Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Framing discussion as a three-way conversation

By framing class discussions as a three-way conversation between authors, students, and herself, Jane Mansbridge broadens and enlivens students’ interaction with course material. This clever framing encourages students to consider the author’s point of view, place his/her writing in historical context, and uncover assumptions that underpin the author’s argument. Framing discussions this way can be an especially powerful technique for instructors teaching historical texts. When done well, it is almost as if the authors are present in the classroom.

Designing focused discussions for relevance and transfer of knowledge

“When am I ever going to use this?” is a question more commonly asked in grade school classrooms than in undergraduate and graduate school ones, but instructors in higher education often consider the relevance and transferability of their course material nonetheless. To ensure that her course content is relevant and useful to students’ lives, Jane Mansbridge centers class material around transferable, real-world takeaways. In this video, she describes how by doing so, she gives her students “tools” she hopes they will take with them forever.

Circulating the room to elicit participation

Although the physical setup of a classroom typically points toward a lectern or podium, moving around the space intentionally can send important nonverbal signals to students. In this video, Dan Levy describes how he rarely stays “tethered to the front of the room,” especially when trying to elicit participation, stimulate debate, or encourage a particular student to venture deeper on a particular point.

Providing wait-time for students to process and gain confidence

Silence in the classroom can feel uncomfortable for students and instructors alike, but processing information takes time. Waiting for several seconds after asking a question so that students, particularly introverted ones, are able to gather their thoughts before responding is proven to expand participation and improve the quality of student responses. In this video, Bob Kegan and Dan Levy discuss their strategies for using wait-time in the classroom, which Levy calls “one of the most underused weapons that an instructor has at his/her disposal.”

Using the iPad for interactive problem solving

In a conventional lecture class, an instructor typically finds out whether students have learned the material only after it has been assessed, which can happen days, weeks, even months after the material was presented. But particularly in a class that demands mathematical reasoning skills, inviting students to show their thinking publicly during class allows the instructor to get a sense of students’ understanding and reasoning in order to make adjustments in real-time. Dan Levy invites students to use an iPad projected to the front of the class in order to demonstrate the...

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Employing handouts as a study guide to highlight important concepts

In lectures, students often have difficulty discerning what is most important. Some students resolve this dilemma by frantically copying down as much as they can, whereas others might assume the most important information will appear in assignments. Both of these sets of students leave class without clear takeaways. Dan Levy gets around this challenge by offering interactive handouts that serve as in-class note-taking guides and after-class “study guides.” Levy uses his handouts to orient the class to the key questions, and he provides students space on the handouts to answer those...

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Developing A Learning Culture

Some academic environments emphasize to students that being “right“ is what matters most. In Dan Levy’s class, however, what really matters is sound thinking, regardless of whether or not such thinking results in the “right” answer. In this video, Levy describes how he sees his job not as “coming with the truth,” but rather as inviting students into activities designed to authentically making them think.

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