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MIT President's Report

"We believe that SMA ... is the world's most technologically advanced point-to-point synchronous educational program."

Excerpt from:

Disturbing the Educational Universe:
Universities in the Digital Age — Dinosaurs or Prometheans?

Report of the President
For the Academic Year 2000-01

President Charles M. Vest's annual report, which this year examines the impact of technology on higher education and assesses the future role of the research-intensive residential university.

The largest MIT experiment in distance education is the Singapore-MIT Alliance (SMA). MIT has worked since 1998 in partnership with the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to develop world-class, research-based, highly interactive graduate engineering education across national and institutional boundaries. Students earn SMA-based graduate degrees from NUS or NTU through access to exceptional faculty and superior research facilities in all three institutions.

Walk into one of MIT's state-of-the art classrooms at 8:00 a.m., or at 8:00 p.m. this fall, and you will find students engaged in classes together with their counterparts in Singapore. Indeed, we are planning to beam 540 hours of instruction in 12 subjects to a total of 155 students. SMA subject areas range from advanced materials for micro- and nano-systems to manufacturing systems and technology to molecular engineering of biological and chemical systems. We believe that SMA, which is supported by a 155-megabytes-per-second Internet-2 line, is the world's most technologically advanced point-to-point synchronous educational program. It uses a dual-screen delivery technology that enables students to view simultaneously camera images from the classrooms and a computer screen for displaying PowerPoint presentations. This technology also makes it possible for MIT faculty to hold help sessions for the students and conduct oral examinations of doctoral students in Singapore.

Learning — not technology — is the goal of SMA. How is it going? Singapore and MIT students enrolled in the same classes are performing at comparable levels, but professors do report that there is a very steep learning curve for preparing and presenting lectures across these boundaries. Fortunately, however, they also report that in a modest amount of time they reach a point at which the technology ceases to dominate their planning and they are able to concentrate on educational quality.

Through these and many other experiments, we are extending our learning community by teaching outward from our campus in both synchronous and asynchronous modes — carrying MIT to the world.

But what about bringing the world inward to our primary students — those in residence on our own campus? Interesting examples have been developed in our School of Architecture and Planning, where our students use technology to interact with people and projects around the world. For example, student design projects are routinely evaluated by juries of distinguished architects on several continents, whose schedules would not allow them to convene here in Cambridge. They have monitored the progress of large international construction projects such as the new Hong Kong Airport. One term, a class was team-taught by Professor Bill Mitchell at MIT and architect Frank Gehry in Santa Monica, with Mayor Jerry Brown of Oakland, California, serving as the client for a project to design a reuse of an abandoned naval base.

Many other examples could be found throughout the Institute and across academia.

© Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2001. To reprint or excerpt for publication, please contact the MIT News Office at newsoffice@mit.edu, or (617) 253-2700.

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