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Vol. 4, No. 1, January 2007

Welcome to Engineering Our World, the MIT School of Engineering's free bulletin for alumni and friends. Updated six times yearly, Engineering Our World describes some of the work we're doing at the leading edge of technological change, providing news and articles of the School's major initiatives.Past Issues

The Promise of Technology-Enabled Education

by Dean Thomas L. Magnanti

Here's my ed-tech nightmare: "students all over the world just sitting in front of a box viewing the same lecture."
      – Charles M. Vest, MIT President Emeritus and Professor of Mechanical Engineering, speaking at the iCampus symposium, "Learning Without Barriers," December 2006

Many of us love technology, though sometimes it can be frustrating, particularly when it doesn't perform as we'd like. (See "The Challenges of Engineering – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly") But whether or not you were the first on your block to purchase a cell phone, an iPod, or a robotic vacuum cleaner, when it comes to higher education, we need to ask the question "Does technology make a difference?" In my view, technology *is* making a difference and has the potential to make a *tremendous* difference. Let me tell you why I think so.

In early December 2006, I attended a major symposium at MIT entitled "Learning Without Barriers / Technology Without Borders." It brought together many leaders from the academy, industry, and government from across the country and beyond to focus on technical education. Among the speakers, MIT President Emeritus and soon-to-be President of the National Academy of Engineering, Charles M. Vest, reflected on the role of openness in innovation, education, and research in a future increasingly dominated by globalization. At one point, he displayed a slide to describe his ed-tech nightmare: "students all over the world just sitting in front of a box viewing the same lecture."

What is it about this scenario that is so troubling? It's the lack of engagement. New technologies in and of themselves don't create new learning experiences for students. Just as access to the Internet has not automatically given students a quality education, new technologies only provide the medium for educational innovation and enhancement. But what a powerful medium and what a wonderful opportunity it offers us.