MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXVII No. 2
November / December 2014
Issues in Considering the Future
of MIT Education
Four New Members Elected to
FNL Editorial Board
The Future of MIT Education
Preventing and Addressing Sexual Misconduct at MIT: A Faculty Primer
Reflecting on "All Doors Open"
Are We Moving Toward a Two-Class
Research-Education Society at MIT?
8.02 TEAL+x: Students Say "Yes"
to MITx in 8.02 TEAL
Addressing Student Mental Health Issues
at MIT
Advising Undergraduates or Teaching a
CI-H/HW Subject? New Enrollment Tools Can Help
Transforming Student Information Systems
The A2 Problem Set in
Undergraduate Education
Work-Life Center Announces Senior Planning Benefit and Seminar Series
The Alumni Class Funds Seek Proposals for Teaching and Education Enhancement
Being "Nice" at MIT
from the 2014 survey "Community Attitudes on Sexual Assault"
from the 2014 survey "Community Attitudes on Sexual Assault"
Printable Version

The Future of MIT Education

Sanjay Sarma, Karen Willcox, Israel Ruiz

In launching the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education in February 2013, President Reif asked us to lead the charge in envisioning the future of education at MIT and beyond, an exciting but daunting task. He challenged us to "be bold in experimenting with ideas that would both enhance the education of our own students on our own campus and that would allow us to offer some version of our educational experience to learners around the world."

MIT has a long history of pedagogical innovation balanced with deep introspection. The 1949 report of the Lewis Commission, the 1998 report of the Presidential Task Force on Student Life and Learning, and the 2006 report of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons all demonstrated the importance of critically analyzing our educational model in the context of the global landscape.

On November 21, 2013, the Task Force on the Future of MIT Education released its preliminary report, which explored a breadth of possibilities to consider in reimagining the Institute's future. In the final report, released on July 28, 2014, the Task Force offered a series of 16 recommendations for how MIT can continue to transform education for future generations of learners. The recommendations are intended to lay the groundwork for MIT to build on the momentum that the Task Force has created. These recommendations reflect the collaborative efforts of the 52 Task Force members – faculty, students, and staff who brought their experiences to this collective effort – working with the guidance of Corporation and alumni advisory groups, and the input of the broader MIT community through an Idea Bank and extensive surveys.

incremental cost over budget
Task Force Structure
(click on image to enlarge)








As Task Force co-chairs, we believe that the Institute has historic opportunities to reach more people, to reshape residential MIT education, and to impact lives and society in ways not previously thought possible. Tremendous opportunities lie before us, but there remains much to be done.

Enabling Bold Experimentation

"Recommendation 1: The Task Force recommends that MIT establish an Initiative for Educational Innovation to build on the momentum of the Task Force, enable bold experimentation, and realize the future the Task Force has imagined for education on campus and beyond."

The Task Force recommendations have potentially far-reaching consequences. In order to ensure success, we need to promote educational connections across the Institute and provide a sandbox for engaging in and thoughtfully assessing the kinds of experiments envisioned by the Task Force.

Under the auspices of the Initiative for Educational Innovation and in concert with faculty governance, MIT will be able to conduct experiments in both the undergraduate and graduate programs.

Some of the suggested experiments involve: infusing greater flexibility into the core undergraduate curriculum, including the General Institute Requirements (GIRs); expanding the use of diverse pedagogies such as project-based and blended learning models; introducing modularity into the curriculum; and studying new approaches to the assessment of students.

The Working Group on MIT Education and Facilities for the Future offers additional recommendations aimed at transforming pedagogy. The Group recommends that MIT build on the success of freshman learning communities and consider future expansions of the cohort-based freshman community model; use online and blended learning to strengthen the teaching of communications; create an Undergraduate Service Opportunities Program; and explore online and blended learning models to improve graduate curriculum accessibility.

Extending MIT's Educational Impact to the World

MITx and edX have created an unprecedented opportunity for MIT to reach a global audience. Two and a half million unique learners have already participated in edX classes, with one million of these individuals accessing MITx content. 55 partner universities together offer over 250 courses reaching learners in close to 200 countries, and over 1,000 local grassroots edX communities have sprung up around the world.

The Working Group on the Future Global Implications of edX and the Opportunities it Creates offers recommendations aimed at extending MIT's educational impact and pedagogical innovation to the world. The Group encourages supporting efforts to create a lasting community and Wikipedia-like knowledge base for MITx learners to gather resources and share ideas and best practices. It calls upon MIT to define a K-12 strategy, and to consider the types of certifications that can be supported through MITx and edX along with pricing methodologies.

Lowering Barriers to Access

In a market that focuses on excellence, MIT incurs high costs to attract and retain the best faculty and brightest students, and to provide the research facilities needed to promote discovery and innovation. While our model is inherently capital and labor intensive, this investment pays off in terms of educational outcomes, namely outstanding students and advances in knowledge. Two current sources of Institutional support – government research funding and tuition – are under pressure, and preserving MIT's exceptional research and educational environment will require consideration of new revenue opportunities.

The Working Group on a New Financial Model for Education offers recommendations aimed at enabling the future of MIT education. It recommends charging a working group to further evaluate revenue opportunities surrounding technology licensing and venture funding, and suggests bolstering infrastructure for executive and professional education to broaden program delivery. It also recommends establishing a working group on spaces for future student life and learning to bring together stakeholders from around campus to envision, plan, and create spaces for the future of MIT education.

Most importantly, the Task Force urges MIT to strengthen its commitment to access and affordability. For the current academic year only 7.9% of undergraduate applicants were admitted to MIT. Clearly, there is a vast unmet need for access to high-quality residential education, but we are unable to meet the demand due to the high cost of the residential experience. Through online and blended learning environments, MIT can reach more learners and lower barriers to access.

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What We Have Heard

A number of themes have emerged from discussion forums conducted during the comment period over the past couple of months. The concern about impact on faculty time is of paramount importance. The number of MIT faculty has remained relatively constant over the past 30 years, with 996 faculty in 1981 and 1,022 in 2013 despite the significant growth in research funding and the number of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. We may need to consider some growth in the faculty in order to address concerns about the impact on teaching loads. Additionally, online experiences present new opportunities for envisioning new educational roles that could offer support for teaching MITx classes.

Some are skeptical that we will be able to infuse the quality and magic of the MIT residential education into online offerings. Others worry that reduced time on campus could weaken the sense of affiliation and commitment to give back for future generations.

We acknowledge that the serendipitous encounters between faculty, students, and staff in the living communities, classrooms, and common spaces cannot be replaced in online forums. At the same time, we have the opportunity to reach more people with the highest quality online experience possible, to complement classes through intensive on-campus experiences, and to explore opportunities for alumni and students to work abroad as mentors.

MIT's commitment to hands-on learning is still evident today. In weighing the importance of MIT values and principles, faculty responding to a survey ranked hands-on experience second only to commitment to excellence, and students ranked it as the most important.

Throughout the Task Force process, we have felt a tension between a desire to preserve many of the qualities that define an MIT education and a push to make grand, sweeping changes to MIT's very core. In order to achieve the Task Force's vision, MIT will need to be receptive to new opportunities and approaches. We need to make it easier to work across School boundaries to develop interdisciplinary classes, to explore modular approaches to class material, and to experiment with flexible approaches.

We have been encouraged to do more to influence K-12 education. Recognizing that we have limited capability without a school of education, we still have an obligation to try. Today there are over 80 grassroots efforts on campus involved in K-12 outreach activities, and there may be further opportunities to connect faculty researching childhood learning with these efforts.

We have been reminded emphatically of MIT's unwavering commitment to hands-on learning, the need for maker spaces, the importance of undergraduate residences, and the vision for spaces to enable the future of education. And we have realized that we need to do a better job of telling MIT's story of affordability, and of exploring new revenue opportunities if we are to advance the residential model for future generations.

But what we have heard most loudly amid all of the voices is the enormous widespread desire from the broad MIT community to engage in the future of MIT education.

The Future Is Here

A number of the ideas explored by the Task Force are already taking shape, giving us a glimpse of what the future may hold. Recently, 47 of the 54,856 students enrolled in 15.390x Entrepreneurship 101 were invited to participate in the MITx Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. Students from 22 countries participated in the intensive on-campus experience, a highly successful program that presents new possibilities for reaching more people and expanding access to MIT.

Building on the work of the Task Force, and in collaboration with the Office of Digital Learning, MIT offered a small number of classes for credit this past summer on an experimental basis. The program, dubbed summer@future, drew 129 residential students during the course of an eight-week period; we are now assessing the results. The classes represent another step in the exploration of opportunities to enhance the residential learning experience with online educational materials and blended learning models. These are the kinds of experiments that will help us build the capacity to extend online offerings and modular approaches.

The Task Force envisions a future in which MIT's impact is even greater than it is today. We imagine a future that extends MIT's capacity to reach a global audience of learners, and in which the MIT residential education model is strengthened.

We wish to acknowledge the tireless efforts of all of those that have participated in the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education since its inception on February 6, 2013, and we are hopeful that the Task Force final report will inspire all of us to continue to imagine the Institute's future. If you have not yet read it, we urge you to do so.

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