Virtual facilitation of object-based teaching

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Houghton Library has seen a 200% rise in demand for object-based teaching with its special collections since 2000, a trend that is mirrored to some degree across the University and educational institutions around the country.

“Teachers and students are hungry for the experience of working with objects, touching them, handling them, seeing their markings,” said Rachel Howarth, associate librarian for public services at Houghton Library.

While the dramatic increase in demand was welcome, it challenged existing workflows. The staff looked for a solution to facilitate object-based teaching with special collections, and when they didn’t find one, they didn’t get discouraged.

Instead they got entrepreneurial, and the result is a Web platform whose deceptively simple, function-derived name, Class Request Tool (CRT), belies a new kind of vehicle for collaboration and bespoke curriculum support.

In a few minutes, instructors can place an online request for a custom course session featuring special collections materials from over a dozen Harvard libraries and archives, and soon, the Harvard Art Museums will begin scheduling class visits to the galleries via the platform.