Findings from Ten Formative Assessments
of Educational Initiatives at MIT (2000-2003)

Educational Innovation at MIT

In 1999, MIT received two generous grants that allowed it to embark on a wide scale series of innovations in undergraduate education. The first was from then chairman of the MIT Corporation, Alex d'Arbeloff, and his wife, Brit d'Arbeloff; they created the d'Arbeloff Fund for Excellence in Education. The d'Arbeloff grants have been devoted primarily to strengthening the first-year experience at MIT. The second grant, from the Microsoft Corporation, funded iCampus, a five-year, $25 million research alliance whose purpose is to improve higher education through the use of information technology. Since 1999, MIT faculty, staff, and students have undertaken approximately forty experiments in educational innovation supported by these two sources of funding.

The Teaching and Learning Laboratory (TLL) was asked to manage the assessment of these initiatives. Of course, the Institute has evaluated its educational efforts throughout its history, but it wanted these new initiatives to be studied in a more systematic way. We have undertaken that work over the last four years in collaboration with MIT faculty, administrators, students, and assessment and evaluation consultants. Of the ten research projects undertaken, six have been completed and four are in their second or third years.

Types of Findings

Following the lead of the newly formed Center for the Advancement of Scholarship on Engineering Education (CASEE), we have grouped these ten projects into "strands."  A strand is a line of inquiry that a number of individual projects can contribute to. Although itis difficult to categorize ten distinct projects, as we have reviewed them over the last several months, we have come to see they can be placed in one of two strands: (1) those that used active learning pedagogies; and (2) those that focused on educational technology. (Appendix A to the report provides a description of each individual project.)

This report, then, summarizes the most important findings from the educational initiatives MIT has undertaken over the last several years. It should be noted that we have not described every finding for every project; we are only reporting the findings that we believe are the most striking, and that have the most relevance for undergraduate education in science, engineering, and technology. We should also make clear that the initiatives listed in Appendix A do not encompass all of the activities that are being carried out at the Institute to strengthen undergraduate education. A number of other initiatives are currently underway, and several others are in the planning stage.

As we have done this work over the last four years, we have also identified what we believe are several "best practices" for the design, implementation, and assessment of reforms in teaching and learning in higher education; the report includes a description of these.

The major findings in each category, then, are as follows.

Findings Related to the Use of Active Learning

Findings Related to the Use of Educational Technology

Findings Related to Design, Implementation, and Assessment

Next Steps

We believe the studies we have done over the past several years have set the stage for a second phase of research at MIT into pedagogical innovation, educational technology, and how improvements in those two areas impact learning. The conclusion to this report lays out the priorities for research and assessment as we move forward.