This story is part of a series about the ways in which faculty are innovating and planning for fall classes online.
When Harvard announced teaching would remain online for the upcoming school year because of the coronavirus pandemic, Marianna Katherine Linz quickly decided that if students couldn’t get to the lab, she’d bring the lab to them.
The assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences ordered the supplies and equipment students would need for the climate and atmospheric physics laboratory she teaches in the fall and created kits she will send to them so they can conduct the experiments at home. That’s just one of the changes she has in the works.
The effort by the second-year faculty member to reimagine her course is one of many taking place across campus as professors prepare for an unprecedented fall semester. Strategies are varied, but all are the result of thoughtful planning revolving around taking a fresh look at fundamental questions: What are the most important things we want students to take away from this course, and what’s the best way to make sure that happens remotely?
Besides creating the kits, Linz broke her once-a-week, three-hour course into three separate days to avoid long Zoom sessions and make the material more digestible. The segments are organized similarly to her in-person course: a hands-on or data lab portion where students run experiments or look at climate models to explore how the atmosphere and oceans behave on rotating planets, a student-run session to work on follow-up analysis, and a joint class session to debrief on the week’s lessons. Students will work in four-person groups through Zoom breakout rooms, with Linz hopping from group to group, answering questions, pointing out anomalies that happen because of the way experiment is set up, and helping students adjust experiments or data.
“It’s all to try to recreate some of the experience they have in the lab and in class,” she said.
“We want students to be excited,” said Bernhard Nickel, a professor in the Department of Philosophy and its director of undergraduate studies. “We want the courses to have the potential to really transform the way that students experience the world and engage with the world, not just inside the classroom, but outside the classroom, as well. That’s still exactly the same, and we’re trying to keep that keep going.”
To that end, Nickel, who teaches an introductory philosophy course for first-year students, has spent the summer coming up with ways to help students internalize the “hidden curriculum” portion of his course — essentially teaching students how to think like philosophers as opposed to thinking about their arguments. Instead of simply delivering a Zoom version of his lecture, he and his colleagues in the department have decided to make lectures available as recordings that students, especially those in different time zones, can access anytime. Class time with all in attendance will be reserved for active learning to focus on content that is well-suited for discussion or engagement.