Highlights of the 1997-1998 Academic Year
Web-based Environments for Teaching and Learning
September 16, 1997
Presentations highlighted the range of Web applications in MIT courses, as
well as the tools and mechanisms available for supporting these applications.
The presentations set the stage for a discussion on strategies for providing
meaningful support to promote more extensive and effective use of the Web for
teaching and learning.
- John Williams spoke about his project that seeks to institutionalize in
a scalable way systematic support of large numbers of courses on the Web.
He is concentrating on common elements that are necessary to supporting a
course, such as registration, conferencing systems, ability to manage and
post large number of documents, etc., using Lotus Domino as the underlying
database. His project is not concentrating on the core content of the course.
- Yunpeng Wang spoke about the Geosys modules
that are used to support 12.550 and the Profession Masters Program in EAPS.
- Nishikant Sonwalkar described activities and services offered by the Hypermedia
Teaching Facility in CAES.
- Katie Livingston discussed what other universities are doing in this area,
and pointed to a few departments within MIT that are actively developing Web-based
or Web-enhanced courses. She suggested that a group get together to develop
a "requirements document" that accurately expresses MIT's needs
in this area, to help us decide where resources need to be focused.
Next Generation Internet
October 14, 1997
"Next Generation Internet: Architecture, Applications, Initiatives, and
Implications" is a particularly significant topic, given the growing interest
in delivering high bandwidth educational applications both within MIT and to
the extended community. Presentations were given as follows:
- William Mitchell, Dean of the School of Architecture and Chair of the Council
on Educational Technology, spoke about the visions that have come out of the
council and that are contained in its report. The guiding principle is where
MIT wants to go educationally, and the report contains a scenario-based approach.
All scenarios need pervasive high-speed network, for example, to integrate
good audio and video with substantive material. It is proposed to put the
implementation of the report on a "project" basis, requiring lots
of industry partnerships.
- Jeff Schiller, MIT's Network Manager, spoke about plans that are currently
under development for bringing high bandwidth to MIT. The applications that
are envisioned by the Council's report need continuous high bandwidth if they
are to handle streaming audio and video in real time. Random delay would make
the medium unusable. He described MIT's vBNS (622 MB) project, and also the
RSVP protocol for ensuring Quality of Service (i.e., the ability to reserve
bandwidth for certain applications). MIT, Harvard, and Boston University are
working together on creating a Gigapop in the Boston area, which would connect
these schools to the vBNS backbone and bring 100 MB into the Institute.
- Steve Lerman, Professor of Civil Engineering and Director of CECI, talked
about NMISNetworked Multimedia Information Servicesand related
high bandwidth applications.
Recommendations of the Technology/Teaching Methods subgroup
of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning
November 14, 1997
Roz Williams started the discussion by describing how this group looked at
the Technology/Pedagogy connection:
- Models of a university (distance learning vs. residential university vs.
a combination of both)
- Methodologies (what are you trying to teach?)
- Support systems (social support systems, human advice and information)
The consensus is that the residential campus is a critical element of MIT's
Two themes that came out of the Task Force discussions are:
- We should do more to enhance the educational benefits of the residential
- When we think of "distance learning," we should be thinking
of importing things as well as exporting.
- We should think of community life as a method of education.
- The Classroom/Lab/Community is a three-legged stool on which the university
- MIT is no longer an "offbeat" educational institution. MIT is
now a model, a leader in higher education generally. We should think of ourselves
as providing a general platform for all students, no matter what their
direction or future career. We are now in a leadership position generally,
not just in quantitative fields.
Our goal is to build upon the interaction between research and teaching, to
hook up the pieces of the triad better than they are at present.
During the discussion, the following points were made:
- We need to improve the support systems for faculty, including how to improve
pedagogy through use of technology.
- One way to help faculty learn to use technology tools (PowerPoint was given
as an example) might be to have students teaching faculty.
- We need to coordinate the various pockets of support for teaching that are
scattered throughout the Institute.
- We need to provide recognition and rewards for innovative and excellent
- There are two types of support that faculty need with technologystandard
tools and extensive development.
- There need to be two support structures available to facultyone on
a departmental level, and a second larger, campus-wide support structure.
- We need a comprehensive census of what technologies are used in all departments.
- We need to make it easier for someone to bring a laptop into a classroom
to give a presentation.
- We should create something like the Educational Technology Interest Group
at the University of Illinois, where interested people can learn and share
information about different pedagogical tools.
A part of the new Office of the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education
was described, the Faculty Support Center. This Center will consist of those
members of the Dean's Office who support faculty as teachers and advisors. It
will also be making connections with other groups such as Academic Computing,
Audiovisual, MIT Libraries, etc., so that all of these resources are visible
and available to faculty in a holistic way.
Multi-Platform Networked Computing in Urban Studies and
December 12, 1997
Mike Shiffer, Director of the Urban Studies and Planning Compute Resource Lab,
discussed the joys and challenges of teaching "hands-on" courses and
supporting research in a multi-platform
networked computing environment.
The session began with a demonstration of how the unique attributes of the
"Windows, Macintosh, and Athena computing environments have been employed
along with the WWW to facilitate learning and collaboration in a city planning
context. Concepts such as automobile traffic levels and aircraft noise are conveyed
through a combination of multimedia representational aids and geographic information
systems (GIS) that take the form of maps, aerial photos, digital video, and
The talk concentrated on how a high-performance networked environment can facilitate
the delivery of such spatial information in an environment that stresses problem
exploration and communication in collaborative groups, with implications that
go far beyond urban and regional planning.
The IMS (Instructional Management System) Project
January 27, 1998
For information on the IMS Project, see the organization's Web
New Models of Student Computing
February 27, 1998
Vijay Kumar led this discussion of new models of student computing, and how
they might affect the teaching and learning environment. The discussion focused
around the questions:
- What do you do now with regard to use of computing in your classes? What
parts of the current environment do you use? What could be different?
- What would you like to do in the ideal world? What is already there? What
needs to be added to the current environment?
"What" in the preceding questions means both content (e.g.,
hardware, software applications) and process (e.g., communication, connectivity,
Vijay started by pointing out that the environment is defined by:
- the functionality provided (software, communications, support, ...);
- the locations of the machines (dorms, clusters, ...);
- the type of machine (Intel, Macintosh, Unix, ...).
and also by ownership:
- centrally owned;
- departmentally owned;
- student owned.
Opinions about the current environment and possible changes varied, but the
consensus was that we need to increase the heterogeneity of the environment,
while maintaining its stability, robustness, and support:
- Faculty need help in producing Web-based materials for teaching. Faculty
should be focusing on content and pedagogy, not production. There needs to
be a support structure at the department level, but also going beyond that.
- A centralized system leads to a more uniform interface, which is better
for students. This can also lead to cross-fertilization among departments.
- What's good about the current environment is projection in the classroom,
network connectivity in the classrooms, and electronic classrooms. What's
lacking is the ability to get at stuff from home. We need to support MediaOne
as well as Tether, DHCP, and so on. We need to work on getting student licenses
via MediaOne to software they use at school.
- We should shift expenditures away from a large public computing environment
toward student ownership and specialized clusters for things such as visualization.
We should be looking at PC software as our base, and Project Pismere is a
good step in that direction.
- The current cost of maintaining PCs in a lab setting is very labor intensive.
The PC is not robust enough. Athena boxes take care of themselves, and we're
very happy with them.
- The value side of NT is the options it gives for software applications.
- The PC is more maintainable in a private-ownership/single-user model.
- We can't expect every student to license $1,000 worth of software for his
or her PC. The big question is, How do we provide affordable, reliable software
in a distributed model with self-ownership?
- We'll never have a "one size fits all" model. We need the mix
of back-end heavy-duty machines, public machines (both high-end and read-your-mail
use), and student-owned machines.
- What's needed is something that preserves the benefits of Athena:
- software licensing and support.
- How do we provide an increased level of heterogeneity without sacrificing
the consistent, reliable service that we currently provide?
- The price that was paid y Athena is that MIT went one way and the rest of
the world went another (e.g., no Microsoft Word on Athena). We need a front-end
suite of tools that are world standards.
- Laptop ownership will increase as the cost goes down. There is now a laptop
that sells for less than $2,000.
- We need network drops in all sorts of informal places, as well as in the
Libraries. The socialization aspect is important to having computing more
integrated into the student environment. People in the Rotch Library already
ask for group study spaces with network drops.
- The fact that MIT is an urban environment is an impediment to laptops because
of physical security aspects. (What happens when it becomes known that MIT
students carry laptops across the Mass. Ave. bridge at night?)
- We need to continue to have our infrastructure (e.g., central servers, central
filespace) and broaden the multimedia representational aids.
- The Foreign Language faculty have been developing materials that are currently
delivered in the Language Lab. They need to be accessible across campus and
beyond the physical campus. To do this, we need high-speed access so that
we can deliver digital video over the network. Students need to be able to
use these materials and collaborate wherever they are, not just in the Language
Lab. Developers also need to collaborate for production and development of
- Faculty need to know what IS's plans are regarding high-speed network access
for things such as digital video.
- Servers need to play more of a role than just storing the data, doing some
amount of computation, and letting the user bring over just what he needs
- Q: Do we have or need a program to teach students computational skills?
A: Our students do OK with computational skills. What they need is more within
the information skills arena.
How Technology Has Changed the Teaching of Foreign
Languages at MIT
March 20, 1998
The meeting consisted of presentations and demonstrations by faculty from Foreign
Languages and Literatures:
- French (Gilberte Furstenberg): Le
Projet Cultura, a collaboration of students at MIT and a French university
to explore the cultural nuances behind the words we use.
- German (Kurt Fendt and Ellen Crocker): Berliner
sehen, A hypermedia documentary integrating the study of German culture
- Spanish (Douglas Morgenstern): No
recuerdo, an interactive video project combining documentary and fictional
elements for intermediate college students of Spanish.
- Japanese (Anne LaVin): JPNet,
a Japanese language and culture network