Teaching an Experiential Problem-based Class Online during the Pandemic

written by Salimah Samji

MLD 103M Students and their authorizers at the final class presentations on March 11, 2021

BSC Faculty Director Matt Andrews and I have been co-teaching PDIA in Action: Development through Facilitated Emergence at the Harvard Kennedy School since 2018. This is a field-lab class where students learn a research-oriented version of PDIA by working on real-world public problems – they learn by doing. The students work together in teams with an authorizer/client who gives them a problem to work on.

This year we had to teach this class virtually with students, as well as authorizers, based all around the world. We converted a 3-hour class on Monday evenings into two 75-minute classes on Tuesday and Thursday. To accommodate the various time zones, we offered two sections of the class. One at 7:30am and one at 4:30pm. Each week, students were required to complete a self-study module as well as a related assignment before class on Tuesday. We would review the assignments and use them to provide feedback, clarify concepts and answer any burning questions on the content, in our class session. The student teams would then meet on Thursday to complete their group assignment. Essentially, they went through the weekly content three times – on their own, in class with us, and in their teams – allowing for deeper engagement and learning.   

Learning from our experience last year, we asked the alumni of our HKS Implementing Public Policy (IPP) Executive Education program, if they wanted to nominate problems and work with our students. Eight IPP alumni, William Keith Young, Adaeze Oreh, Milzy Carrasco, Kevin Schilling, Artem Shaipov, George Imbenzi, David Wuyep, and Raphael Kenigsberg, who had been trained on PDIA and implementation, signed up to work with our students. They assigned the following challenges to our students:

  • Implementing reparations in Asheville, North Carolina
  • Tackling blood safety in Nigeria
  • Exploring police and community relations in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
  • Access to affordable childcare in Burien, Washington
  • Legal education reform in the Ukraine
  • Exploring trade between Kenya and Canada
  • Abandoned projects in Nigeria
  • Radicalization in France
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