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HGSE Doctoral Student Wins PITF Award

HGSE doctoral candidate Tom Tomberlin, Ed.M.'06, received one of three Presidential Instructional Technology Fellows Program (PITF) awards given by Harvard University last week.

The PITF Program attracts undergraduate and graduate fellows to work with faculty and librarians, in conjunction with Harvard, on developing digital course materials for educational purposes. Each year the PITF program awards three students whose projects demonstrate a significant impact on learning and teaching a $500 gift for their work.

"The PITF program is an excellent way for students to connect and work with faculty in a truly collaborative way," says Tomberlin. "The connections I have made with faculty members through the PITF program have opened up opportunities for me that I would not have known about otherwise."

Tomberlin is a doctoral candidate in Educational Policy, Leadership, and Instructional Practice. He used Elluminate, a web-conferencing tool, to conduct virtual office hours (VOH)  for Professor Judith Singer's course, S-030: Intermediate Statistics: Applied Regression and Data Analysis.  S-030 is the largest course offered at HGSE and attracts many cross-registrants from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard School of Public Health, and MIT.

By offering VOH, Tomberlin eliminated a number of the challenges that often accompany such a large course. Students from other campuses no longer had to travel to receive assistance, and scheduling became significantly more flexible to the point where teaching fellows could arrange for late-night and weekend office hours--times when students were likely to be working on assignments.

The VOH program also allowed teaching fellows to take virtual control of students' computers to offer demonstrations and direct assistance with specific problems.

"What Tom has managed to do this semester is not only astounding, it has the very real potential to fundamentally change teaching and learning not just at HGSE but, I would hope, elsewhere at Harvard," says Singer.  Virtual office hours were popular with a large percentage of the students enrolled in S-030, and popularity grew steadily over the course of the semester.

Tomberlin first suggested the VOH program in the spring of 2007 after seeing a demonstration of the Elluminate tool. He spent the spring working with Singer, testing the program and preparing it for implementation during the 2007-2008 school year.  He plans to train the next group of teaching fellows for S-030 so that VOH can become a standard resource for the course.

"What makes this award so special to me is that it is not awarded to the person who uses the most sophisticated technology or software, but to the one who is able to use technology to transform teaching and learning in the classroom," Tomberlin says.  "I believe the resources that I have helped develop have provided students with new ways of understanding statistics."