Campus & Community

First Presidential Instruction Technology Fellows awarded

5 min read

Technology fellows teach, learn; help others teach, learn

After its first year in operation, Harvard’s Presidential Instructional Technology Fellows program is getting positive reviews from faculty members and student fellows alike, who say the program both increases interaction between faculty and students and results in improved course content available on the Web.

Four students have been recognized for their work as fellows this year, particularly for showing leadership and for work such as creating course Web sites and databases.

illstration of a blackboard seen on a computer
Staff illustration Georgia Bellas/Harvard News Office

Molly Wilson, Liat Margolis, Sabrina Pendergrass, and Ruben Gaztambide-Fernandez received the inaugural Awards for Achievement in Instructional Technology, announced Friday (May 27).

Wilson, a Leverett House junior, received the award for her leadership and faculty outreach skills. Margolis, a masters candidate at the Graduate School of Design (GSD), was awarded for creating a materials collection database in collaboration with GSD staff. Pendergrass, a doctoral student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and Gaztambide-Fernandez, a student at the Graduate School of Education, received their awards for their “creative use of pedagogical tools” for two classes taught by Sociology Professor Michele Lamont.

Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers said that the program spreads more broadly the benefits of teaching technology and the computer-based tools pioneered here, and he thanked all the fellows for their efforts.

“New technologies hold important promise to improve teaching and learning, and we’re fortunate to have a group of talented individuals translating these innovations into practical use,” Summers said. “I want to thank the fellows for all they are contributing to enhancing the student experience and to helping our faculty expand their repertoire of teaching methods.”

The Presidential Instructional Technology Fellows program was unveiled in April 2004 by Summers and Provost Steven E. Hyman. The program aims to take advantage of the faculty’s response in recent years to a call for innovative ideas, technologies, and tools that improve on existing teaching techniques or create new ways of learning.

The result was an array of software tools, including databases, an audio glossary tool, interactive maps and images, discipline-specific portals, and discussion forums that together have created elaborate online learning models and rich content resources available any time of the day or night.

The fellows program, a collaboration between the office of Harvard’s Chief Information Officer Daniel Moriarty and Harvard’s individual Schools, seeks to put the resources already developed into wider use in order to enhance the learning environment at the University.

Sixty-five fellows worked on 150 different courses across the University this year.

“Some really terrific work has been done,” Moriarty said. “The fellows are lending their expertise to faculty members and are helping to spread best practices in this area across the University.”

Lamont, whose two fellows won the achievement award, said the fellows helped her create Web sites for two courses, “Culture, Power and Inequality,” and “Qualitative Social Analysis.” The sites feature links to interviews with authors whose work is on the course syllabus, still and video images, and links to related Web sites on the Internet and online discussion forums that students were required to use several times in the semester.

Lamont said because she was teaching the courses for the first time, it helped having the fellows design the Web site from scratch as she developed the course content.

“They were terrific,” Lamont said. “I was very fortunate to have these students to work with.”

Pendergrass, who also worked as a teaching fellow for “Culture, Power and Inequality,” said she enjoyed combing through material, such as documentaries, and deciding what would both further learning and make the course more interesting. The discussion forums, she said, provided insight into what students were thinking beyond class time.

“The world in which I lived as an undergraduate is growing more different every day from the world in which my students live,” Pendergrass said. “It is crucial for graduate students who plan to become academics to think about that as we teach. Working on integrating technology into our instruction is the first place to start.”

Gaztambide-Fernandez said he learned a lot about both the technical aspects of making the tools work and about how best to use them to enhance learning. He said the high points of the program for him were being able to work closely with faculty members and following interactions of students online through various assignments.

“I got a great deal from the experience of thinking through how to use the available resources to enhance course instruction,” Gaztambide-Fernandez said. “It is easy to get enamored by the possibilities that technology allows, but a fancy tool doesn’t always translate into good instruction.”

Getting results in cyberspace

At the Workshop on the Use of Technology in Teaching and Learning on May 17, several faculty members and fellows presented the results of their work, highlighting course Web sites that dealt with topics as diverse as Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” contemporary Hollywood cinema, and multivariable calculus.

Hyman opened the event by describing the impact of technology on the ways students learn; describing how students are able to take greater advantage of Harvard’s library resources through online access.

“We are together at this incredibly exciting time,” Hyman said. “These technologies can be disruptive to traditional methods of teaching, but with this disruption comes enormous opportunity.”

Fellow Kathy Miu ’07, who worked with Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures Julie Buckler, said that the fellowship program provided her a safe, friendly place to work where her opinion was respected. It also opened her eyes to the resources available at Harvard, prompting her to visit 20 different libraries across campus.

Achievement award winner Molly Wilson also spoke at the May 17 event, saying that the time she spends teaching a professor to put readings on a Web site has a multiplier effect, making it easier for – and more likely that – students in the classroom will do the reading, leading to a richer class discussion.

“I think this has been one of the best and most lasting uses of my time outside of class,” Wilson said.