Open with a Promise, Close with a Joke

Informal portrait photo of smiling Patrick Winston, standing in an office.

Patrick Winston, Ford Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science. (Photograph by Azeddine Tahiri. Used with permission.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Manager

Open with a promise, close with a joke. And in between? Be inspiring!

Such are the guidelines that Professor Patrick Henry Winston follows in giving his lectures for 6.034 Artificial Intelligence. The course has something akin to legendary status at MIT and beyond (Bloomberg Business recently tagged it as “one of the 5 best computer science classes in the U.S.“). As Professor Winston says in one of his Instructor Insights, he tries to live up to the billing:

When you have more than 30 or so students in a room, you no longer have a class, you have a lecture. When you have upwards of 100 students, you have theater. It’s a kind of social covenant. When people see that there are a lot of people sitting there with them, there’s an expectation that they’re going to see a show…So the lecture ends up being a kind of performance.

Accordingly, he invests between 12 and 18 hours designing each lecture, and prep time can extend up to a week if he has to write software. Then, there’s the 90-minute rehearsal.

Rocking Out When Walking In

To set the mood and “get the adrenaline pumping” before the show, he plays rock music as the students enter the lecture hall.

He begins with “a promise of how students will be empowered by what they will learn in the lecture” and includes many demonstrations showing what kinds of intelligent things well-written code can do.

Inspiring with Plenty of Stories

Professor Winston emphasizes the importance of expressing passion for the subject material. He polled faculty and students a few years ago and discovered that they all agreed that the best way to inspire others is to show passion about what you are teaching:

In my own teaching, when I give a demonstration, I frequently tell students I think it’s “really cool,” as a way to be explicit about the fact that I’m passionate about it.

Naturally, his research in artificial intelligence has led him to study human intelligence, and this in turn has helped inform his lectures:

I concluded some time ago that the distinguishing characteristic of human intelligence is our story competence. We tell stories, we listen to stories, and we make up new stories by blending old ones together. That’s really what education is all about, if you think about it…I think sharing the stories, the opinions, the asides, and understanding how a person solved a particular problem, what they were thinking of when they did that, what they were motivated by, etc. is just as, and probably more, important than teaching the actual skills.

Watch the master storyteller in action, introducing the topic of articificial intelligence in a clip from the first class lecture:

Screengrab of professor with student at front of classroom, holding a bicycle wheel.

Learning With Pen in Hand

Ironically, Professor Winston’s understanding of how the mind works has led him to ban laptop and cell-phone use in his computer science class:

The reason I do this is because there’s a lot of evidence that we only have one language processor in our heads, and it’s easily jammed. If you jam it by reading your email, texting, or doing something else, you’re not actually going to be able to pay attention to what’s going on in the lecture.

Instead, he recommends old-fashioned note-taking by hand:

I encourage my students to take notes because it forces engagement. You can’t take a note without deploying your language apparatus and your drawing apparatus. And that’s the reason for taking notes. It has nothing really to do with looking at the notes again; it has everything to do with forcing concentration.

Laughing When All Is Said and Done

And he always ends the lecture with “something fun”:  a joke, or an historical anecdote, or an intriguing demo.

That’s because people tend to characterize an experience by its last event:

One of my colleagues told me that he always ends his lectures with something fun so that people feel like they’ve enjoyed the class the whole time.

Nothing artificial about that!

Traveling 65mph on the world’s tallest water slide


View from the top of Verrückt, the world’s tallest waterslide. (Image courtesy of Schlitterbahn Waterparks & Resorts. Used with permission.)

By Cheryl Siegel

You’ve climbed 246 stairs, and now you’re strapped to a raft 168 feet above the ground. You are about to begin your ride on the tallest, steepest, and fastest waterslide in the world. Verrückt—which means “insane” in German–opened to the public July 2014 at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City. The initial descent is essentially a free-fall—almost a straight drop from 15 stories, in which the raft then accelerates to 65 mph.

The course takes advantage of the relationship between gravity and friction to ensure the rafts remain on the slide. By conducting extensive tests with both sandbags and humans, the ride’s engineers were able to ensure that Verrückt would be safe for all, though they do impose a weight limit of 550 pounds per raft.

To learn more about gravity, friction, velocity and acceleration, please visit OCW’s introductory physics course, 8.01L Physics I: Classical Mechanics. The unit called “Kinematics: Describing 1D Motion, Relative Velocity,” explains the concepts of position, velocity, and acceleration.

Making sense of the violence in the US

March from the White House to the Capitol. Image by Susan Melkisethian

March from the White House to the Capitol. Image by Susan Melkisethian

Our hearts ache from the violence that has taken place this month. The shooting deaths of Alton SterlingPhilando Castilefive police officers in Dallas and three police officers in Baton Rouge fill families, friends, communities, and a country with deep sorrow.

It’s almost impossible to make sense of this violence but in these tragedies, it’s clear that fear, racism against Black Americans, the police, and guns played important roles.

However, any understanding or solution begins with education. Education can profoundly change belief systems, shift perceptions, and reduce ignorance and hate.

With the hope of gaining knowledge to enact positive change, here are some resources that offer some understanding of underlying causes surrounding these horrific events, and perhaps ways we can better communicate and connect with each other for the better.

Understanding current events

21H.319 Race, Crime, and Citizenship in American Law – The readings of this course offer insight into the key issues in the historical development and current state of modern American criminal justice, with an emphasis on its relationship to citizenship, nationhood, and race/ethnicity.

24.236 Topics in Social Theory and Practice: Race and Racism – lecture notes delve into the questions “How should we understand racial injustice? Does racial injustice continue to exist? If so, what steps might legitimately be taken to end it?”

24.02 Moral Problems and the Good Life – the Racism, sexism and speech section surface questions about the the cultural and economic structures that may reinforce sexism and racism.

17.922 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. IAP Design Seminar – students develop in-depth understanding of the history of US racial issues as well as past and present domestic and international political struggles.

21M.630J Black Matters: Introduction to Black Studies – explores the experiences of people of African descent through the overlapping approaches of history, literature, anthropology, legal studies, media studies, performance, linguistics, and creative writing. The course also has a good reading list.

Other resources

Black Lives Matter –  an online forum intended to build connections between Black people and Black allies to fight anti-Black racism, to spark dialogue among Black people, and to facilitate the types of connections necessary to encourage social action and engagement.

I, Racist – text from a sermon that John Metta, a Black writer and poet, gave as a congregational reflection to an all White audience.

Changing the world and yourself for the better

CMS.615 Games for Social Change – workshop to design and prototype games for social change and civic engagement.

Letter from President Reif to the MIT community – reflecting on the importance of “leading civic institutions have a responsibility to speak clearly against these corrosive forces and to act practically to inspire and create positive change.”

17.905 Forms of Political Participation: Old and New – examines the associations and networks that connect us to one another and structure our social and political interactions.

CMS.361 Networked Social Movements: Media & Mobilization – a seminar that examines the relationship between social movements and the media and how resources and awareness can be mobilized.

11.948 Power of Place: Media Technology, Youth, and City Design and Development – workshop that explores the potential of information technology and the Internet to transform public education, city design, and community development in inner-city neighborhoods.

21G.019 Communicating Across Cultures – course that helps you become more sensitive to intercultural communication differences, and to provide you with the knowledge and skills that will help you interact successfully with people from cultures other than your own.

Other resources

The Science of Happiness – an edX course that focuses on how happiness is inextricably linked to having strong social connections and contributing to something bigger than yourself—the greater good.

Social Work Practice: Advocating Social Justice and Change – an edX course that helps you learn the values, techniques, and themes social workers use to help others as well as strategies for addressing social justice challenges.

[Updated July 20 after police officers killed in Baton Rouge LA]

Seeking simple solutions with huge impacts (MIT News)

Photo of Cauam Cardoso standing with a group of young Indian women.

MIT PhD student Cauam Cardoso led focus group discussions in low-income communities in Delhi and other cities in India. Women described how they use technology, who makes decisions on what to purchase for their work or home, and how they regard technology’s impact on their lives and self-reliance. At a session this winter in Delhi, pictured here, Cardoso met with young women who were taking a class to improve their skills at sewing. (Photo: Tom Gearty)

Cauam Cardoso was only 17 when he decided to break from family tradition and pursue engineering instead of the arts, a move that set him on a path to working with communities in need.

Over the past decade, Cardoso, a PhD student in international economic development at MIT, has helped communities on five continents overcome infrastructure issues such as a lack of sanitation, while always following the advice his dad gave him growing up: “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason, so listen more than you talk.”

Since coming to MIT, Cardoso has mainly been involved in a project called Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation, or CITE. OCW recently published a CITE Reports supplemental resource, featuring studies of solar lanterns in Uganda and water filters in India.

“The idea is one simple technology can have this huge impact on someone’s well-being,” explains Cardoso. “But today there are a lot of technologies out there such as solar lanterns or water filters, and there’s no way to systematically evaluate what works and what doesn’t work on the ground.”

With CITE, Cardoso and the project’s other team members are working to develop an objective methodology to assess the usefulness of various technologies. To assess a product, CITE focuses on three main categories: suitability (does the technology work properly?), scalability (can the technology actually reach the consumers?), and sustainability (will the technology create a long-lasting impact, and will the business model supporting it survive long-term?). For the past five years, Cardoso and the rest of the CITE team have been organizing pilot studies all over the world, from solar lanterns in Uganda to water filters in India, and now they are in the process of compiling their results and developing the best methodology.

Cardoso has also shared his global experience and perspective with MIT undergraduates, through his course 11.005 Introduction to International Development (also recently published in OCW). As MIT News reports:

Cardoso redesigned the course syllabus to reflect his background, and draws heavily on his own experiences in the field to engage his students. “Leading my own course and directing the students was probably one of the most rewarding experiences I had at MIT,” says Cardoso, who received his department’s 2016 Outstanding PhD Teaching Assistant award. “I love teaching, and I take it very seriously. You learn so much from the students — it’s really a gift.”

Read the complete MIT News profile of Cauam Cardoso.

OCW is sizzling: 21 new courses since June 1

Photo of four steaks cooking over an open fire.

Discover the science and applications of heat transfer with a new OCW course—just one of over 20 recently published. (Courtesy of _BuBBy_ on Flickr. License CC BY.)

As summer settles in, OCW goes into publication overdrive. Early summer has always been one of our busiest seasons, and this year is no exception.

So far in 2016, we’ve published over 70 courses, with 21 courses added since June 1. Nine of these latest courses are new subjects on OCW, and twelve are updates of previously published courses.

We hope you’ll enjoy these great summer reads!

New Courses

Updated Courses

New season of “Science Out Loud” sparks curiosity

Photo of woman in a lab coat being video'd, surrounded by lighting and camera equipment, with two production people assisting.

Left to right: Elizabeth Choe ’13, executive producer; George Zaidan ’08, director; and Whitney Hess PhD ’16 film “Choose-Your-Own-Chemistry-Adventure” for “Science Out Loud” from MIT+K12 Videos.

By MIT Office of Digital Learning

No equations allowed. This basic rule drives the thinking behind “Science Out Loud,” an original web series hosted and co-written by MIT students. The fun, engaging videos are geared towards middle and high school students and designed to bring scientific concepts to life through research, experiments, and demos performed by real scientists and engineers. No chalkboards. No textbooks. Lots of learning.

The new season of Science Out Loud – now live on YouTube – pushes the boundaries of video production to turn academic education into curiosity-sparking interactive experiences.

There’s a choose-your-own chemistry adventure where viewers can click through the video to change the ingredients of a chemical reaction (yeast, soap, and hydrogen peroxide) and create the best foam explosion.

Another video explores how virtual reality works, which viewers can watch in 360 degrees on YouTube and Google Cardboard. Yet another showcases MIT’s Scratch programming to make a video game, with the option to watch in English or Italian.

Science Out Loud is part of MIT+K12 Videos, an educational outreach program from the Office of Digital Learning that seeks to encourage a lifelong love of learning through original digital media and live programming. The program aims to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) literacy while opening the world of MIT to as many people as possible.

“The foundation of MIT+K12 is not video, camera work, or editing,” explains program director Elizabeth Choe. “It’s about what the videos enable. We want to leverage the amazing community of students and people at MIT to challenge people’s notions of what scientists and science look like while sparking curiosity and agency among young people.”

Originally launched by the School of Engineering in 2011, MIT+K12 Videos has produced more than 150 videos that have garnered close to 10 million views on YouTube. The program fits within MIT’s larger pK-12 vision to bring the university’s immersive, hands-on approach beyond the campus and deliver STEM education to pre-kindergarten through grade-12 learners and educators.

For MIT students participating, the program is about developing the skills not just to make a video but to clearly communicate their research and share their passion with a non-STEM audience. All to complement what they’re learning in the classroom.

“K12 Videos gave me such a variety of practical experience,” says K12 Videos Educational Media Fellow and recent graduate Ceri Riley ’16. “Every project was different so I got to try out new skills — from producing and editing to animating and filming. It really acted as a springboard for me.” Post-graduation, Riley is already working for SciShow, an extremely popular science channel on YouTube.

“I’m proud of putting myself out there. It challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone, to try new things, and to appreciate the process as much as (or more than) the final product,” says Whitney Hess PhD ’16 and “star” of the choose-your-own chemistry adventure video.

MIT students can get involved with MIT+K12 Videos in a variety of ways, from hands-on hosting and writing to behind-the-scenes education outreach or content consultants to becoming an Educational Media Fellow. For Science Out Loud, students can either directly pitch a video idea or enroll in 20.219 (Becoming the Next Bill Nye) to earn course credit. Volunteers from freshmen to graduate students are always welcome. MIT faculty can also play a role — hosting the #askMIT Q&A series, supporting student-run videos, or collaborating on new projects.

Curiosity sparked? Watch the new season of Science Out Loud or email to get involved. You can also explore materials from previous seasons on PBS Learning Media (including teacher supplementary resources), Khan Academy, iTunes U, and All videos are freely available and downloadable under a Creative Commons license.

When the Student Becomes the Teacher

Image courtesy of uoeducation on Flickr. License: CC: BY-NC

Image courtesy of uoeducation on Flickr. License: CC: BY-NC

By Cheryl Siegel

When you think of students at a university, you might imagine them taking classes, doing homework, participating in sports or maybe working at the school newspaper.  But did you know that at MIT, students can also teach their own classes?

Through the Educational Studies Program at MIT, students have the opportunity to teach courses to high schoolers and middle schoolers on a wide variety of topics – some serious, some not so much –  including the history of heavy metal, probability, and medical device design.

On Highlights for High School, we have captured a few of these student-run classes.


Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience

Humanities and Social Science

Gödel, Escher, Bach

Europe in Crisis

Leadership Training Institute


Combinatorics: The Fine Art of Counting

Probability: Random Isn’t So Random


The Big Questions

Excitatory Topics in Physics