MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVII No. 1
September/October 2004
Welcome Aboard President-elect Hockfield!
The Management of the MIT Endowment
Affirming Freedom of Expression at MIT
Teaching this fall? You should know . . .
Preliminary Position of the Faculty Policy Committee on Faculty Governance
Developing Musical Structures:
A Reflective Practicuum
Work of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, 2003 – 2004
Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons
Some Reflections on Aspects of the Undergraduate Education Policy
Benefit Changes for Faculty
Upon Retirement
Short Takes
Establishing Leadership in the Emerging Field of Engineering Systems
Concerto for Erhu and Subway
Spaces, Software, and Services –
Supporting Educational Innovation and Sustainability with Technology
Web Accessibility:
What Faculty Should Know
What Was it Like Working with OCW?
Printable Version

Spaces, Software, and Services –
Supporting Educational Innovation
and Sustainability with Technology

Vijay Kumar

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Academic Computing, part of MIT's Information Services & Technology (IS&T) organization, is committed to supporting faculty in creating innovative uses of technology for education. Tied to this commitment is Academic Computing's objective to enable and assert MIT's global leadership in educational technology, by leveraging its expertise and experiences.

Looking ahead to the coming academic year, we will see major growth and transitions in the spaces, software, and services which are key to supporting educational technology, with a particular focus on sustainability. Following are summaries of five of Academic Computing's current inivtiatives characterizing this growth and transition.

Spreading the Word – Collectively

One of Academic Computing's goals is to find better ways to communicate to faculty what educational technology services are at MIT, and to report on projects and activities.

The result is two new Web resources. The Teaching with Technology Website is designed to make it easier for faculty to find the educational technology services provided by numerous organizations throughout MIT. A new interactive, online newsletter, the
Ed Tech Times
, replaces the old paper Insider . Ed Tech Times publishes the latest information on educational technology projects, services, events, and trends.

Other outreach for the coming year includes the popular Crosstalk seminar series, and the second Ed Tech Fair. Crosstalk gives MIT faculty and the larger MIT community a forum for information and intellectual exchange about educational technologies. Following the success of the first MIT Ed Tech Fair, held during IAP 2003, another Ed Tech Fair is being planned for November 2. This will be an opportunity for MIT faculty, students, and others working on educational technology projects to demonstrate their work to all of the MIT community.

From Computing Clusters to Flexible Learning Spaces

Trends in student use of laptop computers, commercial advances in software and hardware, and changing pedagogical practices challenge MIT to provide spaces more aligned with contemporary learning and technology needs. Surveys of MIT students and faculty have substantiated these needs on the campus. Redesigns of a few traditional Athena clusters as well as other computing spaces were launched this summer. These are pilot efforts to explore different approaches for supporting student computing, and to provide informal and flexible learning spaces. Parts of four public clusters (W20, 56-129, E51-075, and Hayden Library) were renovated to accommodate students needing group collaboration space. Featuring comfortable soft seating, large wall-mounted flat-panel displays, and Web-enabled white boards, these spaces promote cooperation and teamwork as an essential part of an MIT undergraduate's education.

Academic Computing will be hosting tours of these clusters and other new learning spaces on campus in September. To join a tour or for more information, send e-mail to The renovated clusters and other MIT new learning spaces will be featured in a September workshop on learning-space design, co-sponsored by the National Learning Infrastructure Initiative (NLII) and MIT (see ).

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Undergraduate High-Performance Computing (HPC) Arrives

Emerging interdisciplinary computational requirements are driving faculty to look for high-performance and high-throughput computing resources for their teaching and research. In response, Academic Computing has started a pair of projects to shape HPC services for teaching. The first is a Website to support a community of practice for those interested in high-performance parallel computing (HPPC) . The HPPC Website serves as a focal point for information exchange and reference materials related to clustering hardware and software technology, as well as a forum to guide decisions regarding hardware and software procurements.

The second project leverages MIT's computing infrastructure in two pilot, undergraduate HPC teaching clusters. One cluster has Intel hardware running Red Hat Linux (the ROCKS Beowulf distribution), and the other cluster has Apple PowerPC hardware running Mac OS X (using the Sun-grid engine). The Athena student computing space in 4-035 was repurposed to house the Linux Beowulf cluster; the Mac OS X cluster is located in Building W91, and is accessible remotely. The implementation of these two HPC pilots in classes this year will provide information about what is needed to effectively use and support these systems.

Prof. Dave Darmofal, of Aeronautics and Astronautics, intends to use the Beowulf cluster for his 16.100 class this fall. In the spring, Profs. Gerd Ceder and Nicola Marzari, both in Materials Science and Engineering, will be trying it out with their students.

The Apple HPC cluster uses OKI authentication and authorization, and focuses on specific applications such as gridMathematica, a parallel implementation of Mathematica. Prof. Jim Elliot, from EAPS, and Prof. Raul Radovitsky, from Aeronautics and Astronautics, are among those considering use of this resource for their classes in the spring.

Faculty who are interested in learning more about the HPC clusters, or using them for their class work, should contact Phil Long,

Open Source – The Future of Online Learning Tools

MIT's collaboration with the University of Michigan, Indiana University, and Stanford University on the Sakai project provides direction for the on-going work and sustainability of Stellar.

Supported by the Mellon Foundation, Sakai will develop and share open-source software for learning tools based on service specifications from OKI.

While there will be limited pilots of Sakai tools in fall 2004, the production implementation of a Sakai-based course management system (CMS) is planned for fall 2005. The Sakai CMS will include new features, plus tools and applications developed in collaboration with other universities and commercial vendors. The framework will ultimately support new tools and services developed by MIT faculty and staff, such as an online gradebook that promises to make the grading process easier for MIT faculty.

Shop Online for Educational Technology Projects

To help faculty "shop" for technology which might support particular pedagogical goals, Academic Computing is creating an online catalogue of educational technology projects at MIT.

We are beginning to inventory such projects in close collaboration with MITCET and the Teaching and Learning Lab. The inventory seeks to identify and describe both large and small-scale uses of educational technology. The collected data will take advantage of the Carnegie Foundation's Snapshot tool to display details about each project's pedagogical goals, technical information, and assessment outcomes.

The new initiatives described above are by no means the only activities keeping IS&T Academic Computing busy in the coming months. We continue to maintain and update third-party software for the Athena computing environment, offer spatial data and GIS services in conjunction with the MIT Libraries, provide faculty consulting services through our newly named Educational Technology Consultants (formerly know as the Faculty Liaisons), and offer training to faculty in the use of the educational technologies available to them.

The period ahead will be characterized by an assessment of academic computing priorities as Academic Computing, collaborating with other groups engaged in supporting educational technology, shapes new services and responds to the sustainability needs of new initiatives. Faculty and student input is paramount to our efforts in identifying and building a rich and enduring ecosystem for educational technology. We welcome and invite your feedback. If you would like to find out more about any of the services or projects offered by Academic Computing, or to send us your thoughts, feel free to contact the Educational Technology Consultants at x3-0115,

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