Nine-Day Workshops with Lessons to Last You a Lifetime

Collage of four photos showing students working on and showing their electronics systems.

Students in an electronics workshop that features Arduino microcontrollers collaborate to design a prototype. (Image courtesy of Andrew Ringler.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

You’ve got the month of January off from regular classes, and you want to do more than sleep in. It’s a good time to experiment, to do something unusual, maybe create a software project. But what if you don’t really have the background for this sort of thing?

Sign up for a workshop that requires no experience at all!

Two such workshops taught by the same instructor have just appeared on OCW site: Collaborative Design and Creative Expression with Arduino Microcontrollers and Learn to Build Your Own Videogame with the Unity Game Engine and Microsoft Kinect.

In the Arduino workshop, students in small teams create different projects using Arduino microcontrollers, including a hand-motion controlled “car,” dazzling light displays, and a punching glove that measures the intensity of its blows.

In the Videogame workshop, student teams create videogames in which the player moves and controls an object in space by body motions: animals try to escape from a zoo, cubes assemble to build and decorate houses, objects traverse landscapes full of obstacles.

The OCW workshop sites have videos of class activities and student-narrated projects, so you can see what the students did and how they thought about what they made.

Fostering Learner Self-Confidence

What these workshops have in common is an unconventional teaching methodology championed by Kyle Keane and Andrew Ringler, two of the instructors, and shared in their Instructor Insights for the Arduino and the Videogame workshop. Each set of Insights is tailored to the demands of that particular workshop.

The main goal for the workshops is to help students build confidence so they can gain independence from their instructors and learn on their own. To do this, they employ a variety of techniques to shake students out of their accustomed ways of thinking about learning and creativity, so they can move forward and be productive.

Building Productive Teams

To work with a team you first have to get on one, and to do that, it helps to know which people seem best suited as teammates. The workshop employs some techniques used in improv comedy to get people familiar with one another fast. Keane explains:

I use improv warm up exercises (games performers play to get ready for a show) to help participants explore how verbal and nonverbal communication impact their collaborative relationships in the workshop.

He encourages students to explore different possible teams and to not be afraid to move out of one and join another. With little or no experience, students are bound to make impractical suggestions and show a certain degree of ignorance.

Modeling Vulnerability

To help defuse student’s fear of embarrassment, Keane shares his own, and in doing so he models vulnerability, which

…is not a very common post-secondary teaching strategy, but…it’s an important thing to do when building team dynamics, because, let’s face it, opening yourself up to critique is terrifying…So, as instructors…we stand in the front of the classroom and talk about how it feels to be vulnerable. We’re weirdly explicit about it, but we find it extremely effective.

Going hand in hand with this technique is showing (rather than telling) students that it’s OK to ask for help: “It’s better to coach them and to model how to bring in others to solve problems.”

Being Creative, Not Original

In a nine-day workshop, there is hardly time to reinvent the wheel, yet in conceiving a creative project, students often think that’s what they have to do. To defuse this dynamic, Keane reframes the creative process away from being completely original to building on existing ideas and taking them in new directions. So the workshop

…involves students mimicking, step-by-step, projects that have already been built and then deviating from them—to give students permission to build on existing work.

Failing on Purpose

At the same time, to get students comfortable with risk-taking Keane gives them “assignments that ask students to do the impossible (like build a video game in six hours as a team, for example).”

These present opportunities for learning how to work with people having very different skills:

Participants don’t truly understand they need to collaborate with people who bring different skill sets to the work until they fail at a project…[Failure] helps drive home the importance of working in groups of people with diverse interests and abilities.

In Keane’s view, if a project is “designed to fail,” it holds the potential for longer-term success:

If it’s a designed-to-fail project…you pick something that’s kind of kooky that you want to learn, because no one’s going to know that you overstretched your skill set and tried something that was outside of your range. In this workshop, we explicitly allow (and encourage) participants to take these risks.

Moreover, doomed projects

…free participants to do things they might consider ridiculous, crazy, or imaginative. If you know the project is not intended to be successful, why not stretch your perceived boundaries?

Indeed, why not?

Happiness is filtered sorted course lists

Hot on the heels of last week’s announcement of our new Facebook “Share Quote” tool, we’re excited to unveil an even bigger OCW site enhancement: dynamic sorting and filtering on course lists.

If you’ve spent any time on OCW, you’ve seen these lists. We have several different kinds, to suit different ways of finding courses. Whether you’re browsing by topic, going straight to a particular MIT department like Economics, perusing one of our highlights collections such as the newest courses, or exploring a cross-disciplinary subject like the environment, you’ll find course lists all over the OCW site.

And with over 2400 courses now on OCW, some of these lists have become quite long!

Now you can filter any list to show only those courses with particular types of content – such as complete lecture notes, videos, or example student projects – and also reorder the list to display most recent courses first, rather than in ascending course number sequence.

Say you’re interested in game design. On the Find by Topic page, under the Fine Arts > Game Design subtopic, you’ll currently find a list of 22 OCW courses.

If you’re specifically looking for recent examples of student game design projects, 22 courses might be too many to go through one-by-one. As shown in the animation above: click the ‘Student projects’ content filter and the list reduces to just 10 courses; sort the list by ‘Most Recent First,’ and your most relevant course moves to the top of the list.

We’re confident this enhancement will sweeten your OCW experience. Please check it out and let us know!

Inspire your network with our new “Share Quote” feature

When you read something that’s inspiring, do you want to spread the word?  We hope so!

OCW’s growing collection of Instructor Insights pages is chock full of inspiring ideas for educators, where MIT faculty talk about how they teach. Our brand-new Facebook “Share Quote” tool makes it easy to share your favorite nuggets from these pages.

Simply highlight any text on an Instructor Insights page. When the “Share Quote” bubble pops up, click on it, and a Facebook post window pre-filled with your selected quote will appear. Add optional commentary, click the “Post to Facebook” button, and you’re done!

Good Food, Good Teaching

An illustration of several game dishes on white plates.

This illustration of several game dishes from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861) adorns the home page of the new OCW course 21L.707 Reading Cookbooks: from the Form of Cury to the Smitten Kitchen. (Image courtesy of Wellcome Images. License CC BY.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

The year-end holiday season is fast approaching! Soon families and friends everywhere will be celebrating, with meals as the centerpiece of the festivities.

What better time to explore OCW’s fabulous collection of courses on food and cooking?

These courses have fascinating reading lists, ingenious assignments, and links to a full pantry of resources on the internet.

Let’s start with a couple of delicacies on the OCW site that are, well, fresh out of the oven:

And here are some more dishes on the cultural aspects of what we eat and how we prepare it:

  • 21A.265 Food and Culture taught by Professor Heather Paxson
    What’s the connection between what we eat and who we are? How are personal identities and social groups formed via food production, preparation, and consumption? Readings are the staple of critical discussions around what makes “good” food good.
  • 21W.730-4 Writing on Contemporary Issues: Food for Thought: Writing and Reading about Cultures of Food taught by Dr. Karen Boiko
    This course explores many of the issues that surround food as both material fact and personal and cultural symbol. The class reads and discusses essays on such topics as family meals, eating as an “agricultural act,” slow food, and food’s ability to awaken us to “our own powers of enjoyment.”  Writing assignments tap into personal memories and reflections on the assigned essays.
  • 21H.S01 Food in American History taught by Anya Zilberstein
    This course looks at food in modern American history as a story of industrialization and globalization. Topics include: slave plantations and factory farm labor; industrial processing and technologies of food preservation; the political economy and ecology of global commodity chains; the vagaries of nutritional science; food restrictions and reform movements; food surpluses and famines; cooking traditions and innovations; the emergence of restaurants, supermarkets, fast food, and slow food.

And what MIT collection would be complete without some fully hands-on approaches to the subject?

  • ES.287 Kitchen Chemistry taught by Dr. Patricia Christie
    This seminar investigates cooking on a scientific basis. Each week students do an edible experiment and look at the science behind how it all works. Assignments range from “Guacamole, salsa, make your own hot sauce, and quesadillas” to “Scones and coffee” and “Jams and jellies” to “Pasta, meatballs, and crème brulée.”
  • ES.S16 Advanced Kitchen Chemistry taught by Dr. Patricia Christie
    This more sophisticated seminar features a weekly edible experiment that explores a specific food topic. Aside from these scrumptious assignments, the course site has links to resources such as Health benefits of chocolate, Flow diagram of cheese making, History of tofu, and Everything you did not want to ask about root beer.
  • ES.S41 Speak Italian with Your Mouth Full taught by Dr. Paola Rebusco
    If you want to learn a language, what better place to be than the kitchen?  For each class in this course, a different dish is prepared, while students ingest bite-sized pieces of the Italian language and culture.  By the end, students are able to cook some healthy and tasty recipes and understand and speak basic Italian. The course site includes instructional videos both on language and on cooking. Mangia!

MIT Energy Initiative celebrates 10 years of innovative research and education

Grid of six photos.

Top row (l-r): Tata Center spinoff Khethworks develops affordable irrigation for the developing world; students discuss utility research in Washington; thin, lightweight solar cell developed by Professor Vladimir Bulović and team. Bottom row (l-r): MIT’s record-setting Alcator tokamak fusion research reactor; a researcher in the MIT Energy Laboratory’s Combustion Research Facility; Professor Kripa Varanasi, whose research on slippery surfaces has led to a spinoff co-founded with Associate Provost Karen Gleason. (Photos: Tata Center for Technology and Design, MITEI, Joel Jean and Anna Osherov, Bob Mumgaard/PSFC, Energy Laboratory Archives, Bryce Vickmark.)

It’s said that our ability to harness and use energy underlies the very development of modern civilization. Now, as the world grapples with climate change induced by many decades of runaway carbon emissions, our long-running quest for simply more and cheaper energy shifts toward cleaner and zero-carbon sources, and more just systems and policies to ensure that all people have fair access to essential energy resources. It’s no exaggeration to say that our future lives depend on it.

Ten years ago, the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) was launched to build momentum, coordinate efforts, and generate the innovations needed to fuel this energy system transition. A lot has happened in those 10 years, as MITEI’s Kathryn M. O’Neill reports in MIT News:

On any given day at MIT, undergraduates design hydro-powered desalination systems, graduate students test alternative fuels, and professors work to tap the huge energy-generating potential of nuclear fusion, biomaterials, and more. While some MIT researchers are modeling the impacts of policy on energy markets, others are experimenting with electrochemical forms of energy storage.

This is the robust energy community at MIT. Developed over the past 10 years with the guidance and support of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) — and with roots extending back into the early days of the Institute — it has engaged more than 300 faculty members and spans more than 900 research projects across all five schools.

In addition, MIT offers a multidisciplinary energy minor and myriad energy-related events and activities throughout the year. Together, these efforts ensure that students who arrive on campus with an interest in energy have free rein to pursue their ambitions…

…What has MIT’s energy community as a whole accomplished over the past decade? Hockfield says it’s raised the visibility of the world’s energy problems, contributed solutions — both technical and sociopolitical — and provided “an army of young people” to lead the way to a sustainable energy future.

Read the full story >

MIT OpenCourseWare is pleased to feature many of the subjects in the MIT Undergraduate Energy Minor on our Energy Courses page.

Who Knows That Healthcare Can Be So Complicated? This Sloan Instructor Does!

A female health worker logs data on a handheld device as two others look on.

Sangath health workers in Goa log patient data. (Courtesy of Frederick Noronha and Sangath on Flickr. License: CC BY-NC.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Healthcare can be mind-boggling in its complexity, but diagnosing and treating patients has become routine business in counties like the US. You feel bad, call up, and go to see someone, and they give you advice and a therapeutic regimen to follow. Unless you’re part of an unlucky minority lacking health insurance, it’s pretty simple from the viewpoint of a patient.

But it’s hardly simple in much of the developing world, where communications are spotty, transport is unreliable, facilities are sparse, appropriate interventions are in short supply, and, perhaps most crucially, trained healthcare providers are relatively few and face overwhelming demand on a daily basis.

Non-governmental organizations—commonly called nonprofits in the US—have stepped in heroically to try to improve this situation and give ordinary people living in impoverished conditions a chance at a healthy life. But these heroes can themselves be overwhelmed. Far too often, they have little opportunity or resources to find, let alone implement, innovations in how healthcare is delivered.

So, you smart MIT Sloan graduate students, what advice can you come up with to help a mission-driven NGO innovate in delivering quality healthcare to those who most need it? To add to the challenge, the focus is on mental health and developmental disabilities—areas where problems are rarely solved with a single treatment.

By the way, you don’t have three years to study and develop your ideas. You have three days.

Ready, set, go!

Working Remotely with an NGO

Such is the academic challenge of 15.ES718 Global Health Innovation: Delivering Targeted Advice to an Organization in the Field.

The course—an intensive workshop, really—is taught by Dr. Anjali Sastry, and the site just published on OCW reflects the 2015 iteration of her teaching. In this instance, the class connected with Sangath, an inspiring NGO that provides mental health services to poor people in India.

The workshop represents a logistical tour de force. Just identifying a partner organization to collaborate with the class, writing a proposal that must convince the NGO’s board, defining researchable topics, and lining up people willing to make themselves available at short notice for the class, is a huge task. But Dr. Sastry has been at this sort of thing for quite a while, and she can be very convincing.

Priming Students to Produce Meaningful Ideas

An introduction to global health issues and to the selected organization sets the stage. After learning about the staff team they will work with, the students explore an array of readings, form groups to tackle specific areas proposed by the partner, and pinpoint key topics. By the day’s end, they have formulated meaningful questions to put to NGO staff in their initial conversations.

To expand their thinking, students select from a roster of expert researchers, entrepreneurs, and clinicians whose work may be relevant to their projects, visiting some in their labs and offices across the MIT campus and elsewhere and calling others to glean their ideas and learn of their innovations.

Drawing on this high-speed networking and their own creativity, the students develop a presentation for the NGO panelists, who weigh this advice and provide feedback based on their very practical experience. Then the students refine their presentations once more and share them with the class. Throughout it all, Dr. Sastry is there, serving as a sounding board and advisor, helping the students shape their work into something valuable.

Representing Process with Resources Galore

This intense process is represented on the OCW course site in multiple ways: class activities, readings and materials (including extensive resources on the Indian healthcare system and healthcare delivery, the status and needs of the Indian population, and Sangath itself), lecture notes, and more. Perhaps most important are the Instructor Insights of Dr. Sastry, which cover learning goals, selecting a partner organization, logistical challenges, motivating students, and providing students with useful feedback so the ideas they develop are actually useful. In keeping with another thread of her work on learning from small failures, Dr. Sastry also shares her reflections on what worked—and what she’d do differently.

If it seems amazing that an instructor can undertake a course like this, further amazement awaits on OCW’s other Anjali Sastry course sites: 15.232 Business Model Innovation: Global Health in Frontier Markets and 15.S07 Global Health Lab.

Notes from the Overground

Illustration from the lecture notes for module 1, session 4, of 5.07 Biological Chemistry 1, showing how penicillin inhibits cell wall biosynthesis in bacteria by inhibiting the enzyme transpeptidase.

Illustration from the lecture notes for module 1, session 4, of 5.07 Biological Chemistry 1, showing how penicillin inhibits cell wall biosynthesis in bacteria by inhibiting the enzyme transpeptidase.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

In the days of high resolution video, lecture notes may not seem like a flashy way to learn, but they represent one of OCW’s most valuable and portable learning resources.  Currently, almost 650 course sites in the OCW collection have complete lecture notes, and many other sites have selected notes. Another 67 courses have full online textbooks.

At their most robust, lecture notes can mimic textbooks, with clearly written prose, crisp mathematical notation, and graphs or illustrations.

A good way to zero in on class notes in a subject that interests you is to visit the Teaching Materials search on the OCW Educator portal. Here you can call up a specific subject area, and find all the courses within it that have lecture notes, complete or selected.

Teaching Materials Search

But see for yourself in this sampler of recently published courses with lecture notes:

This course discusses theoretical concepts and analysis of wave problems in science and engineering. Examples are chosen from elasticity, acoustics, geophysics, hydrodynamics, blood flow, nondestructive evaluation, and other applications.

This course examines the chemical and physical properties of the cell and its building blocks, with special emphasis on the structures of proteins and principles of catalysis.

This course provides students with the basic tools for analyzing experimental data, properly interpreting statistical reports in the literature, and reasoning under uncertain situations. Topics organized around three key theories: Probability, statistical, and the linear model.

This course studies information and contract theory, encompassing decision making under uncertainty, risk sharing, moral hazard, adverse selection, mechanism design, and incomplete contracting.

This course presents a computationally focused introduction to elliptic curves, with applications to number theory and cryptography. It works its way up to some fairly advanced material, including an overview of the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem.

This is the first semester of a one year graduate course in number theory covering standard topics in algebraic and analytic number theory.

This course is the continuation of 18.785 Number Theory I. It begins with an analysis of the quadratic case of Class Field Theory via Hilbert symbols, in order to give a more hands-on introduction to the ideas of Class Field Theory.