Teaching literature with new digital tools

moby-dickDigital tools are regularly used to enhance learning in science and engineering classrooms. Interactive problem sets, visualizations, and simulations are fixtures on the MIT campus and in MOOCs created by MITx. While these seem like a natural fit for technical subjects, teaching in the humanities is also being transformed by new approaches that allow students to approach and challenge texts in new ways.

Dr. Wyn Kelley, Senior Lecturer in the Literature Department at MIT, is a leading innovator in the field. On the Instructor Insights pages of the This Course at MIT section for her course, 21L.501 The American Novel: Stranger and Stranger, Dr. Kelley explains how she has incorporated two open-source digital tools into her classroom, allowing students to collaborate and think together in new ways about classic and contemporary works, from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick to Octavia Butler’s Kindred.

The first tool is Annotation Studio, which allows students to comment on passages they highlight as a way to record thoughts, mark observations, and develop ideas for papers. The students liked the Studio so much they found new uses for it, such as taking class notes and returning to their initial insights as they revised and rewrote their work.

The second tool, Locast, integrates customizable geographical maps with text, images, video, and other media tied to specific locations.  Dr. Kelley pre-populated the map with places mentioned in Moby-Dick. Each student was asked to give presentations on one of these places and explain its significance in the novel. Even Dr. Kelley was surprised by what the students found.

“There is one reference in the text to a Manxman, an inhabitant of the Isle of Man,” she writes. “The student found out that it’s where a lot of fishermen come from. The student gave a beautiful demonstration with pictures of the place that turned out to have tremendous relevance to the novel.”

Read more of Dr. Kelley’s insights, or visit the This Course at MIT pages of other OCW classes to learn more about how MIT faculty are teaching.

Building up bamboo (MIT News)

MIT Professor Lorna Gibson seeks to understand how nature engineers itself — and in doing so, inspire better human-engineered materials and structures.

Bamboo is one such interesting natural material. New insights from Prof. Gibson and her colleagues suggest that, with the right processing, bamboo can be used in innovative and benefical composite materials. As MIT News reports today:

MIT researchers have now analyzed the microstructure of bamboo and found that the plant is stronger and denser than North American softwoods like pine, fir, and spruce, making the grass a promising resource for composite materials.

“Bamboo grows extensively in regions where there are rapidly developing economies, so it’s an alternative building material to concrete and steel,” says Lorna Gibson, the Matoula S. Salapatas Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT. “You probably wouldn’t make a skyscraper out of bamboo, but certainly smaller structures like houses and low-rise buildings.” Read more…

Natural materials and structures play a prominent role in Prof. Gibson’s upcoming MITx course 3.032x Mechanical Behavior of Materials, which is now open for registration and begins on September 3.

Also check out Prof. Gibson’s OCW course 3.A26 Freshman Seminar: The Nature of Engineering.

And through MIT’s Open Access Articles collection, you can read the complete research paper (PDF) behind today’s news story.

Putting Teachers at the Center of Education Technology (Slate)

Photo of teacher standing in front of class, talking to students, with projected video in the background.

Sandra Haupt, a teacher in Concord-Carlisle, Massachusetts, co-teaches with the Blossoms lesson “The Power of Exponentials, Big and Small.” (Photo by M. Scott Brauer, courtesy of MIT Blossoms)

Effective educational technology does not have to be a “disruptive force” in the classroom. This recent Slate.com article makes a compelling, and reassuring, case for the blended learning model of MIT Blossoms lessons.

Putting Teachers at the Center of Education Technology
This great program needs only a TV and VCR—no iPads necessary.
By Annie Murphy Paul

MIT Blossoms, one of the most exciting and effective uses of educational technology to help high school students learn math and science, doesn’t boast the latest in artificial intelligence or adaptive algorithms. Its secret weapon is, rather, a canny understanding of human psychology—both students’ and teachers’. Technologically speaking, its basic model could be executed with an old television and VCR.

In fact, it was. Blossoms was born a decade ago when Richard Larson, a professor of engineering systems at MIT and an early advocate of educational technology, visited a run-down school in rural central China. The classroom was lit by two bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling, and was so cold that students kept their coats on inside. It did have a used TV and VCR, which the teacher employed to play a video of a science lecture. She would show a few minutes of the tape, then turn it off and engage her students in a surprisingly dynamic, interactive lesson. This was followed by a few more minutes of the video, then back to interaction with the students.

Larson was intrigued by this homespun version of “blended learning.” Back in the U.S., he undertook an effort to create science and math videos that were designed to be interrupted, to be complemented by active learning sessions conducted by a classroom teacher. Larson himself starred in the first video, a lesson on triangles, random numbers, and probability that featured the professor sawing a yardstick into pieces. Today there are more than 100 lessons available free on the Blossoms website, covering topics in mathematics, engineering, physics, biology, and chemistry, all taught by experts in their fields. Read more…

MIT Blossoms is a partner with OCW in the U.S. State Department’s Open Book Project, which develops Arabic language open educational resources.

Study: AP Chemistry Students in Flipped Classroom Outperform Students in a Traditional Classroom

We’ve written about flipped classrooms on the blog before: In a traditional classroom, the instructor lectures, presents information to the students, and then the students work through problems on their own as homework. In a flipped classroom, students watch video lessons at home, and then work through problems in class, with the help of the instructor. The idea is the “flipped” method might be a better use of class time, and allow for more valuable student-instructor interaction.

Instructors and researched in North Dakota studied an AP Chemistry class to try and answer these questions:

  1. Do students in the flipped classroom perform differently than students in the traditional classroom?
  2. What perceptions do students have about the flipped classroom?

The results of their findings are published in the Journal of Chemical Education as “part of a special issue on teaching introductory chemistry in the context of the advanced placement (AP) chemistry course redesign”. They found that indeed, the students in the flipped classroom performed higher, on average, than the control group in a traditional classroom. They also found that students preferred the flipped teaching method because it gave them the freedom to pause, rewind, and review the lectures, as well as interact more with the instructor. If you’d like to learn more, you can read their article on The American Chemical Society’s website.

And remember, OCW has chemistry exam prep materials on our sister site, Highlights for High School.

JoAnn Carmin, expert on cities and climate change, dies at age 56 (MIT News)

JoAnn Carmin, expert on cities and climate change, dies at age 56

Professor examined urban responses to climate change; conducted extensive research in Africa, South America.
Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office | July 17, 2014

JoAnn Carmin, an associate professor of environmental policy and planning at MIT, died on Tuesday after an extended illness. She was 56 years old.

Carmin had been on the faculty of MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning since 2003. Her work broke new ground in examining the relationship between environmental problems and governmental actions. In particular, over the last decade Carmin studied the process through which cities around the world were responding to climate change.

Carmin’s research relied on intensive fieldwork in cities, and on pioneering global surveys about the responses of urban leaders. She conducted extensive research on urban planning for climate change in Durban, South Africa, and Quito, Ecuador, among other places, describing in detail how local officials either found effective new ways of pushing climate planning forward, or ran into significant challenges. Read more…

Professor Carmin contributed much to the MIT community and to OCW. We offer our condolences to her family and friends.

Her courses on OCW, all in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, include:

A Robot With a Little Humanity (New York Times)

Prof. Cynthia Breazeal of the MIT Media Lab is an expert in social robots. The New York Times wrote about JIBO, what Prof. Breazeal calls “the world’s first family robot.” This video from her company’s ongoing Indiegogo campaign demonstrates what that means:

Is it just me, or does JIBO look a little bit like EVE (from WALL-E)?

You can explore a few of Prof. Breazeal’s graduate courses in Media Arts and Sciences on OCW:

Prof. Breazeal also wrote a book, “Designing Social Robots,” that describes her futurist vision of social robots.

How to Share your Achievements on LinkedIn (edX blog)

Did you know that you can add your edX certificates to your LinkedIn profile? The edX blog explains how:

  1. Log into your LinkedIn profile, and go to edit profile
  2. On the right hand side, beneath “You can also add…” press “Certifications”
  3. Enter the Certification Name – this is the name of the course
  4. Enter ‘edX’ as the Certification Authority and the URL at the bottom of your certificate as the “Certification URL”
  5. Leave ‘license number’ blank and press save.

Have any troubles or questions? Send a note over to technical@edx.org.

I’ve added the HarvardX course I completed earlier this year; this is what the Certification will look likes on LinkedIn: edx cert