According to many studies, online education remains the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. higher education market, and has become an important feature of postsecondary education worldwide. Harvard DCE continues to take advantage of this trend, sponsoring more than 1200 online courses at Harvard Extension and Summer School in 2020-21 of which approximately 50 are daytime Harvard College or Harvard Graduate School of Education offerings.  

A substantial fraction of the online courses are synchronous “web conferences” using software that facilitates real-time voice and video, as well as application sharing. In non-pandemic times, a number of our online courses are taught in classrooms that make live streaming possible (e.g., the two largest Maxwell-Dworkin lecture halls that DCE renovated), thereby enabling synchronous student participation. Shown here is a partial view of the control room adjoining room G115 at Maxwell-Dworkin: 


To ensure that DCE students and faculty have access to state-of-the-art hardware and software resources for teaching and learning in both on-campus and online environments, I created a professional academic computing environment at 53 Church Street:

This facility contains two Windows PC classrooms, a Mac Pro classroom, a classroom with dual-boot laptops, a multimedia lab, an adaptive technology lab, and other spaces. 


In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and recognizing the need to create blended learning environments at scale, the DCE Innovation team recently designed and engineered the Helix Portable Classroom solution, a prototype that allows us to turn any classroom on campus into a HELIX Classroom for a fraction of the cost of a traditional classroom AV renovation.  Here’s a video explanation of the system:

Our approach to providing HyFlex (i.e., Hybrid and Flexible) teaching and learning experiences uses technical infrastructure and thoughtful AV design and support which we call HELIX (Harvard Extension Live Interactive eXperience).  Several classrooms have been renovated and equipped to enable HELIX.  

Teaching faculty members indicate that HELIX removes the sense of distance and the feeling of isolation associated with synchronous online teaching and learning. What seems special about teaching and learning with HELIX is the increased sense of immersion and feeling of agency that students and instructors experience. The disengagement of ordinary remote interaction disappears, and instructors and students interact fluidly and “look each other in the eye.” It feels “like being there” because the experience is natural, the participants are ready and able to play their parts, and there is support to make it all work.

  • H. Leitner and C. Laserna: Derek Bok Presidential Distance Learning Pilot Grant Initiative, “Setting our Sights on Open Teaching,” January, 2007. 
  • H. Leitner, L. Evenchik, and C. Laserna: Immersive, Collaborative Classrooms for Online Learning. Harvard University Office of the Provost, January, 2006.