Dick Larson <rclarson>
Here is one vision of how a typical day in the life of an MIT undergraduate may commence, some time into the future (say 2014). I wrote this five years ago and still believe in the vision.
Tuesday, March 15, 2014
Carl is awakened in his Baker House dorm room by his beeper. Groggy, at first he thinks it is a signal from his VCR, perhaps unable to download the video lecture of 6.003 that he missed yesterday. But it is more serious: the weather balloon that his team launched from Bangkok last Friday has veered off course and is headed into a typhoon. Via the Motorola world wide satellite network, the GPS receiver had been programmed to alert him and his Junior year teammates Nancy and Paul at MIT in Cambridge, Bish in Bangkok, and Alicia in Johannesburg of any sharp deviation off course. Both Bish and Alicia are away on their overseas co-op assignments. [As most of the MIT undergrads, they are five year MEng candidates participating in international co-ops.] Data downloaded to date are being used by the team to build and test a revised world weather model on the CRAY 330000, located on Carl's desktop. Carl, after clearing his eyes from sleep, activates the video monitor on the balloon to witness live via compressed video the last hour of the balloon's lofty existence. He will share that video with his four colleagues and their UROP faculty advisor before reporting the event to class later today in E90-350, which will tie into six other sites on three continents. [The weather modeling project is being sponsored jointly by the U.S. Meteorological Association and American Airlines.]
Nancy, awakened by Carl's email to her wristwatch, is disappointed to learn of the balloon's demise. But she must prepare for an exercise later today for her international negotiation class. This "class" will pit skilled student negotiators from MIT in Cambridge, Stanford in California and the U.K. Open University at random points on the global net. Each team is representing a side in a three way business/government/university negotiation to establish a more accurate and profitable satellite monitoring system to anticipate weather's effects on crops in South America and Africa and ultimately to tie that to commodity price forecasts. She has to bone up on her statistical forecasting methodology, as she is estimating value of alternative satellite data sets for one side of the negotiation.
Paul, also awakened by Carl, is getting ready for a video phone conversation with his older sister, Ingrid -- an MIT PhD EECS student now resident in Beijing. Carl establishes contact with her at 7:30, over coffee in Cambridge and noodles in Beijing. Ingrid reports on her on-going EECS TA experience, providing learning and mentoring support to 18 of the practicing engineers who are charged with expanding and upgrading the electrical power grid over China. Via satellite and fiber network, the engineers take graduate courses from the MIT Cambridge campus two days per week, six hours each day. Only two of the 12 hours per week are live with the Cambridge-based professor, while the remainder is experienced in a "time asynchronous manner," downloaded over the Global Digital Pipeline. Ingrid explains that power grid expansion has become especially critical now that the power from the Three Gorges Project has come on line and cities growing in the interior of the country are desperate for additional electrical power. Ingrid reports that her faculty research advisor, Professor Comp.edu on the Cambridge campus, is quite satisfied with her thesis progress on optimal distribution network redesign in the presence of geographic and political constraints. She will meet with her advisor in about an hour via PictureTel. Ingrid hopes that the thesis will be of direct use in China and perhaps also in Nigeria, where the newly elected democratic government is using oil moneys to build a cross country world class highway system.
Paul and Ingrid's mother, Amanda (MIT, '83), joins the videocall from Dover, Delaware. Amanda proudly reports that she just received a "95" on her MIT mid term exam on Operations Management from Professor Dimitris Bertsimas at Sloan/virtual/campus. Amanda, educated at MIT as a Chemical Engineer, is now in management at Dupont and is finding the MIT EMO program invaluable in her continuing lifelong learning. The EMO (Educational Maintenance Organization) program was put into place by MIT in 1999. Since then, scores of other universities have followed suit. Not unlike an HMO, with an EMO actuarial tables are used to determine the monthly employer fees necessary to keep an employee graduate of MIT in the EMO. The program serves both preventive educational needs (e.g., scheduled yearly "upgrades" of domain-specific knowledge) and emergency needs (e.g., as one needs to learn about business negotiation strategies). Paul and Ingrid, after telling their mom how proud they are of her performance, recount the day's activities at MIT, the global campus.
Paul reminds both his sister and mother to tune in tonight to Turner Channel 1865 on their video consoles to see the "Sweet 16," that is the 16 country finalists in the 6.270 competition. Each year at this time excitement builds as the best students worldwide compete for the Super Bowl of robot competition. This year's worldwide contest -- with teams from 72 countries originally participating -- is being sponsored by a consortium of 12 companies, each of which has donated components for the micro-robot creation contest. The robots this year are so small that the video will be shot through a microscope.
Alicia reports in live via compressed video to Professor Ron Latanision's weekly meeting of MIT undergrads serving K-12. There are 30 students present in the MIT Cambridge classroom and 15 others reporting in from 5 countries. Alicia reports that the new math curriculum proposed for 14 - 18 year olds is taking hold in sub-Saharan Africa. She shows videos of learners in Zimbabwe using the new interactive learning tools. The multimedia interactive curriculum is a product of the MIT undergrads serving K-12 and their sister groups at Stanford, Oxford and the new Federal University of Hong Kong. The project has been supported in part by the U.N. Annually now more than 50 MIT grads seek their first careers as high school teachers, perhaps switching later to industrial careers.
1. "Cohortize" the students of each class, thru senior year, together with a faculty advisor who would serve as mentor. The cohort size would be small, say less than 10 and independent of major, minor, gender, race, religion, sexual preference, living group, or anything else.. This cohort would have true reasons for meeting and socializing regularly, sometimes with and sometimes without the faculty mentor. This, if done properly, would implement Recommendation #2 of Land's famous 1957 speech, a speech which - due to his recommendation #1 - is credited for starting the UROP program. Freshman year round one of the cohort could be a redefined Freshman Advising seminar. Subsequent rounds could focus on current events, history of some part of the world, socializing around Boston, building something, etc. Perhaps 2 or 3 cohorts could take the same HASS subject. The cohort represents another sense of community, moderated and inspired by close faculty participation. The senior project could be a major for credit group project, perhaps in lieu of a traditional departmental thesis, something that builds upon each member's then speciality - from their resp. majors - and would be presented in public before a large forum (including potential employers) and would become an official part of the student's "portfolio," a new component of the student's record, to be added to the traditional grade oriented transcripts. Such a senior project - with now close friends and colleagues -- builds teamwork, interdisciplinary efforts and presentation skills.
2. Equip the new dorm with accessible technologies for communicating with the world - and with the rest of the MIT campus. Then each week at a designated time just after (or before) dinner (dinner would be a group residential experience) there would be a guest speaker and follow on Q&A, sometimes from another country and sometimes from on campus and sometimes live and in person. These events could be broadcast via MIT cable to all MIT living groups, so all could participate, perhaps in round robin fashion. Ideas: socialization, interaction, lifting students out of tomorrow's problems sets, at least for an hour; and achievement of breadth.
3. Roof over the Main Parking Lot, making it the MIT Student Faculty Atrium. This would be the place to be when on campus and between classes. Faculty would go there too, sometimes spontaneously, sometimes in a scheduled manner. Design this space as open, pleasant, and with many alternative venues for interacting - with each other and also faciltiated by technology.
4. Wire the new dorm and all living groups so that any cohorts that exist physically in classrooms on campus can be reconstructed by the students in the evenings as study groups. Thus, a 6.003 tutorial for instance could reassemble its students electronically to go over difficult points in this week's tutorial in preparation for a problem set or quiz. Idea: feature the cohort concept, wherever possible, thruout the life of an MIT undergraduate. Facilitate what the students like to do most when learning: learn from each other in informal spontaneous group interactions.
5. Place a "lab of the year" experiment in the new dorm so the students can watch research in progress over the course of the year. A biology growing experiment might be a most natural one here, but there must be others as well. The faculty, grad students and UROPs associated with this lab would come and go as they would if the lab were more conveniently located elsewhere on campus. The students of the dorm would get frst preference as UROP students associated with the lab. Idea: get involved with the broader MIT and reduce separation of "over there," across Mass Ave, from "over here."
6. Move WBUR to the new dorm and broadcast from there in a first floor studio in glass, for everyone to see, but of course soundproofed. Upgrade WBUR, with the help of the dorm students and MIT $'s, to become a premier internet radio and eventually TV station. Idea: Dorm is a vibrant place, never sleeping, broadcasting (literally) to the world, and such an important student activity is not "over there," but "right here, with us." MIT is a truly exciting place to be.....