By Alwin Powell
The Harvard Gazette
Harvard’s efforts to leverage technology to create more effective teaching tools, strategies, and resources will have a new leader this fall, with the appointment of Harvard Business School Professor Bharat Anand as the University’s new vice provost for advances in learning (VPAL).
Anand, the Henry R. Byers Professor of Business Administration, will take over in October from Peter Bol, the Charles H. Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages, who has held the post since its launch five years ago. Bol, a scholar of Chinese history, plans to return to teaching and research.
Since 2013, Anand has been the faculty chair of HBX, the Harvard Business School digital learning initiative that he helped to create. Anand said that he is looking forward to the challenge and opportunities of his University-wide role.
“Harvard has been a hotbed of innovations in pedagogy and learning during the last few years,” he said. “It’s a good time to take stock of what we’ve learned from these various projects and how this might inform our future efforts, while also recognizing that we are still probably in the early stages of imagining and shaping what the future of higher education will eventually look like. I’m looking forward to working with the many colleagues across the University who care deeply about these questions, and seeing how I can help with those efforts.”
In announcing the appointment, Provost Alan Garber cited Anand’s experience with HBX and said that he has been among the most dedicated contributors to the University’s efforts to explore innovations in learning.
“He is a distinguished scholar of organizational strategy and digital change, and he is an accomplished teacher, having twice received the HBS Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence,” Garber said in his statement. “Over the years that I have known Bharat, I have been continually impressed by his leadership and strategic insight, his ability to innovate and collaborate, and his deep analytic skills.”
According to Bol, Anand was instrumental in establishing HBX as a model for excellence in online business education, and was also helpful to Bol during his own years as vice provost.
“Bharat Anand has been an invaluable adviser during my term as VPAL,” Bol said. “I know of no one who has a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges of open-access online learning. His book ‘The Content Trap’ is the most important I have read in the field. He had great success in establishing HBX as the very best platform for online business education.”
The office of the vice provost for advances in learning was established in 2013 to oversee initiatives such as HarvardX, the University’s online learning platform. HarvardX is Harvard’s contribution to the edX collaboration, in which more than 100 universities, nonprofits, corporations, and international organizations provide free online courses to students around the world. Today, edX offers 1,900 courses that reach 14 million learners.
The vice provost for advances in learning also oversees the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching (HILT), whose aim is to catalyze innovation and excellence in learning and teaching, in part by offering grants and programming to support efforts by individual faculty members, programs, centers, and other University affiliates.
In addition, VPAL has a research function, performed by the Advances in Learning Research Group, which explores how students learn and examines data from online platforms. A fourth major VPAL component is DART, or Digital Assets for Reuse in Teaching, a tool that enables instructors to search all existing audio and video resources on HarvardX for possible reuse in other classes.
Anand said that the University’s various efforts to leverage technology to improve education have already been impressive, particularly in reaching and engaging learners far beyond campus. He also highlighted three areas of priority going forward — amplifying and supporting existing efforts while continuing to innovate; second, exploring how these projects across the University can not only achieve their own specific goals, but also support those of other initiatives; and third, examining how these advances can be extended and applied to the on-campus residential educational experience.
(Reprinted with permission from the Harvard Gazette.)