Happy Year of the Monkey!

Photo of large lit-up inflatable monkey in a city plaza display.

Celebrate the Year of the Monkey with language and culture courses on OCW. (Photo courtesy of Choo Yut Shing on Flickr. License CC BY-NC-SA.)

Today (Monday February 8, 2016) is the Lunar New Year celebrated in many East Asian cultures.

In the cycle of 12 zodiac animal signs, this is the Year of the Monkey. Reputed to be full of energy and curiosity, it’s a great time to learn about language and culture with OCW courses.

We have extensive materials to help you learn the Chinese language. Begin with our new versions of the introductory language courses 21G.101 Chinese I (Regular) and 21G.107 Chinese I (Streamlined). And if you’re ready for more advanced language learning, OCW has extensive materials from MIT’s complete sequence of Chinese courses.

Curious about East Asian culture and society? Here are a few highlights from our collection of Asian Studies courses.

Finally, two of OCW’s language translation partners have translated many of our original English-language courses into Traditional Chinese and Korean. These translated courses span all disciplines, from science and engineering to social sciences and the humanities.

Here’s to a new year full of learning!

MIT announces new learning research initiatives

Photo of student in a library working on papers and her laptop.MIT’s committed efforts to understand learning and improve it at all levels of education took a big step forward yesterday. As reported by MIT News:

MIT President L. Rafael Reif announced today a significant expansion of the Institute’s programs in learning research and online and digital education — from pre-kindergarten through residential higher education and lifelong learning — that fulfills a number of recommendations made in 2014 by the Institute-Wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education.

Most notably, Reif announced the creation of the MIT Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili), to be led by Professor John Gabrieli, and a new effort to increase MIT’s ability to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning by students from pre-kindergarten through high school (pK-12), to be led by Professor Angela Belcher. The announcement also included a program to support faculty innovations in MIT residential education and new work to enhance MIT’s continuing education programs. Read more >

What does this mean for OCW and other MIT open educational resources? We look forward to providing better opportunities for learners, and sharing MIT’s latest teaching methods through initiatives like OCW Educator. The accompanying FAQ: Reshaping MIT’s programs in online and digital education states that

Research out of MITili will inform MIT’s digital learning and open education efforts, such as MIT OpenCourseWare, MITx, and the new MicroMaster’s program, and seeks to further improve these online learning platforms by applying latest developments in learning scholarship and educational technology. Read more >

Exciting times!

As an OpenMatters blog post wouldn’t be complete without some related OCW content, we heartily recommend MITili founding director John Gabrieli’s popular 9.00SC Introduction to Psychology. This OCW Scholar course takes you on an engaging scientific journey through human nature, including “how the mind works and how the brain supports the mind.”

Eight new courses in January

A man in a suit and mask standing outdoors next to a computer

Explore topics like digital hacktivism by groups such as Anonymous in the new OCW course Current Debates in Media. (Image courtesy of Stian Eikeland on flickr. License CC BY-NC-SA.)

OCW added eight new courses during the month of January 2016, bringing the current collection to 2,325 courses in total.  Of these latest courses, six are brand new subjects on OCW and two are updates of previously published subjects.

New Courses

Updated Courses


Marvin Minsky, “father of artificial intelligence,” dies at 88

Left portrait photo of Marvin Minsky. Right photo of metal robotic forearm and hand.

The Minsky Arm (right), developed by Marvin Minsky (left) in the late 1960s through the early 1970s, used a camera and computer to build with blocks. Working on the arm served as inspiration for his later work on the human mind. (Portrait photo of Marvin Minsky by Louis Fabian Bachrach; Minksy arm photo courtesy of gastev on Flickr, license CC BY.)

Professor emeritus was a co-founder of CSAIL and a founding member of the Media Lab.

MIT Media Lab  | January 25, 2016

Marvin Minsky, a mathematician, computer scientist, and pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, died at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital on Sunday, Jan. 24, of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 88.

Minsky, a professor emeritus at the MIT Media Lab, was a pioneering thinker and the foremost expert on the theory of artificial intelligence. His 1985 book “The Society of Mind” is considered a seminal exploration of intellectual structure and function, advancing understanding of the diversity of mechanisms interacting in intelligence and thought. Minsky’s last book, “The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind,” was published in 2006.

Minsky viewed the brain as a machine whose functioning can be studied and replicated in a computer — which would teach us, in turn, to better understand the human brain and higher-level mental functions: How might we endow machines with common sense — the knowledge humans acquire every day through experience? How, for example, do we teach a sophisticated computer that to drag an object on a string, you need to pull, not push — a concept easily mastered by a two-year-old child?

Read more >

Screengrab of Marvin Minsky lecturing in front of a chalkboard.

Marvin Minsky in the introductory lecture video from his OCW course 6.868J The Society of Mind.

With OCW, you can witness Professor Minsky’s teaching in a complete set of video lectures from his classic MIT course 6.868J The Society of Mind. Cory Doctorow wrote this appreciation yesterday:

I once met Minsky over a long lunch and managed to express some of my admiration for his work; he was modest and warm and engaging.

That warmth and brilliance shines through in this MIT Open Courseware course, also called “Society of Mind.” Like Feynman’s undergraduate physics lectures, Minksy’s introductory course shows what happens when you ask a brilliant master to provide an overview of their area of expertise.

OCW is also a great way to explore the field of artificial intelligence, with nearly forty courses on the topic.

Making It Real in Assistive Technology

Presentation slide about the glove prototype stage 1, with several photos.

Students in 6.811 Principles and Practice of Assistive Technology develop their projects in close collaboration with individual clients, learning about their needs and preferences. (Slide courtesy of MIT students. Used with permission.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

In conventional thinking, the “real world” is a different space from the undergraduate experience.  In fact, one of the great challenges of education remains how to make theoretical, “book” learning relevant to the practical problems people face every day.

6.811 Principles and Practice of Assistive Technology breaks through this boundary, “to tap into the interest of undergraduate students to work on service learning projects or to apply their design and engineering skills to something meaningful,” in the words of co-instructor William Li.

The syllabus for 6.811 sums it up nicely: “an interdisciplinary, project-based course, centered around a design project in which small teams of students work closely with a person with a disability in the Cambridge area to design a device, piece of equipment, app, or other solution that helps them live more independently.”

User-centered, Iterative Design

The focus is on user-centered design. The students must get to know their clients well, understand their problems and concerns, and make productive use of their feedback on iterations of prototypes. The challenges are varied, substantial, and pressingly real. For instance:

  • An attachment to enable the user of forearm crutches to carry a coffee mug without spilling
  • A glove to alert a user when her grip is slipping
  • A framework to enable a sightless person to sign legal documents in ink
  • An app to enable a person in a wheelchair to navigate a college campus reliably and efficiently
  • A call-button app that allows users to request urgent or non-urgent assistance using their iPad

The solutions must be functional, inexpensive, and lasting. Not easy!

Students on the Student Experience

The OCW course site captures the student experience in videos of student presentations at mid-term and semester’s end. The mid-term presentations included video portraits of the clients, a review of the various ideas that had been brainstormed, and metrics for success. Final presentations reported on the latest iteration of the solutions. All presentations were given before a review panel of experts on engineering and assistive technology, who provided key feedback.

A number of students shared their thoughts about the course in video interviews conducted at the final class session. Their remarks can be inspiring: “If there’s one thing that PPAT has taught me, it’s that a disability isn’t a good enough reason to stop doing anything.”

The rewards of the course can be huge. Beth Hadley, one of the students on Team Margaret, which developed the call-button app in Fall 2014, continued to collaborate with her client after the semester ended. The refined app, called InstaAid, is now “the preferred communication for residents to reach assistance in any location” at The Boston Home, according to its CEO Marva Serotkin. The app can be downloaded for free on iTunes and uses open-source code.  The Boston Globe reported  that the app “won a major award from AT&T and New York University’s Connect Ability Challenge, a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Instructor Insights

The lead instructors of 6.811, William Li and Grace Teo, reflect on their own experience and how they taught the course in video interviews on the course site’s This Course at MIT page. They had their own practical challenges, such as how to identify clients willing to work productively with student teams, how to help students face failure as part of the iterative design process, how to assess students in a project-based course, and more.

As Grace says, teaching the course isn’t “so much about knowledge of subject material, or knowledge of a specific skill, but just the ability to facilitate learning, which a lot of times just comes down to knowing how to ask the right questions of what is needed at this moment to help my student learn and succeed, and being able to answer their questions.”

Shh! (But we need your help!)


Image by Shreyans Bhansali

Dear Friends of OCW,

MIT OpenCourseWare is celebrating our 15th anniversary this year – and we need your help!

To celebrate, we’re creating a “surprise” thank you video to the MIT faculty who’ve made it possible for OCW to reach this milestone.

The video will star YOU and other OCW learners from around the world.

We would be forever grateful if you could record a video-selfie answering some (or all) of our questions below. There’s also a couple of technical guidelines below to help with the making of your video.

We need your submission by Friday, January 15, 2016 Wednesday, January 27, 2016 (new deadline)!

Thanks in advance for giving back!


The MIT OpenCourseWare Team



  • What is your name and where are you from?
  • Who told you about OCW?
  • What motivated you to use OCW?
  • Were the materials covered the hardest part about OCW?
  • What was your gut reaction (first sentence/thought) when you heard MIT class content was available online, free?
  • Have you built anything using your OCW learning? If so, can you show us?
  • Have you used anything you learned with OCW to give back to your community?
  • If you had to put a value on what you learned from OCW, how much would you say it’s worth?
  • What was your impression of MIT before knowing about OCW?
  • Can you remember the exact number of the course(s) you looked into?
  • Have you ever had a chance to thank MIT or your MIT professor?
  • Is there anything else you’d like to tell MIT or the world about OCW?


Would you please read the following lines:

Thank you, MIT.

For opening your books.

For opening your doors.

For opening your hearts.

I am course 14.01SC (Please fill in your course name/number – if you remember it)

I know you may not know me,

But I am your student.

And you are my professor.

Thank you!


Technical details:

  • Shoot horizontally.
  • Hold your phone steady – putting it on a mantel or something would be great, but don’t stand too far if that’s what you’re doing.
  • Don’t shoot from below the face.
  • Don’t shoot with a direct light source behind you – a window, the sun, a lamp etc.
  • Avoid noisy places – from waterfalls to kids or busy streets and cars.
  • Try incorporating the question into your answer, to give context (i.e. “When I first heard OCW materials were online and free, I thought….”)
  • If there’s a setting on your camera, set it (and then send it as large/best quality as possible).
  • Please upload your video(s) to this Link: WeTransfer.com


How to Send Your Videos

  1.  Go to WeTransfer.com
  2.  Click on the “+” symbol and attach the video file right from your smartphone that you would like to send us
  3. Type in MITOCW15@gmail.com as the recipient
  4. Type in your own email address
  5. In the “Message” section, please provide us with your name, email address and phone number. Only your first name, educational role (student, educator, independent learner) and Country will accompany your video. Please remember that anything published on our site is made available under a Creative Commons license that permits reuse and redistribution for non-commercial purposes.
  6. Click “Transfer” to send your video to us

4 Fun Facts from “Fundamentals of Biology”

Magnolia petals stained with methylene blue and shown at 100 times magnification.

(Original image courtesy of kaibara on Flickr.)

Fundamentals of Biology is an OCW Scholar course that’s designed to help you learn the principles of the basic mechanisms of life. Our Digital Publication Specialist Alicia Franke, who works with the Biology Department, has collected a few interesting tidbits from this rich course.

#1: Your genome (assuming you’re human) contains 3 billion base pairs of DNA, and about 20,000-25,000 genes.

Learn about nucleic acids and the structure of DNA, and click over to the Human Genome Project to learn about how the sequence of these 3 billion bases were determined.

#2: van der Waals forces in action: These geckos are able to stick to any surface, even climb up walls. How? Their toe pads contain millions of tiny hairs (known as setae), so tiny that they can interact with surfaces on a molecular level. No glue required.

Learn about van der Waals forces in the video lecture: Proteins, Levels of Structure, Non-Covalent Forces, Excerpt 2. (Skip forward to 25:40.)

#3: Another reptile fact! A species of lizard, known as the Jesus Christ lizard, can actually walk on water. They are able to do this because of the structure of their feet, combined with a very important property of water known as surface tension.

Watch this video of the lizard in action, and then learn about surface tension in the video lecture Covalent Bonds, Hydrogen Bonds. (Start at 20:45.)

#4. You already know donuts are delicious. You also know that fats can be both good and bad for us. Why, exactly, are some fats (like cis-unsaturated) good for us, while other fats like trans-unsaturated (or “trans fats”) are bad for us?

Learn the details of the answer in the video lecture Macromolecules: Lipids, Carbohydrates, Nucleic Acid, Excerpt 1. Prof. Havel Sive gets into saturated fats at 14:45, unsaturated fats at 17:00, and trans fats at 18:25.