The three pillars of discovery, cultivation and research are guiding today's activity of the Bok Center.
The once traditional boundary between scholarly creativity and teaching is fast disappearing. This welcome change has been catalyzed by the convergence of new modes of engaging students, ranging from digital interactivity to socially engaged scholarship, coupled with the flowering of social and cognitive science research on how people learn. To leverage this important moment to forever transform how we accelerate learning and integrate it with research, institutions like Harvard that deeply engage both realms must bring them together in a supported environment that accelerates this important synergy. The Bok Center therefore seeks to support and sustain such opportunities for Discovery by offering the Learning Lab - a physical and technological space that also includes the expertise needed to accelerate groundbreaking experimentation in learning.
The Learning Lab supports a community of faculty, graduate students and undergraduates coming together to explore new ways of learning across every discipline. The successful incubation of new business or research approaches in many fields has shown that funding alone is not enough to support experimentation that leads to genuine breakthroughs. Financial support must be combined with the physical and human resources necessary to prototype and realize any new approach, and to evaluate its efficacy. The Learning Lab’s combination of technological resources with expertise and evaluation creates a fertile environment for instructors to prototype and push the boundaries of how we teach. The creativity, vitality and rigor that faculty and students bring to their scholarship will be channeled by the Bok Center to foster a culture of discovery in teaching and learning at Harvard.
A culture of teaching that recognizes creativity, experimentation, and the use of evidence to assess learning, requires training resources, ways to disseminate effective practices and opportunities for communal engagement. Long gone are the days when “good” teaching was a solitary act based either on showmanship or working alone, assembling and continually reconfiguring content. Today, effective teaching is a dynamic and communal process that requires every instructor to access technology, new ways of amplifying the face-to-face experience and new ways of using multiple sources of data to better understand student learning in real time. The Bok Center seeks to take just such a multifaceted approach to the Cultivation of great teaching at Harvard; fostering an intergenerational community that makes teaching and learning as essential an academic platform for collaboration as any other form of scholarship.
Harvard’s instructional community is large and varied, and the Bok Center is committed to cultivating excellent instruction among all members: faculty; graduate students and undergraduates. In addition to providing multiple ways to engage with and learn new and well-tested ways of teaching, we cultivate great instruction by providing design support at the level of individual assignments and up to entire courses and curricula. The Bok Center is a therefore a hub and repository for effective teaching as well as the best test-bed for exploring new approaches, be they Learning Lab projects or something as simple as new assignments. Our many programs form the Harvard framework for a community of teaching and learning that provides multiple opportunities to create and implement together, further uniting faculty and students across fields and national boundaries.
Education research covers a wide range of important approaches to understanding student learning and evaluating the efficacy of individual teaching to course components to entire curricula. At the Bok Center, we take a translational approach to education research, one that is based on assessment as an integrative process, including design implementation, evaluation of success facilitated by reflection, and practical integration of what has been learned into the next iteration of a course or program. Research is an integral part of instruction, curriculum building and university strategic planning. Anchored within a Center for Teaching and Learning, our work is deeply connected to the practice of teaching and scholarship as well as cross-disciplinary approaches that translate research into practice and builds knowledge networks based on evidence and experimentation.
Traditional top-down models for the development and dissemination of educational research often fail to address practitioner needs or are not translated in ways that are meaningful to instructors. Faculty often view university assessment offices as purely administrative and disconnected from the practice of teaching and scholarship. The Bok Center now offers a new educational space where research and assessment and practice intersect. In expanding our ability to support research and assessment, we are uniquely positioned to serve as a model for how to bridge the gap between research and practice, and the dissemination of rigorously vetted results. Faculty can now collaborate with expert teaching staff, educational researchers and data specialists to co-construct ideas and translate findings into best practices. Again, such a deeply collaborative model serves to advance educational research and improve teaching and learning at Harvard.