Concepts familiar from grade-school algebra have broad ramifications in computer science.
"New Teaching/New Learning at MIT," a showcase of innovations in teaching and in educational technology, transformed the wood-panelled Rm 34-401 into something between a sukh and the ultimate science fair last Friday. The busy event, attended by members of the MIT Corporation as well as faculty and staff, was part of MIT's annual MacVicar Day.
In the buzzing room, four separate workstations displayed posters and high- and low-technology equipment. MIT faculty, students and UROPs ran the stations, offering visitors the chance to participate in experiments in physics, in exploring foreign languages and cross-cultural studies, in considering a mission to Mars, and in discussing the mechanical intestines of Orca, the autonomous underwater sub.
The TEAL Project creates graphic images that help viewers more quickly and clearly appreciate principles of physics. "It's as if you can now see things you thought were rumors," explained freshman Erin Hult, as she demonstrated "Falling Magnet Applet," which represented inductance by wide oval lines squeezing through a small ring, like a tutu being shoved inside snowpants.
Referring to a large screen with a flowing graphic image denoting magnetic fields, freshman Daniel Garcia said, "It took a long time plus a great high school physics teacher for me to visualize this in my head. Now I can literally see those waves."
So can the physics-free visitor to TEAL. Magnetic fields, writ large and literal by TEAL, resemble the wall-of-water fountains found outside some casinos.
The foreign language booth was titled "Can Technology Transform the Way You Learn Japanese and French?" Here, Gilberte Furstenberg, a senior lecturer in foreign languages and literatures (FLL), and her students offered visitors a chance to participate in an interactive story filmed in Paris in which one helps a certain Philippe to find an apartment. Professor Shigera Miyagawa of FLL shared StarFestival, his multilinear story program on cultural identity.
"The New Teaching/New Learning" station on life inside the Edgerton Center offered detailed conversations with Edward J. Moriarty, instructor in electrical engineering and computer science, on autonomous underwater vehicles and on the possibility of engineering some of the sports devices in the Harry Potter books.
The Edgerton Center station also offered an enthusiastic trio of seniors in mechanical engineering -- Ahmed Elmouelhi, Will Garcia and David Arguelles, the only two-time winner of MIT's famed 2.007 contest -- all in Battlebots T-shirts. Battlebots is a national robot battle contest televised by Comedy Central. To an afficionado of 2.007, "Battlebots," the video, looked quite familiar, if more vicious and Goth. And no wonder.
"We were bitter rivals in the 2.007 contest. Now we're turning our energy into building a solid destructive machine," said Mr. Elhouelhi, who is the head undergraduate assistant for this year's 2.007 contest. The threesome's goal is to design and build that solid destructive machine and enter the Battlebots contest in late May -- after, of course, 2.007 occurs at MIT on May 8-9. Their Battlebots team, known as Team Goosebeary, is sponsored by the Edgerton Center and Innovation First, Inc.
"Inciting the Learning Process: Can Complex Problems Invigorate the Freshman Year?" was a workstation featuring video presentations by students in Professor Kip Hodges' cross-disciplinary course known as Mission 2004, inaugurated this year.
A panel discussion, "Are We Succeeding?" led by Robert P. Redwine, dean for undergraduate education, followed "New Teaching/New Learning at MIT."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 8, 2001.