Much of Harvard’s experimentation in online education targets distributing its curriculum around the world through virtual learning platform edX, but administrators at the Kennedy School of Government say they are prioritizing using digital tools on campus instead.
Kennedy School Executive Dean John A. Haigh said the school has been “intrigued” by different online education models in use around the University—offerings of massive open online courses through Harvard’s branch of edX, which it co-founded in 2012, Harvard Business School’s eight-week business primer “CORe,” and the School of Public Health’s integrated residential and online master’s degree program.
The Kennedy School has itself experimented with some of these models, with a handful of online executive education programs that are selective, like HBX CORe, and carry a $1,800 to $1,900 price tag. It has also offered at least one free course through HarvardX in the past.
But in general, the Kennedy School is more concerned with improving the educational experience at home, Haigh said.
“From an institutional perspective, we’ve tended to think more of, ‘How can we use online activities to really supplement some of our current activities,’” Haigh said. “We want to move into much more experiential, field-based, integrated problem-solving in the classroom and move what is traditionally a lot of lecture activities out of the classroom.”
David T. Ellwood ’75, who just stepped down as the school’s longtime dean, said in a February interview that there are better uses of technology than uploading lectures online.
“What excites me about Internet technology and various kinds of videos and so forth isn’t that we can put lectures up on the screen,” Ellwood said. “If you just put lectures on the screen—too many MOOCs are just this… That takes a not very good way of teaching, and yes, expands it to lots of people, but by and large is not very effective.”
Ellwood highlighted the school’s $126 million campus expansion effort as an example of how the school plans to use digital learning to facilitate innovative pedagogy. The expansion features redesigned classrooms more appropriate for small group work and the “flipped classroom model,” in which students watch lectures online and then do hands-on conceptual work in class.
“Doing a case in real time, where you’re talking to the actual people on the other side of the world that are working on this issue...that to me is going to create the most exciting and engaged learning experience out there,” Ellwood added. “I don’t think either the Kennedy School or much of the University is going to go primarily into a scenario where most of the degrees you earn will be online.”
According to Haigh, the school is also in the early stages of funding a “digital learning lab” that will help instructors create online self-paced tutorials and exercises for students.
As for the Kennedy School’s forays into bringing its courses and faculty to online audiences outside Cambridge, it is unclear if those experiments will move much further than the offerings of individual instructors in the next few years. Acting Kennedy School Dean Archon Fung, who replaced Ellwood just this week, has said he will not “embark on large new projects” during his interim deanship.
Economist Douglas W. Elmendorf, who will become the school’s next permanent deanin January 2016, said in a recent interview that he does not yet have a well-informed view of online education.
“I certainly think it’s important for universities to not be stuck in a model that was built many years ago…but I also think that universities shouldn’t just latch onto something because it is technically possible,” Elmendorf said.—Staff writer Luca F. Schroeder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @lucaschroeder.