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What Makes Quality Teaching and Learning?

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What are the most essential elements of quality teaching and learning?

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by John Lim

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Participants are drawn to our programs because of our teaching fellows’ and professors’ affiliation with Harvard.

But what do people know about Harvard? Harvard has a track record of equipping its students for the future – for those with the confidence, skills, and mindsets to lead change. For starters, Harvard has produced 47 Nobel laureates, 32 heads of state, and 48 Pulitzer prize winners. Harvard living alums also happened to have founded 146,629 for profit and non-profit ventures accounting for a combined yearly revenue of USD 3.9 trillion, more than the GDP of Germany.

However, what matters fundamentally is the quality of teaching and learning that can prepare one for the future. What can be easily practiced in Cambridge, Massachusetts, can be practiced in Seoul, Tokyo, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, or Ulaanbaatar.

In the course of our research, we found four essential elements of quality teaching and learning.

Case

Using a broad definition of “case”, a case is any problem or challenge that is able to connect the classroom to real life.  Our experience of life is not mathematical, scientific, or artistic, instead we experience it as an integrated whole.  These are cases, simulations, projects, and meaningful discussions that create learning environments that simulate the world as it is: complex and multilayered.

Reflection-in-action

Secondly, learning experiences require reflection activities for the purpose of helping individuals with the mindet of improving their own learning. We don’t learn from experience – we learn from reflecting on experience. We do this by creating safe environments where students are challenged to honestly reflect on “failures” in the process of solving problems.

Smart Questions

Thirdly, students need to be taught to the skill of asking smart questions, to independently solve new and complex problems. In order to gain perspective on a problem, you need to look at it from all angles. One example is the “IDEAS” framework: you begin with Identify (Observation), next is DE-brief (Different than expectations?), then Analyze (What were the reasons?), and finally Strategize (What do you want to happen next?) the steps in solving a problem.

Group Learning

Lastly, learning activities that provide platforms for group learning are needed. These allow students to learn how to build trust and create value with others. Individuals are trained to create greater value with others through collaboration rather than on an individual basis. Mechanisms in the classroom need to be set up that help individuals individuals operate responsibly, productively, and respectfully in a democratic environment.

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