Virtual reality

Pandemic shifts focus to new ways of teaching.

Last spring’s unexpected switch to online teaching posed a unique challenge for Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s course instructors, who had prepared for a traditional in-person semester. Despite the new obstacles, the pivot revealed not only the flexibility of faculty and instructors but also a shared interest in connecting with one another, building community, and exchanging knowledge in innovative ways.

Stock illustration of two figures standing in phone frames, coversing between with technology icons floating inbetween“Across education, teachers had to make significant adjustments to their courses in an incredibly limited amount of time,” says Dean for Education Erin Driver-Linn. “What made our faculty stand out was their ability to do all of this while juggling heightened professional demands as public health experts during a pandemic.”

Connection between faculty members was kindled by the two-year-old Faculty Instructional Coaches initiative, in which a cohort of faculty members with varied disciplinary backgrounds and teaching experience serve as coaches for other faculty each academic year. Last spring, their expertise reached a broader audience through a new semester-long webinar series, covering topics that enhance the online classroom experience and creating a burgeoning community of practice around excellence in teaching.

As virtual teaching continued, the Media and Educational Technology Services (METS) team and other course support staff stepped up as well. METS—along with Office of Education staff—built resources and processes based on lessons learned from the hybrid MPH in Epidemiology program, which offered both online and in-person learning prior to the pandemic. Additionally, the School piloted a new pedagogy fellowship program, comprising 12 inaugural fellows working on a variety of educational efforts, such as training and support for teaching assistants, course design and redesign, and nonclassroom learning opportunities.

Surveys of the School community and leadership revealed a strong interest in continuing online instruction beyond the pandemic, with the goals of reaching more diverse students across the globe, advancing equity, and providing access to learners with varying schedules. Now, those supporting learning and teaching at the School are envisioning the future of a Harvard Chan School education and how it can successfully manifest online.

Catherine Seraphin

Photo: Elenabs / iStock