Technology Enabled Transformation
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In considering opportunities, we heard from faculty members that any initiative needs to carefully consider the affordances and implications of technology to faculty-student interaction. Students echoed the importance of faculty-student interaction. At the same time, a review of subject-level evaluations revealed that students value technology as an enabler for learning but not as a replacement for teaching.
Consider some possibilities:
Example 1: The increasing diversity of MIT’s student population is making it increasingly difficult to design subjects that are appropriate for all students. It’s common for a class in an entry-level subject to include absolute beginners, as well as students with considerable experience, although typically not enough experience to place out of the subject. Judicious use of on-line material could give departments the flexibility to create paths into the subject appropriate for both kinds of students, as well as “bridges” to serve as entry paths to advanced material in a manner that better accommodates individual student differences than does our current system of semester-subject prerequisites.
Example 2: The Institute is increasingly experimenting with activities in service education, short-term internships, and entrepreneurial project courses – experiences that may not fit comfortably within the confines of semester calendars and class schedules that must juggle four or five subjects at once. Typically we’ve dealt with this by scheduling these experiences during IAP, when “classes won’t interfere with education.” With advances in communication and improved on-line materials, it could be practical for faculty and departments to create subjects that include “expeditions” that take students off campus for two or three weeks during the semester. Students could continue in their other classes during those weeks, or make up missed work asynchronously.
Going further, students on international exchange or a co-op placement might still be able to participate in an MIT on-campus course during the time they are away. Similarly, we could accommodate intense on-campus experiences, such as letting students spend a couple of weeks in an immersive UROP project and make up for the missed work later.
Example 3: Many members of the MIT community could be effective tutors and coaches for students working with online interactive materials. As tutors, they would check that students are making regular progress and answer questions. This could be done in an hour or two each week without interfering with an individual’s primary appointment. MIT is almost unique in the range and talent of our academic research staff, and it was part of the genius of UROP to engage them in our educational mission. But we could go much farther: we could provide every MIT student with a personal tutor in each core subject.
Example 4: The strength and uniqueness of MIT’s educational program rests on our integration of teaching and research. Given the increasing sophistication of interactive educational materials, we could imagine a transformation where the primary educational role of the faculty would be mentoring students in small-group settings. That would be a fundamental change in the MIT experience, and a controversial one. But it’s a direction that information technology can open to us if we want to go that way.
Example 5: Online homework can provide students with immediate feedback on their understanding. It can also provide immediate feedback to faculty. You could give a homework assignment and, on the very next day, see an analysis showing where students are gaining understanding and where they are having difficulties. You could then incorporate that information as you plan your next class. Such “digital dashboard” efforts are being pioneered at CMU. [W. Brown, M. Lovett, D. Bajzek, J. Burnette, “Improving the Feedback Cycle to Improve Learning in Introductory Biology Using the Digital Dashboard,” Proc. Assn. for Advancement of Computing in Education, World Conference on e-Learning, 2006; M. Lovett, O. Meyer, C., "The Open Learning Initiative: Measuring the effectiveness of the OLI statistics course in accelerating student learning." Journal of Interactivce Media in Education (2008).]
MICET has identified the theme of modularity as a key enabler of ideas like the ones above. Rather than trying to dictate specific initiatives, our goal is to foster an educational system at MIT that is more modular and flexible both in time (not always organized into one-semester chunks) and geography (not always on campus). We will be funding a small number of department-initiated experiments aimed at demonstrating the benefits of modularity and possible ways to achieve it.
The focus is on initiatives that could have broad scope and applicability across the Institute. Funding for these experiments is being provided through the generous support of the Class of ’60 in addition to resources from two DUE offices, the Office of Educational Innovation and Technology and the Teaching and Learning Laboratory.
Following a series of discussions with departments to solicit ideas for specific activities/experiments to begin in fall 2011, we are now reviewing proposals for prototypes from Mechanical Engineering, EECS, Chemistry, and ESD. The ideas include:
In thinking about next steps, we're motivated by the following questions:
We look forward to reporting to the faculty on the progress on these initiatives as they unfold over the next year, and on soliciting further proposals. In the meantime, we welcome your comments.
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