Greg Morrisett named Harvard College Professor

Annual honors recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching by five outstanding Harvard faculty

By Peter Reuell, Harvard Gazette

Greg Morrisett is the Allen B. Cutting Professor of Computer Science at Harvard SEAS.

Greg Morrisett, Allen B. Cutting Professor of Computer Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, is among five members of the Harvard faculty who were recently appointed Harvard College Professors.

The Harvard College Professorships, five-year appointments that are enabled through a gift from John and Frances Loeb, provide faculty with extra support for research or scholarly activities, a semester of paid leave, or summer salary. The prestigious awards recognize faculty for their ability to instill a passion for education in their students.

When it comes to his teaching philosophy, Morrisett prefers to emphasize not what he knows, but what he doesn’t. By focusing on his own need to learn, both from students and other faculty, he said, he’s able to remain open to new ideas in the classroom.

“Harvard students are great at giving constructive feedback on course evaluations, and I try hard to fix the things they’ve identified as problematic,” he said.

One area that in recent years has become fertile ground for new experiments in teaching, he said, relates to the ubiquity of digital tools in classrooms. Such tools are forcing faculty to reconsider the classroom experience so that their time with students is more direct and meaningful, for both teacher and student.

“In computer science, and engineering more generally, students primarily learn when they are building things and getting their hands dirty, not when they’re in a lecture hall,” he said. “These new tools make it possible to shift some aspects of a lecture into video, but that just opens up the question as to how best can we spend the time we have together?”

In small classes, he said, the use of technology has enabled professors to spend more time working with students on problems, designs, and code, while in larger classes it often plays an auxiliary role in the form of background videos that help better explain an idea or concept.

“It’s just really exciting to hear faculty thinking hard about this and trying lots of new ideas,” Morrisett said.

Going forward, Morrisett believes the ability to offer classes online will open the door to students across the globe.

“Another thing that I think is exciting is the move to make our course materials accessible to the wider world,” he said. “I love the idea that the work we all put into our classes should be accessible to the general public, the same way the books we write are accessible in libraries across the world, or the open software we create in research is fueling innovation in industry. This is wonderful for learners everywhere, and helps fulfill a central mission of Harvard, to not only create new ideas, but to make them accessible.”

Read more about the five new Harvard College Professors in the Harvard Gazette

Topics: Academics