Experiential learning is a valuable pedagogical practice that bridges the development of content knowledge and competencies by bringing learners into “direct contact with the phenomena being studied” (Borzak, 1981). From the classroom to the laboratory to the studio to the field, experiential learning comes in a variety of forms. However, one consistent feature of this pedagogy is its constraints. Both pedagogical scholarship and general wisdom suggest that experiential learning is constrained by class size – too many students and the class will become large and unwieldy, crowding out the meaningful coaching and feedback essential to effective experiential learning.

At Harvard a small but influential group of expert faculty have found ways to overcome these limitations – immersing their classes of 60 to over 100 students in high-intensity experiential learning and doing so with great success. How have they managed to do this? By building effective teaching teams and leveraging the power of teaching assistants to both broaden and deepen the reach of their teaching. 

The first sections of this website offer details on four broad strategies, first describing particular practices and the principles behind them, followed by specific techniques used by these expert faculty for enacting that particular practice. The final two sections of the site feature profiles on each of the five faculty; and additional resources including articles, books, and materials from various teaching and learning centers.

The Leveraging Teaching Assistant Potential & Scaling-up Experiential Learning project was launched in Autumn 2015 by the Strengthening Learning and Teaching Excellence Initiative (SLATE) at the Harvard Kennedy School. With funding from the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching (HILT) and led by Assistant Director of Curriculum and Pedagogy Erin Baumann, the project brought together scholarly research on experiential learning and teaching assistant development with the knowledge and experiences of  five talented and well-recognized experiential learning instructors. In their teaching of leadership, organizing and strategy, negotiation, management, and education, Ron Heifetz, Marshall Ganz, Brian Mandell, Jorrit de Jong, and Karen Brennan have each honed a pedagogical approach grounded in the tenets of experiential learning and the belief that students must know, do, and feel in order to learn. In the pursuit of these experiences, their students thrive in carefully cultivated experiential learning environments that are built and sustained with the support of highly skilled teaching assistants.

This project set out to understand how these expert faculty select, train, deploy, and manage their teaching assistants in order to make experiential learning work in classes both large and small. More specifically, it set out to uncover how faculty leverage the potential of teaching assistants to increase their capacity for developing and delivering high-intensity experiential learning.