Current Projects

The Call for Preliminary Proposals in Fall 2013 focused on enhancements of subjects in the first-year curriculum and within the General Institute Requirements (GIRs). Specifically, proposals were welcomed in support of projects that explored ways in which online learning experiments can help MIT faculty teach in the MIT residential educational system. Projects that spanned multiple subjects were encouraged, as was the development of modules to be used within a subject or across subjects. Current projects include:

Deliberate Blending to Foster Expertise

David Pritchard

Careful research shows that a critical factor in the development of expertise in domains from music to sports to chess is the amount of time spent practicing specific components of expertise, so-called "deliberate practice." The standard MIT approach to teaching 8.01 rests largely on having the students complete lots of problems. This approach does not generate conceptual expertise, in spite of the in-problem tutoring.

The aim of this proposal is to create Deliberate Practice Problems (DPPs) that emphasize deliberate practice of specific skills that experts possess. The heart of this proposal is the development and testing of DPPs targeted at the specific skills that characterize experts. Project instructors will write such problems, administer them in the blended class 8.011 (8.01 in the Spring semester), then put them in the summer edX MOOC "8.MReV" and collect student use data on them. Subsequent analysis of these data should show the possibilities of using these DPPs not only to improve performance on other DPP’s, but also to serve as test questions for expertise. Sophisticated psychometrics will be used to investigate two hypotheses: (1) DPPs of a specific type do in fact require separately identifiable student skills, and (2) different specific problem types designed to inculcate a particular expert skill show significant transfer between them, suggesting that they address the same skill.

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Developing Online Communication Instruction in Engineering Laboratory CI-M Subjects

Clark Colton, Donald Sadoway, Suzanne Lane, Andreas Karatsolis, Howard Silver, Felice Frankel

MIT’s communication requirement provides the backbone for the learning of how to develop, evaluate, and integrate oral, visual and written communication by requiring each student to take two subjects designated as communication-intensive in SHASS (CI-Hs), and two in their majors (CI-Ms). The CI-M subjects, however, are often fast-paced laboratory classes in which students also need to learn new concepts, methods, and techniques in their field, as well as design and complete experiments and analyze results. Consequently, class time is at a premium, with time for communication instruction competing against time for other crucial instruction.

To address the constraints of class time and the different levels of student preparedness in CI-M subjects, and to develop a more coherent and consistent approach to communication instruction, the project will design and implement a comprehensive system of online modules for teaching communication. This project will create a limited set of online communication instructional modules for two engineering laboratories. Because students will be able to access this instruction outside of class, it is expected that the modules will allow instructors to deliver better-targeted and more interactive communication instruction without increasing the amount of in-class time devoted to such instruction.

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Digital Learning in MIT Junior Lab

Sean P. Robinson, Gunther Roland

The 8.13/8.14 Junior Lab sequence is one of the core elements of the MIT Physics undergraduate curriculum, introducing students to the art and science of obtaining, analyzing and communicating experimental data. For many students, Junior Lab becomes one of the formative steps in their career. It is also a microcosm of the MIT experience: Ultimately rewarding, but challenging and with a somewhat daunting reputation of consuming all available time.

This project proposes to reshape the learning approach of the MIT Physics Junior Lab by embedding this residential laboratory class in the edX framework. The goal is to improve the efficiency of student learning of core skills in experimental science, while enhancing the students’ lab experience. The collaborative nature of the edX platform will allow this project to impact physics lab instruction on a wide scale even outside of MIT. While often seen as a content delivery tool for non-­‐residential audiences, edX also holds great promise for residential learning environments.

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Imag(ing) Islamic History

Nasser Rabbat

As an international premier institute for higher learning, MIT should offer courses that cover all major cultures of the world. To a certain extent, it does through its HASS programs. But not all cultures are well represented in the current curriculum. This is especially the case for the cultures of the Islamic world. This project is proposing to develop a new and innovative Islamic history survey course entitled, Imag(ing) Islamic History, and designed especially for the age of learning through images.

The course covers the period from the late-sixth early-seventh century (right before the birth of Mohammad) to the present in connected but not continuous episodes. It will follow a clear chronology from the story of Mecca before the birth of the Prophet Muhammad to the rise of the modern state in the Islamic world and its trials and tribulations in the last fifty years. The overview will stop with the reemergence of Islam as a powerful tool of identity politics towards the end of the twentieth century and this development’s repercussions in our present day. The course is meant primarily as an introductory course for undergraduates.

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Improving Residential Music Theory Education with Online Components

Michael Scott Cuthbert

Basic music theory skills—including the ability to read music, to hear music more precisely, and to compose simple pieces in diverse musical styles—are fundamental to nearly every study of music. In a process similar to learning a foreign language, developing music fundamentals requires a continual cycle of study, practice, and feedback. Students come to these classes with a variety of skills and experiences. Traditional modes of teaching music fundamentals both throughout the US and equally at MIT, require students to acquire the relevant skills all at the same rate regardless of whether or not they have previous training in these skills. Students can alternate between bored and frustrated by the fluctuating difficulty of the classes.

The vast majority of the assignments given in music fundamentals courses can be evaluated automatically, with helpful spontaneous feedback within the limits of current technology. We believe that the entire content of a music fundamentals class can be brought online within the MITx framework. There is a great demand for such a class both at MIT and throughout the United States and starting with an EdX course could have great benefits for residential education. However, this project suggests reversing these two stages; that is, creating online and self-paced components to improve MIT residential classes in music fundamentals first and then later releasing it to the world.

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On-Line Experiential Program of Experiments in Human Psychology

John Gabrieli

MIT's "Introduction to Psychological Science" course presents to about 250-300 MIT undergraduates with current scientific knowledge about human nature, including the relation of brain and behavior, perception, learning and thinking, development, social behavior and personality, and psychopathology and psychotherapy. A central theme of the course is how well-controlled laboratory experiments can reveal scientific evidence about the human mind. Many of these experiments are computer-based, and could be experienced directly by these students via an on-line program that would allow students to try these experiments, see their own performance, and relate that personal, hands-on experience to the themes discussed in the lectures and in the textbook.

The project involves the design and programming of an on-line web-based series of mock experiments in which students perform the experiments as if they were participants in a research study, and then see how their own performance relates to (1) the original findings of the experiment and (2) the average of their classmates. Experiments would be selected as modules related to major components of the course.

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Stefan Helmreich, Caroline Jones

"The firehose" is a metaphor born at MIT that conveys the speed and volume of available information – yet it also imagines a flow that necessarily rushes by and risks putting out the fire of curiosity. This project aims to address the need for deeper, sometimes slower thinking, through an intense but thoughtful encounter with the richness of scholarship generated by a research university. By means of a cross-disciplinary subject we hope to stoke the intimate and cumulative processes that Goethe celebrated as "tender empiricism."

This pedagogical inquiry directly addresses the concept of "subject" that underscores the educational organization of MIT "courses" as disciplinary regimes. This project proposes to renovate subject as a rubric that can cut across courses, while nonetheless conveying the rigor with which different fields approach a common topic. In this case, the thematic topic is Resonance which will explore sonic phenomena from various acoustic, biological, cultural, technological, historical, and cognitive perspectives. Students will engage with the material together in the classroom, but will be required to produce a personal final research project to consolidate their learning and further hone distinctive inter-, trans-, and disciplinary interpretations of the acoustic.

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