When Johannes Gutenberg introduced his printing press to the world in the 15th century, it revolutionized and greatly expanded the opportunities for learning. That’s why it is only fitting that in Widener Library, just one floor below the room where a rare copy of a Gutenberg Bible rests today, the latest state-of-the-art teaching and learning tool is taking shape.
After months of construction, a “video capture studio” is near completion as part of Harvard’s commitment to exploring, innovating, experimenting, and leading change in how faculty members teach and students learn.
The facility, which will become the Rita E. and Gustave M. Hauser Digital Teaching & Learning Studio in recognition of their commitment to and generous support of teaching and learning, is slated to open in late October or early November. It will serve both as a high-tech production facility and as a training ground for faculty from around the University who want to experiment with new approaches to further integrate the digital age into their teaching.
“The Hauser studio is a significant step toward the goal of supporting teaching innovation broadly across the faculty,” said Dean Michael D. Smith of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). “Widener, Harvard’s icon for the dissemination of knowledge, is a fitting location for a new resource that will encourage innovation at the heart of our teaching mission. Even as the methods by which knowledge is created and shared evolve, our libraries will continue to play a central role in supporting the faculty’s research and pedagogy.”
The Hausers have been longstanding champions of Harvard’s efforts to remain a leader in education. With a $40 million gift, the couple created a President’s Fund for Innovative Teaching, which provided the resources for The Harvard Initiative on Learning and Teaching (HILT), a 2011 effort to “catalyze innovation and excellence in learning and teaching at Harvard.”
Peter Bol, the recently appointed vice provost for advances in learning, praised the Hausers for their appreciation of the role that technology can play in advances in learning, and pointed to the growing importance of video in the University as both an object of study and a vehicle of learning.
The facility, equipped with green screens and 4K capabilities (the highest of high-definition video), is designed to accommodate on-camera lectures, learning modules, and classroom demonstrations in a professional studio environment. It is tucked away on Widener’s concourse level, with high ceilings and nearly soundproof stone walls that provide a perfect setting for a modern studio.
“The libraries have been an important partner in supporting the innovation in teaching and learning that the University is known for around the world. The creation of this state-of-the-art studio strengthens that ongoing partnership as we work with faculty and students to meet their needs in the digital age,” said Susan Fliss, interim Librarian of Harvard College Library and associate librarian of Harvard College for research, teaching and learning. “I want to thank all of the library staff who worked hard to make this facility a reality.”
Jointly managed by FAS and HarvardX, the University-wide effort to push the boundaries of interactive, online learning, the studio will expand the techniques that many faculty members are already using to reimagine their teaching and learning on campus and online.
Green-screen technology, notable for integrating special effects into movies, allows faculty to take students to both real and imagined locations. David Malan, senior instructor in computer science who teaches CS50/CS50x, “Introduction to Computer Science,” uses the process to “stand” next to screenshots of programming demonstrations. The team developing the HarvardX online course SW12x, “China,” exploited the same technique to place students into history, contrasting scenes from ancient and modern China.
“While driven in part by increased interest in online learning, video offers faculty a much broader palette for teaching,” said Samantha Earp, the interim executive director of HarvardX who will serve as a co-manager of the studio. “We made a deliberate choice at HarvardX to do more than back-of-the-room lecture capture. We want to redefine how video can be used in learning, whether capturing a conversation or using artifacts like books. We want to give faculty more ways to tell and share their stories.”
With that in mind, Earp expects the studio to serve as a convening mechanism to bring together campus experts, such as those advancing the Bok Center’s media literacy and visualization program and similar efforts around the University, and as a way for faculty to learn from one another by getting a behind-the-scenes look at video experiments in process.
“In addition to easing pressure off other campus studios, many of which are booked solid due to faculty and student demand, we had in mind a space that would promote centralized activities and lead to best practice and cross-school sharing,” said Robert Doyle, associate dean at FAS, who oversaw the renovation and will co-manage the space with Earp.
Already, faculty are sharing their experiences in “flipping the classroom,” or asking students to engage with video lectures or other online materials in advance, to free up class time for more experiential or hands-on activities.
“Flipping a classroom requires that you must have other means of providing students with what you once delivered through lectures,” said Bol, the Charles H. Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, who with his co-teacher William C. Kirby, the T.M. Chang Professor of China Studies at Harvard and Spangler Family Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, flipped the China course, “Societies of the World 12,” in the College this semester. “Video, well-shot, well-edited, and well-animated turns out to be one of the most effective means.”
While digital materials are enhancing the residential experience, Harvard faculty are also using video and other online media to respond to the huge global demand for knowledge. With 550,000 students engaged in HarvardX courses, and open-learning options from the Division of Continuing Education reaching millions more, Harvard is a leader in digital learning and pedagogy.
“At an institution well known for innovative research facilities, it is wonderful to see that same level of physical support being made available for faculty to push the envelope in teaching and learning,” said Robert A. Lue, faculty director of HarvardX and director of the Bok Center for Teaching and Learning.
Additional details about policies and procedures for faculty who wish to use the studio are still being established and will be disseminated in the coming weeks.