Current Projects

The Call for Preliminary Proposals in Fall 2015 focused on enhancements of subjects in the first-year curriculum and within the General Institute Requirements (GIRs), and projects aimed at enriching faculty-student interactions in the residence-based curriculum. Proposals receiving d'Arbeloff funding include:

Active Learning in 3.091: The Goodie Bag

Jeffrey Grossman

This past fall (2015), I had the opportunity to build on the dynamic, enthusiastic, and rigorous curriculum for 3.091 (Introduction to Solid State Chemistry). My intent was to leverage the traditional format – blackboard lectures, practice problems worked in recitation, 3 in-class midterms plus a final, weekly quizzes and homework sets – with hands-on activities designed in the spirit of Mens et Manus. MIT’s motto embodies much about the later curriculum in Course 3 (and others), but freshmen chemistry courses have historically existed outside this pedagogical methodology. As such, I assembled a team to design and execute “goodie bags” for each student in 3.091 to take home in order to “touch and feel” the chemistry. These are not labs, rather a hands-on mini-experiment intended to bring key elements of the material to life, serve as a visual compliment to the conceptual elements, and enhance both individual and collaborative “discovery based” learning moments that cannot be predicted. The aim of the goodie bags is to foster exploration, reinforce abstract concepts with tangible actions, and engage students with different learning experiences.

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Freshman Spring Seminar: Designing Success through MIT

Edmund Bertschinger, Dante Delaney, and Alyssa Smith

Numerous reports and surveys have recognized gaps in mentoring that occur as freshmen advance beyond first-semester advising seminars and subsequently move into departmental advising. Navigating the transition to departmental advising can be difficult and the level and quality of support vary across MIT. The basic idea of this project is to create a 3-unit spring semester seminar class, aimed mostly at freshmen, that brings in faculty and other researchers to talk about how they got to where, and who, they are today. The goals are (1) to help students develop a plan for, and increase confidence about, their academic experience at MIT and (2) to help them see each other, and their professors, as human beings who are all still figuring things out at times. We believe these goals are most effectively met in the academic context—for example, by faculty reflecting on their development as scholars and researchers, how they balance their scholarship and other parts of their lives, and how they overcame challenges similar to those faced by current students. In our experience, humanizing the faculty and their relationship with students is one of the most effective ways to improve student success.

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An introductory laboratory course on wearables and the Internet of Things

Joel Voldman and Joseph Steinmeyer

One of the most exciting developments in the last decade has been the democratization of electronics hardware. Previously, creating electronics projects that performed useful tasks required working with low-level components (transistors, ICs, resistors, etc.). Now, however, the introduction of Arduino and numerous other related microcontroller platforms coupled with sensors and actuators that can “plug-and-play”, combined with low-cost and frugal wireless communications makes it possible to create interesting projects quickly and at low cost. These new electronics platforms necessarily incorporate software, providing a rich set of topics across Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Our project will develop an introductory subject in EECS focused on wearables and the Internet-of-Things, i.e., interconnected embedded devices. We wish to use this course to show students how different aspects of EECS come together in the technologies that they use every day.

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Leveraging MITx to Deliver Foundational Knowledge Essential for Success in MIT’s Chemistry GIR

Matthew Shoulders and Troy Van Voorhis

Our long-term objective is to develop and implement a suite of customizable, MITx-based web resources to enhance 5.111 Principles of Chemical Science. 5.111 is one of three options for students to complete the chemistry general institute requirement (GIR), and is the largest option in terms of number of students serviced. Key challenges that we face each semester in the large, freshman-level chemistry GIRs include: (1) Efficiently and effectively delivering foundational, remedial knowledge to freshman students that are, in some cases, ill-prepared for an MIT-level chemistry course, (2) Devising strategies to increase and add value to student–faculty and student–TA interactions in a large course, and (3) Generating excitement about state-of-the-art, modern chemistry research applications of the fundamental principles presented to the students. The strategy is to develop a Foundational Knowledge Module (FKM) comprised of video lectures integrated with custom-designed problems delivered on the MITx platform. The content will be organized in a way that allows students to either review the content before beginning 5.111 or in real-time during the semester as the need arises. Because our approach leverages the MITx platform to deliver content, the materials developed will be useful not just for 5.111, but also for students requiring review material for the other freshman chemistry GIR options.

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Molecule Builders: The First Freshman Design Experience in the Chemical Sciences at MIT and in the United States

Bradley Olsen

MIT was the first university to issue an undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering and is arguably the first university in the world to found a department in this discipline. However, underclassmen report continued difficulties in understanding what Chemical Engineering is and what Chemical Engineers do, and there is a general lack of excitement about the curriculum relative to peer departments in the School of Engineering. We propose a new class in Chemical and Chemical-Biological Engineering entitled “Molecule Builders.” This subject aims to provide a supervised maker space that introduces students to the applications of engineering design at the molecular level, the very definition of Chemical Engineering. Students will be exposed to the basic principles of molecular-level engineering design using hands-on approaches supplemented by a few lectures. Students will complete an open-ended design project, several of which will be related to national or international competitions in which teams will be invited to participate after completion of the course. Students will also be introduced to the professional and societal roles of chemical engineers, exploring the products chemical engineers design and make, meeting practicing chemical engineers, and learning about how engineering education provides opportunities for their future growth and development.

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The Music Technology Laboratory

Eran Ergozy

In order to develop a compelling undergraduate educational program in music technology, a laboratory is required to function as the center for teaching, research, and course development. This project will enable the modest beginning of a new Teaching and Learning Lab at MIT and will enable undergraduate projects in music technology that require specialized hardware or software, and create a new class in music technology that teaches the fundamentals of music processing.

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Reigniting thermodynamics education through hands-on learning and interactive web applets

Cullen Buie

Almost all courses in MIT’s Mechanical Engineering core curriculum have a lab component that gives students hands-on experience. However, the traditional thermodynamics, heat transfer and fluid mechanics courses in the department no longer have laboratory components. These classes cover three of the most critical aspects of a mechanical engineer’s education. In spite of their importance, these classes are also among the most unfamiliar and counterintuitive concepts. We realize that students have many interests but we would like to ensure that they have working knowledge of common systems in thermal-fluids engineering. To address this issue, our project will make these courses more hands on and interactive, allowing students to tie together theory and practice.

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