • Prioritized list of short-term vs. long-term goals
  • Statement to get Faculty and students involved

Peer Support

  • Support vs. review aspect
    • Needs to be support to get support (haha) from faculty
  • Peer Support groups consist of 2-3 faculty each, observe class rooms
  • Reports would be written up
    • Should they go into faculty dossiers?
  • Also write-up executive summary about course (as opposed to professor)

Goals for the year

  • Review series of models to choose best way to implement peer support
  • Need recommendation of fundamental principles of PS


  • Expand quantitative assessment beyond CUE
    • Perhaps add another quantitative number that would work w/ CUE
  • Need better way to use the data that we have
  • Concept tests (basic tests to test fundamental knowledge)
    • Grades ≠ learning

Goals for the year

  • Need something to give Mike at end of spring with lots of statistics about how best to implement assessment


January meeting has been cancelled in favor of subcommittee meetings. Next full committee meeting is Feb. 8, 2009.

Committee on Writing and Speaking- Meeting Summary, 11-21-08


The committee discussed the new Writing Intensive Program, where certain courses will be designated “Writing Intensive” and receive an assurance for smaller sections and more TFs as a perk.  The committee discussed the publicity process for this new program, looked over a letter sent out to faculty members, and discussed ideas such as sending another email in December, emailing Head TFs, pulicizing through the Bok center, house writing tutors, and departmental writing fellows, designating “Writing Intenseive” in the course catalog, and going door-to-door to visit directors of undergraduate studies.  Additionally, the committee discussed the idea of, within this program, developping Graduate positions in the Writing Center, where Graduate students are assigned to a Writing Intensive course as a liaison and support.

The committee then discussed principles and questions about expos.  The discussion began with sentiments that the writing center has gathered from science faculty, who are concerned that students are not coming in with the skills necessary to write in their discipline, but at the same time do not want freshmen to rush ahead, and wish them to have a humanities-based background in foundational writing.  Some of the suggestions were diversifying course topics, having advanced graduate students collaborate with preceptors teaching a social science or science topic in order to assist with the content (i.e. informed papers).  The committee went on to discuss the merits of foundation vs. specialization, in terms of the assignments and syllabus in an expos class.  Some of the points raised were that in many expos classes, data is not evidence, but rather texts and close readings are evidence- this is often a problem for students who then go into the social sciences.  Some pointed out that there need to be more diversity in assignments, to have for example at least one assignment that is on cause and effect and testing a theory.

The committee then discussed the idea of combining expos classes with Gen Ed classes.  Jay Harris spoke and said that one of the best things to do might be to have certain expos sections for students in very freshmen heavy, problem set oriented classes like Life Science 1A and Ec10.  The idea is that this would expand the discipline and help students who wish to see how to apply the skills they are gaining in those classes on a wider level.  The committee thought it might be good to look into the possibility of a pilot experiment, there is, understandably, some hesitation from the science and econ professors in terms of student burnout.  The committee also wishes to look more closely at peer institutions who do this.

Library Committee- Meeting Summary, 11-4-08


After a brief discussion of the September meeting’s minutes and general minuting procedure, Robert Darnton, chair of the committee and head of Harvard University Library, talked for a bit about the current situation with Google. A class action suit was filed against Google for the Google Book Search project, and a settlement was proposed at the end of October. Professor Darnton wrote a letter to library employees detailing Harvard’s objections to the settlement, which he said was misrepresented in The Crimson. Rather than rejecting the settlement, as The Crimson reported, Harvard simply has not endorsed the settlement at present. Stanford, University of Michigan, and University of California schools have endorsed the settlement. Harvard continues to allow Google to copy Harvard library books that are out of copyright.
The committee also discussed Electronic Document Delivery (EDD), also known as “Scan and Deliver.” One aim of this program is to decrease recalls of items from the Harvard Depository. It will allow those with Harvard IDs and PINs to order scanned excerpts from books at any library (including HD), with relatively short turnaround. Patrons will request the excerpts in the HOLLIS catalog and download them from a secure, PIN-accessible site (so copyright will not be an issue). The possibility of using EDD for entire classes was brought up, but that’s not part of the plan right now, as providing the excerpts to multiple users at the same time would require paying royalties. The program will be available in the spring, after some delays.
The initial discussion about the state of the College’s science libraries was next. Strictly speaking, Cabot and Tozzer libraries are the only College science libraries, but within the University Library, there are many, and they have a somewhat convoluted organizational structure. Especially with the new emphasis on interdisciplinary work within the sciences, this structure may no longer be optimal. The committee discussed general improvements to the science libraries, including more involvement of librarians in instruction. The committee discussed the importance of faculty and student input, but this probably does not mean a student survey (at least not yet), because there is a perception that undergraduates are experiencing a “survey fatigue” of sorts. Brittney asked whether HCL is considering renovating Cabot Library study space, given the library’s well-worn appearance. Nancy Cline, the Librarian of Harvard College, said that HCL was aware of requests to renovate the space, but HCL faces the challenge that Cabot is housed in an FAS, not HCL, building and does not have endowed funds of its own (unlike parts of Lamont and Widener) for its upkeep.
The final agenda item was the HCL budget, which the committee had previously discussed in September. Nancy Cline, the Librarian of Harvard College, outlined further information about the budget, specifically expenditures on monographs and serials, both print and electronic. The Library’s year-to-year funding is quite unpredictable, due to bequests and market fluctuations affecting the endowment. With the ongoing trend towards electronic media, most journals are now charging a larger, base fee for their electronic version, and a nominal or nonexistent fee for the print one, a flip of what they did in the past. This means Harvard Libraries are able to combine their electronic subscriptions while retaining their own print subscriptions, saving money. They are working to standardize serial subscription.

General Education Committee- Meeting Summary 10-23-08


The full General Education committee met on the morning of Thursday, October 23rd; John Sheffield and I were present, as Shreya Maheshwari had a scheduling conflict with a midterm exam. The Committee approved Science B-35: The Habitable Planet for Science of the Physical Universe, Life and Physical Sciences A for Science of Living Systems, and Childhood: Its History, Philosophy and Literature for both Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding and Culture and Belief.

The committee also discussed how the Gen Ed requirements will work for transfer and advanced standing students. The Committee felt it needed more information, and so a decision was postponed to a future meeting.


Daniel Asher

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