Plugged In: Computers In Class

As Macintosh stormed the digital world, Harvard formalized the computer science concentration and President Bok urged increased use of computer technology in classrooms


In the mid-1980s, Harvard also partnered with Hewlett-Packard and other companies to integrate state-of-the-art technologies into the classroom.

Hewlett-Packard gave Harvard Medical School a multi-million dollar grant to supply computers for the New Pathway program, a massive overhaul of the medical school curriculum which relied on small seminar-style coursework and case-based problem solving lessons.

A cornerstone of the New Pathway program were eight terminals and five or six students who were trained by Professor G. Octo Barnett to answer questions for students.

“We set up problems that students tried to answer using the computers,” Barnett said. “The whole idea of having computer simulations was certainly unique.”



New technologies were also made available to undergraduates. In the fall of 1985, the course “Introductory Biology II” incorporated electromyography systems used to track muscle contraction—even though there were only five in existence in the world at the time.

According to Elizabeth L. Brainerd ’85, who taught a section for the course, “It was certainly at the cutting edge of technology at the time.”

­—Staff writer Laura G. Mirviss can be reached at