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A VITAL Tool for Teaching and Learning


Librarians Gregory Finnegan and Pam Matz discuss some observations about VITAL with Susan Fliss during a breakout session where participants were offered the chance to provide feedback and suggestions about the site.


March 28, 2011 – Harvard librarians play a critical role in training the next generation of scholars by teaching classes on research and creating online tools for scholarship. To ensure they have access to the most up-to-date information and ideas related to teaching, as well as pedagogical tools created by other librarians, a new Web site, dubbed VITAL, Visions and Ideas for Teaching and Learning, was launched last week.

Conceived in early 2009 by the Harvard College Library Teaching and Learning Committee, VITAL is a clearinghouse of information, ideas, learning objects, and various teaching materials that are available to all Harvard librarians and staff involved in teaching and learning. The site is designed to foster a community by encouraging peer mentorship and the exchange of expertise.

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The site is organized into several broad areas, like Harvard Curricula, Teaching Support and Learning Technology, each of which contains links to a variety of information. For example, the Teaching Support area contains links to shared teaching materials, teaching and presentation tips, teaching and learning videos, and an archive of past workshops and links to professional development resources. Librarians are free to contribute material – whether lesson plans, course handouts or information on workshops – to the site, and can consult, adapt, and reuse the information posted on VITAL by others.

To mark the launch of the site, more than a dozen librarians from Harvard College Library and the Harvard Law School Library recently gathered at Lamont Library for a hands-on introduction to the site, and the chance to offer feedback and suggestions for additional materials and resources that might be added to it.

“What VITAL is about is creating a community of practice – librarians can use this information to find out what their peers at Harvard are doing, and what they have had success with,” said Susan Fliss, Associate Librarian of Harvard College for Research, Teaching, and Learning.

With its focus on building a collaborative pedagogical community of faculty and library educators, Fliss said, the site helps to address the teaching and learning priorities articulated by Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael Smith.

“Harvard provides a unique opportunity, bringing together the truly excellent faculty and students found in a kinetic and generative research university,” Fliss said, quoting a statement from Smith. “This is a place where excellent teaching can thrive, and it’s our job to make sure that it does.

“I would add that Harvard also brings together truly excellent librarians and curators and bibliographers and museum educators and academic technologists and on and on,” Fliss added. “This site will be a wonderful tool for us as we go forward and begin to formulate our communities of best practices for the new Harvard Library.”