Pivotal Concepts, Pivotal Videos

OCW has been publishing more video than ever before. We recently put up a collection of 47 short videos, the STEM Concept Videos. These videos are designed to help students understand pivotal concepts in undergraduate courses in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. As conceived for the collection, a pivotal concept is one that:

  • has importance in multiple disciplines
  • is necessary for understanding higher-level coursework
  • recurs throughout the curriculum for the same discipline

Examples of science concepts treated in the series are conservation of mass, Newton’s laws, and equilibrium. Mathematics concepts include derivatives and integrals (as applied to motion or electric potential, for instance), differential equations (as used to describe enzyme kinetics, among other topics), and probability. Other videos address problem-solving processes and various techniques and applications of representation (torque, vectors, free-body diagrams, e.g.).

Model cars on top of a model dome.

Robots place model police cars atop MIT’s dome. Find out how in Motion, one of 37 STEM concept videos.

The video collection has three fundamental goals:

  • to reinforce pivotal concepts and multidisciplinary themes from the first two years of a general engineering curriculum
  • to provide opportunities for students to actively engage with content (as by presenting challenge questions for the students to consider after pausing the videos)
  • to provide concrete examples from everyday life, or from the laboratory, of the utility of the concepts

The videos were created by MIT’s Teaching and Learning Lab, originally as part of collaboration between MIT and the government of Singapore to establish a new university, the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). The idea was to create videos to supplement the newly designed SUTD curriculum, but the videos proved so useful that instructors incorporated them into their courses on the MIT campus, and students began to watch on their own.

These videos provide a wonderful resource for teachers and students interested in college-level science.

The stars of the videos? MIT faculty, instructors, postdocs, and graduate students!

People interested in how these videos were developed can read the paper presented by TLL researchers at the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) 2013 conference.

The videos do not constitute a course and are not listed in MIT’s curriculum. Rather, they are published on OCW as a Supplemental Resource. OCW’s collection of Supplemental Resources includes other video series, online textbooks, and other publications and learning tools.

The MOOC Has Arrived and Education Will Never be the Same Again

Professor Yossi Sheffi, Director of the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, wrote about MOOCs on his LinkedIn Influencer blog. With his permission, we’re re-posting his article on Open Matters:

A man wearing headphones and working at a laptop.

Photograph by Erica Kawamoto Hsu on Flickr. License: CC-BY-NC-ND

In 2012 Battushig Myanganbayar became one of 340 students to earn a perfect score in the sophomore-level MIT course Circuits and Electronics, reported the New York Times. What is remarkable about this – aside from the student’s exceptional grade – is that the 15-year-old boy was living in Mongolia at the time and was one of 150,000 students taking the course.

Think about that for a minute. There were 150,000 students from many countries in one class, including this boy who completed the MIT course from his home in Mongolia. His gifts were discovered and Battushig is now a student at MIT.

It’s a feel-good story, but it’s also a story that exemplifies the revolution in education known as the MOOC or Massive Open Online Course.

Yes, this sounds like another one of those acronyms that educators are fond of. But make no mistake, this is not an exercise in academic semantics – MOOCs are ushering in a new age in education.

I have first-hand experience of the power of MOOCs. On September 30, 2014, supply chain education will take a major step into the digital age with the start of SCx, a free on-line educational program developed by the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics. Even before we have officially announced the start of this new three-course program to the world, more than 9,000 individuals worldwide have signed up! To find more information on the new program go to: http://goo.gl/uTykIc.

So, what exactly is a MOOC, and how will the concept impact the way current and future leaders learn the skills they need to succeed?

Let’s tackle the second questions first, because the changes that are now taking place in teaching really put the significance of MOOCs in perspective.

Anyone who has been through a college program is familiar with the time-honored classroom format. The instructor stands at the front and delivers a 90-minute lecture, often with the aid of very detailed PowerPoint slides. Students in multiple tiers of seats take notes and, ideally, pepper the talk with questions.

This method of teaching has a number of serious drawbacks.

  • Student participation tends to be patchy. A rule of thumb is that 80% of the questions asked during a class come from 20% of the students. Some individuals choose not to get the clarification they need because they don’t want to look dumb in front of their peers.
  • The pace is set by the instructor. Even the most seasoned teacher cannot possibly cater for the different learning rates of individual class participants. The result is a compromise; pitching the lecture somewhere in the middle.
  • Learning is impaired by delays in receiving feedback. By the time problems or papers are set and posted by the instructor, completed and submitted by students, and graded, the class has moved on to totally new topics.
  • Attention spans are short and shrinking. Typically, student attentiveness starts to drop off about 15 minutes into a class. Since lectures are often 90 minutes in duration, this means that the instructor has the class’s full attention initially, but not when she gets to the meat of her talk.

These problems are well known, yet class formats have remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years. One of the main reasons is that educators tend to address the wrong question. Instead of questioning how they teach, the much more pertinent question is to understand how students learn.

One approach that several professors at MIT and elsewhere have introduced to their classes is to chop lectures into shorter, self-contained segments, of, say 30 minutes in duration. Each segment completes the full explain/practice/feedback learning cycle within a short time period.

This is a step in the right direction, but structuring a class in this way is extremely time-consuming as all lectures need to be reconfigured. Also, the apparent pace of the class seems to slow down as “practice” sessions are added to the in-class portion of course. Actually, this is more of a reflection of the “pace of teaching” better matching the underlying “pace of learning” by students.

Enter the MOOC.

MOOCs are taught in an online environment. This is not a new idea – MIT has offered online courses for many years through its OpenCourseWare – but the new model is designed specifically to overcome the problems that plague traditional classrooms, and takes advantage of the latest social media tools.

A MOOC is interactive, and presents material in short segments. Students learn at their own pace, receive feedback quickly, and develop virtual networks for learning from each other.

MIT has created an initiative (MITx) to create MOOCs in a wide variety of disciplines. Working in collaboration with a number of other leading educational institutions, MIT has also launched edX, a platform for offering a wide range of MOOCs from various universities. The online classrooms can reach huge numbers of students. As mentioned, about 150,000 individuals enrolled in the Circuits and Electronics course, one of the first MOOCs launched by MIT. Some 7,000 successfully completed all of the required work and gained certification. While this is a small fraction of the original enrollment, it represents almost 100 years worth of in-resident students who typically take the traditional in-residence course at MIT!

MOOCs require a lot of backroom work to create the courses that are then broadcast virtually to students worldwide. But the pay offs in terms of more effective education with a global reach can be vast.

We are only at the beginning of this revolution. The potential for broadening our educational reach is staggering. Who knows how many young people like Battushig Myanganbayar will reach their true potential thanks to MOOCs.

Turn your smartphone into a microscope for $10 (Instructables)

The fun website Instructables.com has instructions for turning your smartphone into a microscope using the lens from a laser pointer and a few other supplies. Even better, this project is licensed as an OER!


According to Campus Technology, the design was developed by a student at Missouri University of Science and Technology in a course that explores “the design of instructional labs for science and engineering courses that can be delivered in a blended or online format.” This project is DIY meets STEM plus OER, which is a great combination (with a lot of acronyms).

MOOCs and OCW: A Learning Ecosystem

The first MOOCs have produced abundant data about students and learning behaviors, and perhaps even more press coverage about what it all means for the future of education.

Take the oft-discussed low completion rates of most MOOCs. Christine Nasserghodsi’s recent piece in HuffPost Education highlights how, for many students, completing a course is really not the goal…and that should be just fine.

…[C]ompletion rates only tell part of the story. I asked several high school students who enrolled in MOOCs whether or not they earned certificates. Each and every one said they had not, and yet they did not classify themselves as having dropped out of the MOOC. They simply explained that it didn’t matter. They signed up for pre-exam preparation, curriculum enrichment, or out of a personal interest. Their goals did not involve earning a certificate. As Justin Reigh and Andrew Ho wrote in their 2014 Atlantic article, “The Tricky Task of Figuring Out What Makes a MOOC Successful,”

“Our data show that many who register for HarvardX courses are engaging substantially in courses without earning a certificate. In these courses, ‘dropping out’ is not a breach of expectations but the natural result of an open, free, and asynchronous registration process, where students get just as much as they wish out of a course and registering for a course does not imply a commitment to completing it.”

If learning about specific things on your own schedule is more important to you than completing courses, you’ve not alone. Indeed, Reigh and Ho suggests you are central to the future of learning:

…[O]ur research describes an emerging learning ecosystem, one where enrollment can be casual and nonbinding, learning happens asynchronously, and registrants come from all countries in the world, with diverse intentions and patterns of learning.

These qualities — casual and nonbinding, asychronous, global — describe the learning mission we’ve always had at MIT OpenCourseWare. Start by finding your topic or search among the thousands of always-available courses and resources on OCW. Dive in, explore, bookmark and return later, even download the materials for future use. All with no registration required.

Meanwhile, with more MOOCs being offered every month, chances get better all the time that you’ll also find an edX course to complement what you’ve found on OCW. Don’t be shy about registering, and simply use the bits that appeal to you. You’ll have lots of company!

President Obama: Everyone Should Be Able to Afford Higher Education

This week’s address from President Obama is all about education: the importance of higher education, its rising cost, and the administration’s plans to work with universities to lower costs to families and increase graduation rates.

This school year, we hope you’ll use OCW to supplement and continue your education. Keep thinking hard and getting smarter!

Report: Open educational resources in less used languages

langOERIf you’re interested in accessibility of open educational resources (OERs), you might want to read this new report from LangOER on OERs in “less used languages.” This report covers 23 languages, including the target languages of the LangOER consortium: Dutch, Frisian, Greek, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish and Swedish. Their summary states:

The results illustrate the diverse landscape while identifying several challenging issues not yet tackled. In particular, we point out the need to identify quality indicators and issues of specific linguistic concern for further development. This discussion covers topics important for moving the field forward, such as policies, language barriers, multilingualism and the role of preparation of practitioners as well as practices.

If you’d like see translated courses on OCW and learn about our Translation Affiliates, visit this page.