Administrators across Harvard reflected on how experiences from the pandemic-afflicted academic year would affect education in the years ahead in a Graduate School of Education webinar Friday.
The latest installment in the school’s webinar series Education Now, the event featured GSE Dean Bridget Terry Long and Vice Provost for Advances in Learning Bharat N. Anand ’88, a Harvard Business School professor. The discussion was hosted by the University Vice Provost for International Affairs Mark C. Elliot and moderated by Graduate School of Education lecturer Matthew L. Miller.
Though cognizant of the difficulties brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, Anand said he sees several “clear advantages” to remote learning, with the first being the “collapsing” of time and space.
“Essentially, everyone is one click away from anyone else in the world,” he said.
Anand also lauded the benefits to non-linear communication, for example facilitated by the chat function on Zoom in which multiple students can participate and interact all at once without needing to go through students one by one.
Still, he noted, educators need to take advantage of these aspects of remote learning, rather than try to replicate the in-person classroom.
“If you don’t lean into these attributes of the digital media that make it better, and all you’re doing is simply trying to replicate or reproduce what you have in the in-person experience, inevitably it’ll be a worse experience,” Anand said.
Long said the shift to remote learning enabled the Graduate School of Education to hold an extra summer admissions period for its exclusively remote degree program. This allowed it to reach a broader set of students from all over the world, she said.
“What we quickly learned is that there are pools of talent all over the world who may not have been able to uproot and move to Cambridge,” Long said.
Anand and Long both said it is important not to compare and try to tailor online education to be an exact replica of residential learning.
“Treat the advantages of the digital medium on its own terms, as opposed to trying to mimic and match,” Anand said.
Long also noted that online education should not be treated as replacement of in-person learning.
“Technology is not a replacement for authentic interaction – it’s a tool,” she said.
In terms of the future of education, both administrators said educators and school leaders must be the ones to decide on the best path forward — whether remote education will be “just a blip or the new normal,” Long said.
She added online education can be very powerful if used as an expansion to residential learning rather than a replacement of it.
Anand said he and Long are part of a University-wide task force that launched Friday to examine the “transformative opportunities” for the future of teaching and learning that arise at Harvard during the remote learning period.
Like Long, he noted that merging both online and in-person methods of education can be of immense benefit, saying that the future of education can be one that joins the advantages of the different instruction methods.
“Let’s look at all the experiments, projects, initiatives that took place, and think about what this can mean for a multiplatform education going forward,” he said.
— Staff writer Omar Abdel Haq can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.