Starting in September of 2009, the Program in General Education requirements took effect at Harvard College, replacing the Core Curriculum which was in place for more than three decades.
The new program, commonly called Gen Ed, provides a set of liberal arts courses that must be taken in order to graduate. The Class of 2013 was the first to be embraced by the new program, although other undergraduates may elect to follow the requirements.
As Dean Evelynn Hammonds has remarked, Gen Ed is a curriculum about connecting. These new courses bridge the inward intensity of mastering a concentration with the ideas, traditions, and values that will add perspective, ethical grounding, and a sense of civic engagement in life after Harvard.
Gen Ed courses are quintessential Harvard experiences that draw on the varied resources of the campus and on the innovation and creativity of the faculty.
They are stretching boundaries in the classroom, including enriching forays into intensive research experiences, multimedia projects, collaborative assignments, art-making, and other hands-on learning activities.
This collective investment in a new curriculum has had a ripple effect. It has produced new courses, new practices, new connections, and a new experimental spirit that spills over the confines of the Program in General Education. It is indicative of the fundamental character of Harvard’s approach to undergraduate education – engaged liberal arts that form leaders who, regardless of their path, use knowledge to serve the world.
Below the “lifecycle” of a fictional Gen Ed course is traced, highlighting the program’s innovative approach to course development and providing opportunities for reflection on achievements around the FAS over the past year.
Academic planning in the FAS has continued to advance over the past year. The academic divisions followed a planning process informed by the needs of departments and centers, and have used annual planning discussions as an opportunity to share best practices and form common understandings of important issues. Academic planning is now tied explicitly to the allocation of resources and is an essential tool in setting priorities. Over the coming year, academic planning across divisions will shift to a multi-year format.
The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences launched these courses committed to the discussion, development, and design of undergraduate courses that will be appropriate for the new Program in General Education. Graduate students actively engage with faculty in considering central conceptual and analytic themes, course design and pedagogy, as well as other important decisions in the development and implementation of courses in general education.
In 2009-10, tenure promotion rates were very strong. Of the 18 tenure promotion cases that culminated in a decision, 16, or 89 percent were successful. Thirty-one percent of the successfully promoted faculty were women and, likewise, 31 percent were minorities (25 percent Asian minorities and 6 percent under-represented minorities). A tenure-track handbook was created that outlines the common features of the tenure-track process, regardless of discipline. Professional development and mentoring programs have also expanded, and departments are now asked to create formal mentoring plans. The New Faculty Institute, an orientation for new faculty members and other teaching staff, has been expanded and enhanced to delve into a broader range of issues.
The Program in General Education benefits from the involvement of a number of faculty from Harvard’s professional schools. For example, a collaboration with the Harvard Institute for Global Health has resulted in a popular course on nutrition and global health. Professor Mathias Risse of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government offers a philosophical introduction to human rights. Professors Richard Freeman (Economics) and Roberto Unger (Harvard Law School) delve into crisis, globalization, and economics.
Engaging faculty in discussions of not only what they teach and but how they teach is an important way to foster strong collegial engagement and shared commitment to effective teaching and learning. The FAS undertakes a number of activities to facilitate these discussions. For example, named for a Nobel Laureate still an active member of the Chemistry Department, the Dudley Herschbach Teacher-Scientist Lecture series features a lecture by a leading scientist that is then followed by a discussion of pedagogy, led by the lecturer. This exceptionally well-attended series is partially funded through unrestricted support.
The Instructional Support Services Team helps faculty make the most of FAS resources when building a course. For example, the FAS President’s Instructional Technology Fellows have undertaken a number of summer projects that incorporate technology into the teaching of a Harvard College or Graduate School course. Projects can take many forms, and can include developing multimedia course materials, integrating third-party software, custom application development, and more.
Students must complete one letter-graded course in each of the eight categories in the General Education curriculum, which are:
The course trailer began in the Program in General Education and has since spread to departmental courses. The trailers are brief videos that capture the purpose of the course using humor, interviews, images and more to give students a taste of what the course will be about. This is one example of the innovation ripple effect that the FAS hopes Gen Ed will create. The course trailer for "Pyramid Schemes: The Archaelogical History of Ancient Egypt" was the winner of the first Harvard Shorts Film Festival, held in April of 2010, in the category of "course and department trailers."
The Gen Ed program’s approach to funding course development is based on the “first-dollar principle.” This principle states that funding for activities in a department, center or other unit should come first from endowments, gifts, other funds restricted to that activity or to use in that FAS unit, or from locally held unrestricted fund balances. Only after looking to these restricted or local funds should a unit seek unrestricted funds from the Dean. This approach has allowed the FAS to deploy unrestricted funds in a strategic manner to meet high priority needs that have no other source of support.
The Report of the Task Force in General Education stated that "pedagogy is an integral aspect of the general education program we envision. Large lectures can be an effective means of instruction, but general education courses should strive to create a learning environment in which the relationship between teachers and students, and between students and students, is interactive." Faculty have embraced this vision and offered creative and innovative classroom experiences. In "For the Love of God and His Prophet: Religion, Literature, and the Arts in Muslim Cultures," students approach Islam through the arts and then uncover doctrinal and theological dimensions. They design their own Arabic calligraphy using a wide variety of media from stained glass to knitting, compose their own poems and set them to music, and design their own mosque for an urban American landscape. Guest speakers included a Sufi "rockstar." In "Molecules of Life," students explore the roles of molecules through case studies of our bodies' messengers, modern drugs, and the future of medicine through hands-on activities - like extracting DNA from a strawberry - and role-playing scenarios. In "The Physics of Music and Sound," students explore music and sound using physics on an "as needed" basis. Class involves many physical demonstrations and interactive discussions, and students take on a final project of their choosing. One project in the spring of 2010 was the building of a giant megaphone. “Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to the Science of Soft Matter," which debuted in fall 2010, brings together Harvard researchers and world-class guest chefs, with lectures, interactive discussions and demonstrations that explicate the physics of soft matter as it applies to modern cooking techniques. Weekly lab sections engage students in hands-on scientific exercises exploring phenomena like foams and emulsions, phase changes, and the importance of temperature. Edible labs, which take place in the new Northwest Science Building, will use "recipes of the week" to demonstrate the scientific principles.
“Spill over” events have resulted from a number of Gen Ed courses, including guest lectures open to the public, and public displays of student projects. The Gen Ed program sponsored a panel on the social and scientific aspects of baseball in the fall of 2010, and hopes to sponsor events that provide not only two compelling views of an intellectual issue, but also demonstrate what an academic debate looks like as a form of engagement and exchange.
In January 2009, the FAS launched a new teaching postdoctoral program called the College Fellows Program. This program brings to campus exceptional scholars who have recently completed their doctoral work and have demonstrated excellence in teaching. College Fellows teach within an area of specialization and pursue their own research, and the program provides mentoring on both pedagogy and career development. This program has been embraced by faculty across divisions and by undergraduate students.