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Henry H. Leitner

Senior Lecturer on Computer Science, Harvard University

  • Education

    PhD, Harvard University

Henry H. Leitner

Why I teach Information Management Systems at Harvard Extension School

I teach at Extension because I really believe in the mission and I adore the students. I’ve been teaching ever since the late 1970s, when I was in graduate school at Harvard. I feel very fortunate to have hired some of my former Extension students and teaching assistants to work at the Division of Continuing Education.

I first got interested in computer science because a faculty member, Barry Jacobs, decided to form a small “honors group” of 7 students, and asked me to join.  He was studying for his PhD in theoretical computer science at NYU’s Courant Institute at the time; he had an idea that the best way for him to really solidify his understanding of the subject matter he was studying was to teach it. He also was motivated by the notion that we would all go on to PhD programs ourselves, which is in fact what happened!

I was the only member of the group that went to Harvard. Had Dr. Jacobs not created this program, I likely would have studied something else, even though I did have an interest in computer science since high school.

Student Experiences

Latanya Sweeney arrived at my office some time in the spring of 1991, without an appointment. She started the conversation by stating something like: “Why should I take classes at Harvard Extension?”

I was taken a little aback by that direct statement, and engaged her in a conversation about career goals. I learned that she dropped out of MIT some time earlier with her partner, and was feeling that her career was not progressing the way she wanted for lack of an undergraduate degree. So I advised her to just try a course, and see how it goes. Sure enough, if was my CSCI E-110 course (Intro to Computing), which she took in the fall, earning a very high final grade of A.

I started to get to know her well after that, and ended up hiring her multiple times as a teaching assistant for courses I was teaching at Harvard Extension School (HES). We then collaborated on research, and after she graduated (with honors) from HES, we co-taught classes.

Soon after completing her ALB degree (Latanya was the commencement speaker), she sought my advice on graduate school. She was admitted to both Harvard and MIT, and I advised her to choose the latter – MIT’s computer science department was much larger than Harvard, and I felt it would be awesome if she completed her degree there after having dropped out as an undergraduate student.  She did complete her PhD, and at the time was the first African-American female to have earned a CS doctoral degree from MIT.

We have continued to collaborate. She is now a Harvard faculty member and faculty dean of one of the undergraduate houses. Recently, her new TechLab creation was featured in the Harvard Gazette.

Dr. Latanya Sweeney is currently the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and Technology at Harvard Kennedy School. She was formerly the Chief Technology Officer of the Federal Trade Commission and Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking.

More About Henry

Dr. Henry Leitner is the associate dean for information technology and chief innovation officer for the Division of Continuing Education (DCE) at Harvard University.

At Harvard Extension, he created the Master of Liberal Arts in information technology program. As senior lecturer on computer science, for over three decades Leitner has taught large introductory computer science courses and other advanced courses for Harvard Extension and Summer Schools, as well as at Harvard College. In 1999, he received the Petra T. Shattuck Excellence in Teaching Award, and in 2006 he was honored for 25 years of teaching at the Extension School.

He co-founded Articulate Systems, Inc., a company that pioneered the use of voice recognition technology on the Apple Macintosh computer.

Leitner has oversight responsibility for the pedagogical, software engineering, and technical support teams for online teaching and learning at DCE, a campus-based computing lab, as well as a growing collection of continuing and professional education courses that collectively enroll thousands of students annually.

His current research is focused on the emerging field of learning engineering, which involves the application of a principled set of evidence-based strategies to the continual re-design of educational experiences to optimize their effectiveness and efficiency.

Leitner received his master’s degree and his doctorate from Harvard University.