Campus & Community

It’s ‘Justice’ for all, thanks to HDV project

3 min read

Sandel's popular course reaches new audience

With the goal of opening the Harvard classroom to distance learners, Harvard alumni, and possibly an international audience, all 26 lectures of “Moral Reasoning 22: Justice,” taught by Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government Michael Sandel, will be filmed in high-definition video this fall.

The video project, which is the first of its kind at Harvard College, is an initiative of the Provost’s Office in cooperation with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to explore the use of new technology for educational innovation and to extend the reach of Harvard’s educational mission beyond the traditional lecture hall.

“Justice” is one of the most popular courses at Harvard; as many as 900 students enroll each time it is offered, and more than 11,000 students have taken the course since Sandel began teaching it. A critical survey of classical and contemporary theories of justice and their present-day practical applications, the course covers topics such as affirmative action, income distribution, same-sex marriage, free speech versus hate speech, debates about rights (human rights and property rights), and other issues. Besides the intrinsic appeal of the subject matter, the course draws many students because of Sandel’s captivating lectures and his skill at eliciting lively and energetic student participation.

Developers of the initiative are enthusiastic about the involvement of noted BBC and PBS producer David Paterson who brings to the project more than 30 years of experience producing documentaries for the BBC, the UK’s Channel Four, WGBH, National Geographic, Discovery, and Japan’s NHK network. Paterson audited Sandel’s course in the fall of 2002.

While Harvard has been using video for instructional purposes for decades, two of the key goals of this pilot project is to evaluate new uses of highly produced video to reach new audiences around the world via new distribution channels and to provide a richer experience for current Harvard students. Harvard has already made arrangements to offer “Justice” for the first time to students at the Harvard Extension School, who will be able to take the course by watching video recordings of Sandel’s lectures online using the Extension School’s fast-evolving distance education technology. To date, the course has enrolled more than 80 Harvard Extension School students.

Future uses may include making the content available on Harvard@Home, a Web site that offers streaming videos of lectures, panel discussions, and seminars, and developing educational collaborations with other universities. Exploration of these and other future applications will be done in consultation with Harvard faculty and students.

In order to capture the interactive element of the course while at the same time respecting student privacy, Harvard College has developed a plan that offers students who do not wish to be filmed the option of sitting in a “no filming zone,” a section of Sanders Theatre where they can participate in the class without being recorded. Only students who sit outside this zone will be featured in camera shots.

– Daniel Choi