I’m studying poetry to be a better engineer, and this is why (MIT Admissions blog)

Photo of half-illuminated Earth taken from the moon.

Earthrise, 1968. (Courtesy of NASA.)

Are you curious about what it’s like to be a student at MIT? In the MIT Admissions blogs written by current students, you’ll find deeply personal insights into the MIT experience, and many inspiring moments.

Take this recent post by Michael C. ’16, a mechanical engineering major.

Poetry is such a dense, compact form of language. It packs pages and pages of meaning into just a few verses. In a world where we are surrounded by anonymous, thoughtless, prosaic prose — think endless listicles on Facebook — reading a piece where every syllable, every punctuation mark, every line, is carefully considered…it’s a breath of fresh air.

And that ability to convey lots of meaning very succinctly is vital in any walk of life. As one of my NASA supervisors told me over the summer, “Nobody cares unless you tell a story.”

Take the project I was working on: designing and building prototypes for an enormous space telescope. Why was this project important?

Find out why, in Michael C.’s complete blog post.

He embodies one of the reasons the humanities are so important and so strong at MIT. If this inspires you to engage with some poetry, you’re sure to find helpful resources in this collection of over 20 poetry-related courses on OCW.

New MIT initiative on cybersecurity policy (MIT News)

Photo of Bitcoin keychain on a circuit board.

Bitcoin is one of many recent topics in cybersecurity. (Courtesy of BTC Keychain on Flickr, license CC BY.)

Hewlett Foundation funds new MIT initiative on cybersecurity policy
Largest-ever private commitment to cybersecurity establishes major new academic centers.
MIT Resource Development  | November 18, 2014

MIT has received $15 million in funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to establish an initiative aimed at laying the foundations for a smart, sustainable cybersecurity policy to deal with the growing cyber threats faced by governments, businesses, and individuals.

The MIT Cybersecurity Policy Initiative (CPI) is one of three new academic initiatives to receive a total of $45 million in support through the Hewlett Foundation’s Cyber Initiative. Simultaneous funding to MIT, Stanford University, and the University of California at Berkeley is intended to jump-start a new field of cyber policy research. The idea is to generate a robust “marketplace of ideas” about how best to enhance the trustworthiness of computer systems while respecting individual privacy and free expression rights, encouraging innovation, and supporting the broader public interest.

With the new awards, the Hewlett Foundation has now allocated $65 million over the next five years to strengthening cybersecurity, the largest-ever private commitment to this nascent field. Read more »

Coincidentally, MIT OpenCourseWare — which received substantial startup funding from the Hewlett Foundation — has just published a new version of Prof. Ronald Rivest’s 6.857 Network and Computer Security. This OCW course features lecture notes, assignments with sample solutions, and links to many student projects.

A MOOC sees its greatest impact in the classroom at MIT (MIT News)

Banner image for VJx: a painting of a ship.

Japanese woodblock print of American warship, circa 1854. (Image courtesy of the Nagasaki Prefecture.)


MIT Professor Shigeru Miyagawa has been a long-time champion of online education and open sharing.  Now we can add “flipped classroom advocate” to that list.

This fall, Professor Miyagawa simultaneously taught two versions of his course Visualizing Japan to two very different audiences. He co-taught the massive online open course (MOOC) VJx on edX, and at the same time taught the residential course 21F.027 for MIT students.

The edX MOOC, which ran for 6 weeks, was a marked success. It had a completion rate of 13 percent — double the normal rate for a MOOC — and 97.5 percent of the learners said that they were satisfied to extremely satisfied with the course.

But the MIT classroom experience is perhaps the bigger story. While the MOOC was running, the MIT residential course operated largely in flipped mode. Students were assigned the MOOC video lectures and quizzes to complement their classroom work.

For both the students in class and for Miyagawa it became clear early on that something was very different. On the first day of the module “Black Ships and Samurai,” Miyagawa was set to give the lecture he had prepared with a PowerPoint presentation. Shortly into the lecture he asked the class, “What happened in 1868?” He was expecting a couple of students to raise their hands, but everyone seemed to know that this was the beginning of Meiji Restoration that put Japan on the road to modernization.

Miyagawa abandoned his lecture and pressed on with more questions. He was pleasantly surprised that most of the students were not only able to answer the questions, but also willing to engage him and the other students in discussion. “When I finished the class without showing even a single slide from my PowerPoint, I could only ask, what happened?” he remarks.

What happened was a transformative experience for both the students and the professor. Read the full story here.

More Women in Games! (HuffPost Tech)

Philip Tan and Sarah Verrilli are instructors for the MITx course Introduction to Game Design, currently running on edX. They’ve also just published an eloquent piece in HuffPost Tech that launches from the “current firestorm of harrassment aimed at women who work in video games” into broader consideration of diversity and the vital role of playfulness in society.  They write:

More players bring with them more perspectives and more tastes, and addressing those preferences is easier for creators who understand their audience. Recent news has focused on the role of women in designing games but we could insert any under-represented group into the title of this op-ed. Diversity – gender, racial, religious, and economic – is critical for making games that speak to a diverse world.…

As we’ve proven in the first couple of weeks in the course, many people who don’t consider themselves “gamers” are nevertheless able to rattle off long lists of games they played in childhood and games that engage them today. Given the opportunity, all of humanity participates in play, especially if they have the freedom to choose their form of play. For some people it’s sports, for others, cards games or board games. And for some, play happens on a computer or a phone.

Read the full article here.

A Decision That Was Deceptively Easy: Charles M. Vest and OCW

Photo of Chuck Vest painting with students sitting and walking nearby.

“With vision, courage, integrity and heart, Charles Marstiller Vest, MIT’s 15th President (1990-2004), launched a revolution in open education and established MIT as a national leader in equity and opportunity.” (From the sign on this portrait of Charles M. Vest painted by Jon R. Friedman, hanging in MIT’s Stata Center.)

“That is brilliant,” said MIT President Charles Vest when Professor Dick Yue told him of the Lifelong Learning Committee’s recommendation to create MIT OpenCourseWare back in 2000. “The idea is simple,” Yue said, “to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone.”

In recent months there have been many tributes and remembrances of Charles Vest, who passed away earlier this year. One of the best of these appeared in the Sept / Oct 2014 MIT Faculty Newsletter. In it, Robert J. Birgeneau, who was Dean of Science when Vest was President, recalls the many remarkable achievements that Vest oversaw while at MIT: how he worked to improve access to higher education for underrepresented minorities, modernized the management of MIT, investigated gender discrimination experienced by MIT faculty, and championed new MIT research centers in neuroscience. The creation of OCW was just one of many bold initiatives that took shape under Vest’s stewardship.

But what led Vest to see the brilliance inherent in the concept of OCW? At the time, private companies and institutions of learning were focused on trying to make money by putting course materials up on the Internet. Yet Vest saw certain wisdom in giving MIT’s teaching materials away to the entire world for free. How could he think such a thing?

Vest explained this one night in 2011 when speaking on a panel assembled to celebrate the 10th anniversary of OCW (Vest speaks from 5:41 to 17:10). Vest knew from his experience as an undergraduate engineering student at West Virginia University and as a graduate student at the University of Michigan that MIT faculty had transformed the teaching of engineering in the 1950s and 1960s by visiting other colleges and sharing with their faculty MIT’s science-based approach to engineering education. MIT faculty were creating new ways of teaching, writing up notes that became textbooks, creating new lab experiments for teaching, and they willingly shared these materials with interested instructors around the US.

To Charles Vest, MIT OpenCourseWare would be carrying on this same work, just on a grander scale, using technology to boost its impact. And so it was through a deep understanding of the past that Charles Vest saw a way to the future.

Few people imagined at the time that the materials OCW would publish on its website would appeal to millions of students and self-learners around the world. Today, these people make up about 85–90% of the visitors who come to OCW’s site each month. Teachers constitute only about 8–9%.

Yet the teachers who use OCW’s materials in their classrooms have an outsized importance because they share these materials directly or indirectly with their many students, year after year.

In recognition of this fact, OCW launched its OCW Educator initiative this year, seeking to share the “how” and the “why” of MIT instruction as well as the “what.”

We like to think Charles Vest would approve.

— Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Demystifying the MOOC (New York Times)

Graph of the hype cycle.

The “Hype Cycle” is a representation, developed by Gartner Inc., of how technologies mature toward widespread social adoption. (Image by Wikipedia User: Jeffrey Kemp. License CC BY-SA.)

Jeffrey Selingo, a contributing editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education, has written extensively about online education and the emergence of MOOCs. In a New York Times essay adapted from his new book MOOC U: Who Is Getting the Most Out of Online Education and Why, he argues that low completion rates seen in most MOOCs should not necessarily be taken as a sign of failure.

But those metrics don’t take into account how MOOCs are being used right now. Students can register, with no financial risk, for as many courses as they want. Some might want to sample a particular lecture, or prepare a business plan for investors, or take a lesson for a presentation the next day.

Call it “just-in-time education.” These students hadn’t planned to complete the course, and they have nothing to lose when they stop taking it. The MOOC provides learning in chunks, at a student’s own pace. Read more…

This adjustment can be viewed as the next along the “hype cycle.” Self-paced just-in-time learning might confound some of the disruptive expectations laid upon MOOCs. But for many people, this way of learning seems to mesh quite well with the reality of their lives. It’s been a foundation of OpenCourseWare use for many years. And it could be forcing MOOCs up the “slope of enlightenment,” on their way to the “plateau of productivity.”


New courses on vision and hearing

Drawings of human retina and the human ear with a cochlear implant .

The human retina and the human ear with a cochlear implant. (Retina image by MIT OpenCourseWare; ear image courtesy of NIH.)

In this blog, we’ve highlighted how OpenCourseWare and MOOCs can play complementary roles in learning.

For instance, OCW courses can support you with “just-in-time” refreshers on prerequisite knowledge for a MOOC. On the other hand, after a MOOC has piqued your curiosity, OCW courses are great ways to keep learning.

Here’s an example of the latter. Starting on November 18, MITx on edX will be running a 4-week MOOC that introduces the fascinating neuroscience of vision. 9.01.1x Light, Spike, and Sight: The Neuroscience of Vision is “a journey through the eye, retina and brain, revealing how light translates into nerve signals that encode the visual world.” The course is geared toward a general audience, requiring no specific prerequisites. Here’s a video introduction:


To learn more about the neuroscience of vision, and also explore the sense of hearing, check out OCW’s new course 9.04 Sensory Systems. At MIT, this course is a follow-up to introductory neuroscience courses, usually taken in the junior or senior year. It dives deeply into the neural bases of visual and auditory processing for perception and sensorimotor control.

Co-taught by Professors Peter Schiller and Chris Brown, this OCW course has a complete set of lecture videos. Here’s the introductory lecture: