Bridging the digital divide

Students learning to use eTekkatho at Taungoo University

Duyen Nguyen | MIT Open Learning

Myanmar’s education landscape is changing, thanks in large part to the efforts of the  Tekkatho Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that uses digital technologies to bring world-class educational resources to local institutions and communities. Supported by a grant from the Omidyar Network, Tekkatho sets up free, self-contained digital libraries—eTekkatho—and other education infrastructure across the country, making access to materials like MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) possible even in places with little to no connectivity.

eTekkatho is able to include OCW content among its many resources through OCW’s Mirror Site Program, which delivers free copies of the OCW website to over 400 non-profit educational organizations working in under-resourced parts of the world, for installation on their local networks. Currently set up in 23 universities and six community libraries across the country, eTekkatho’s impact on learners in Myanmar has been remarkable. Over 10,000 people—from students to educators—have attended an eTekkatho training course, where they learn how to access, browse, and download educational and research materials. With thousands of resources now at their fingertips, students grow confident in taking the initiative in their education, becoming proficient in self-study and independent learning. As of 2017, over 100,000 individual ebooks, video lessons, datasets, lectures, and other educational content have been downloaded from eTekkatho library.

OCW is one of the most popular resources that eTekkatho provides. At Phaung Daw Oo, a monastery school in Mandalay that offers free education to over 7,000 children, students like Kyaw Win Khant turn to the eTekkatho digital library to research their assignments, develop their IT skills, and prepare for college and work. “Of course I use eTekkatho! It’s really useful for my studies,” says Kyaw, who was motivated to study chemistry after finding resources on the subject through the digital library. Through watching OCW lectures, Kyaw says he also improved…

>Read the complete story on OCW

Study Aids for Students Taking the Joint Entrance Exam

Instructor writing on a light board

Ankur Gupta solves mathematics problems at the light board.

By Welina Farah, MIT Open Learning

This month, students across India are prepping for the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE), a two-part rigorous and thorough national-level standardized test for future engineers.

Twice a year, these test takers hope to do well enough to be accepted into top-tier undergraduate engineering programs at elite institutes across India. These institutes include the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), National Institutes of Technology (NIT), Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), and various other Centrally Funded Technical Institutions (CFTIs) across the country.

The first round of exams (JEE Main) took place from April 7 to April 12, 2019. Students that passed the first round move on to the second round, (JEE Advanced) taking place on May 27, 2019.

At OpenCourseWare, we have two resources available for those studying for the JEE: a series of videos on the “Highlights for High School” website titled “IIT Joint Entrance Exam Preparation” and a quick blurb on the exams themselves.

These videos came to the OCW page in a great way, stemming from “somebody who knew somebody” and blooming into a much-used and vital resource.

The Senior Educational Technology Consultant at MITx Residential built a lightboard (also known as a learning board). At the time, the technology consultant was helping then-grad student Ankur Gupta to use the lightboard to make the videos, as you may have guessed, hosted on the OCW site.

Gupta decided to continue making these videos as a side project.

There are many more videos on their YouTube page, but putting them on OCW’s YouTube page helped amplify their efforts.

The 9 videos hosted by OCW and created by Gupta have been viewed over 66,000 times.

> Check out the “IIT Joint Entrance Exam Preparation” videos

Tech tools for teaching and learning

Close up of hand holding a clicker device

A clicker of the sort used in MIT classrooms. Photo: Gina Randall/USAF (public domain).

By Peter Chipman, OCW Digital Publication Specialist and OCW Educator Assistant

Technology is the T in MIT, so it’s not surprising that MIT faculty are quick to implement technology in and out of the classroom. Want to find out how MIT instructors use technology to improve the teaching and learning process? The Instructor Insights at many of the course sites published on MIT OpenCourseWare include descriptions of ways faculty members have implemented such tools in recent years.

Promoting active learning in the classroom

One of the most popular forms of active learning is the use of so called “clicker questions” to poll students’ opinions or gauge their knowledge of specific concepts. Unlike asking a question and calling on individual students to answer it, using clicker questions gives an instructor a sense of how well the classroom as a whole understands the concept being discussed. It also allows the instructor to engage students in the material without putting them on the spot.

In many classes, including 5.111SC Principles of Chemical Science, 8.421 Atomic and Optical Physics I, and 18.05 Introduction to Probability and Statistics, the instructors issue dedicated wireless devices as clickers that students use to register their responses; those responses are then aggregated and displayed on a screen. But most students are already coming to class with their own wireless devices–their mobile phones. So in other classes, such as CMS.701 Current Debates in Media, the instructors ask students instead to download an app such as Mentimeter, which enables their phones to act as clickers, avoiding the need for a separate device.

Supporting and assessing student performance outside of class

Outside the classroom, too, digital technology can help students learn while aiding instructors in tracking the pace of learning. In 6.01SC Introduction to Electrical Engineering and Computer Science I, for instance, the instructors set up an online tutor—an environment that can automatically check student-written code. Students feed a piece of code to the online tutor and it checks the functionality of that code by running various test cases.

The instructors for 18.05 Introduction to Probability and Statistics provide their students with an online problem set checker run through the Residential MITx site. By checking their answers as they work through the problems, students can notice and correct their mistakes before submitting their completed problem sets.

The course format for ES.S10 Drugs and the Brain incorporates online quizzes hosted at a website the instructor created for the course; it allows students to receive their grades immediately upon completing the quiz. Along with the quiz grades, the website shows which answers were wrong and why they were wrong.

In 21G.107 Chinese I (Streamlined), students use the web tool Lingt (developed by two MIT students) to record themselves speaking sample words and sentences outside of class; the instructor can then listen to their recordings and offer feedback on their progress. This frees students from having to go to a traditional language lab for pronunciation drills and assessments.

Specialized tools for specific subject matter

Instructors in other fields have found other tools helpful. For example, Annotation Studio, a suite of collaborative web-based annotation tools developed at MIT, has proven especially useful for courses in the humanities, such as 21L.501 The American Novel: Stranger and Stranger and CMS.633 Digital Humanities. Annotation Studio allows an individual, a small group of collaborating students, or even a whole class to produce a marked-up version of a text, with notes, links, and embedded images adding depth and richness to the reader’s experience. In 21L.501, the instructor also developed a project using Locast, an interactive mapmaking application (also created at MIT!), to help students make sense of the vast geographical range of the storyline of Moby-Dick. And in CMS.701 Current Debates in Media, students used software called CMap Tools to create conceptual maps showing relationships between the key ideas in a difficult text they were reading.

To learn more

If you’re interested in finding out more, you can use the OCW Educator Portal to search for Instructor Insights on the topic “Teaching with Technology.” For regular updates on what’s new in MIT OpenCourseWare, subscribe to the OCW newsletter. If you’re an MIT faculty member or instructor looking for ways to integrate technology into your teaching, visit the IS&T Teaching with Technology landing page for tools and resources.

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This entry was originally published on the Information Systems and Technology (IS&T) News blog on April 9, 2019.

Happy Birthday, Herb Gross!

a middle-age man standing in front of a blackboard with mathematical figures on it.

Herb Gross, making math make sense in a video recorded at MIT in 1970. (Image by MIT OpenCourseWare.)

By Peter Chipman, OCW Digital Publication Specialist and OCW Educator Assistant

Today we’re delighted to wish a very happy birthday to Professor Herb Gross, who is turning 90. When he was a senior lecturer in mathematics at MIT in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was recruited to film a series of instructional videos under the title of Calculus Revisited. In the digital era, these videos have reached a much larger audience than might originally have been expected; between 2010 and 2011 MIT OpenCourseWare worked with Professor Gross to publish them as a trilogy of special supplemental resources on our website: Single Variable Calculus, Multivariable Calculus, and Complex Variables, Differential Equations, and Linear Algebra.

The videos might seem to have a lot going against them: they’re nearly fifty years old, they’re in low-definition black and white, and they have no special effects or flashy visuals. (Their content consists purely of Professor Gross standing in front of a blackboard, explaining math.) But collectively, these resources have been accessed well over a million times at the OCW website, and they’re also extremely popular and much loved on YouTube.

Herb Gross’s time at MIT was part of a long career in teaching math, often to those students most in need of patient encouragement and support. He taught for many years at community colleges, and starting in the late 1970s he was also involved in prison education, creating math programs for inmates at correctional institutions in Massachusetts and later in North Carolina. In 1988 he instituted his Gateways to Mathematics video course at several prisons in North Carolina. (The material for the entire course has been preserved at the Internet Archive.) He enjoys making teaching videos and regards them as offering some advantages not available to live teaching; he explains that “You can pause, rewind, and/or fast forward the lectures as you see fit—not to mention that the boards are written in a much more orderly way than how I wrote in the live classroom!”

Professor Gross has always maintained that the best mathematicians don’t necessarily make the best math teachers, and likewise that you don’t have to be a great mathematician to be a great math teacher. As he puts it, “There are many examples of great athletes who failed as coaches; and there have been great coaches who were at best mediocre players.” He has returned to this analogy again and again throughout the years, most memorably in another video series, Teacher as Coach, produced in 1988 by the North Carolina Department of Community Colleges. He sees his vocation in life as being the best coach he can be for the most vulnerable and “mathephobic” of students. And he has always been dedicated to the idea that the best teaching materials should be made freely available to as wide an audience as possible. To further this goal, not only did he work with MIT OpenCourseWare to put the Calculus Revisited videos online forty years after they were originally recorded, he also has created his own website, where all his work in arithmetic, algebra, and calculus is available free of charge.

Writing in reply to YouTube viewer comments on one of the Calculus Revisited videos, Professor Gross says, “It took several days to prepare each lecture. While this seems to be a very long time, the beauty lies in the fact that the lecture is there forever and is available to any viewer, in any place and at any time. In my case the reward is that it would have taken me several lifetimes to reach the same number of students if I had been teaching in a traditional classroom.” Though he’s now retired, he sees his online lectures as allowing him a sort of pedagogical immortality: “I feel very blessed that thanks to the Internet, I will be able to continue teaching for years and possibly generations to come.”

We’re so grateful to Professor Gross for sharing his knowledge and love of math so generously, with so many students, over so many decades. Happy birthday to you, Professor Gross!

Gender diversity leads to better science

Photo by Christopher Harting

By Welina Farah | MIT Open Learning

The value of diversity in the workplace, especially as it pertains to women in STEM, can have a profound impact in advancing science and research.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) published an article in February of 2017 titled, “Gender diversity leads to better science” where 10 researchers sought to add empirical data to the truism “gender diversity enhances knowledge outcomes.” What they found was that “teams may benefit from various types of diversity, including scientific discipline, work experience, gender, ethnicity, and nationality… [that] gender diversity matters for scientific discovery [by] broadening the viewpoints, questions, and areas addressed by researchers.”

For Women’s History Month, we celebrate contributions by women in the field, including those from the past, current scientists, and future innovators of science, technology, engineering, and math.

The following course offerings—from two day-long workshops to a semester of history—provide a lens into the roles women have and can play in STEM.

  • WGS.S10 History of Women in Science and Engineering – This course provides a basic overview of the history of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Students will learn about the specific contributions of women across a variety of disciplines and will gain a broad perspective on how these contributions played a larger role in the advancement of human knowledge and technological achievement. The class also discusses how both historic and modern biases within the STEM disciplines, as well as in representations of women and girls in media and popular culture, can affect outcomes.
  • RES.2.006 Girls Who Build Cameras: One-Day Workshop – In this workshop, high school girls have a one day hands-on introduction to camera physics and technology at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory Beaverworks Center. The workshop includes tearing down old dSLR cameras, building a Raspberry Pi camera, and designing Instagram filters and Photoshop tools. Participants also get to listen to keynote speakers from the camera technology industry, including Kris Clark who engineers space cameras for NASA and MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and Uyanga Tsedev who creates imaging probes to help surgeons find tumors at MIT. During lunch, representatives from the Society of Women Engineers and the Women’s Technology Program at MIT will present future opportunities to get involved in engineering in high school and college.
  • RES.2.005 Girls Who Build: Make Your Own Wearables Workshop – This workshop for high school girls is an introduction to computer science and electrical/mechanical engineering through wearable technology. The workshop, developed by MIT Lincoln Laboratory, consists of two major hands-on projects in manufacturing and wearable electronics. These include 3D printing jewelry and laser cutting a purse, as well as programming LEDs to light up while walking. Participants learn the design process, 3D computer modeling, and machine shop tools, in addition to writing code and building a circuit.

Courses from MIT’s 2019 MacVicar Fellows

Four faculty portrait photos.

The 2019 MacVicar Faculty fellows are (from left to right): Erik Demaine, Graham Jones, T. L. Taylor, and Joshua Angrist.
(Courtesy of MIT Registrar’s Office.)

By Peter Chipman, OCW Digital Publication Specialist and OCW Educator Assistant

For the past 27 years, the MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program has honored several MIT professors each year who have made outstanding contributions to undergraduate teaching, educational innovation, and mentoring.

This year’s awardees are Professors Joshua Angrist (economics), Erik Demaine (computer science), Graham Jones (anthropology), and T. L. Taylor (comparative media studies).

OCW is honored to share courses from all of this year’s Fellows:

Joshua Angrist

Erik Demaine

Graham Jones

T. L. Taylor

Through the OCW Educator initiative, we have also collected Instructor Insights from Professor Angrist concerning the need to overhaul econometrics pedagogy, and from Professor Demaine about his love of algorithms and how he seeks to communicate that love in teaching 6.849 Geometric Folding Algorithms: Linkages, Origami, Polyhedra and 6.851 Advanced Data Structures.

Interested in more Instructor Insights from past MacVicar Fellows? Visit our OCW Educator portal to search for Insights from MIT Teaching Award Recipients. Delve into the minds of David Autor, Steven Hall, Anne McCants, Haynes Miller, and many other MIT professors advancing teaching and learning in their fields.

On Pi Day, A Chance to Make an Impact

Digits of Pi on a whiteboard

Digits of Pi on a whiteboard

By Megan Maffucci, MIT Open Learning

On March 14, math enthusiasts everywhere will take a moment to appreciate 𝛑 (pi), that irrational number equaling the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Pi Day (3.14) is marked annually worldwide with creative pi-themed classroom projects, nerdy baking contests, and other pi (and pie!) filled activities to recognize the importance of this elusive and never-ending number to mathematics and science.

Inspired by the power and possibility of pi, March 14 has become a significant day for MIT, giving way to two special MIT Pi Day traditions. First, it is the long-awaited day every year when MIT announces its admissions decisions for the incoming undergraduate class. It is also MIT’s annual giving day, when alumni, parents, and friends of MIT around the world come together to support the Institute during the 24 hours of Pi Day. The Pi Day giving challenge celebrates important initiatives like OpenCourseWare (OCW) and MITx, which carry out MIT’s mission to advance knowledge worldwide. By giving to OCW and MITx on Pi Day, learners can be part of our efforts to expand these educational resources to empower learners worldwide.

Richard Harlow and Parent Connector Michele Sorenson are two such community members who were inspired to take the Pi Day challenge and give back to OCW and MITx. A long-time OCW learner, Richard embraced the opportunity to make a difference as this year’s OCW Pi Day challenge donor and has pledged to give OCW $5,000 if the project reaches its participation goal. Michele, an MIT parent and lifelong learner, is supporting MITx on Pi Day as a way to help expand accessibility for those with limited educational opportunities. Like Richard, she will make a $5,000 gift to MITx if we reach our Pi Day goal.

Get to know Richard and Michele as they share the stories behind their generous Pi Day pledges and reflect on their own relationships to OCW and MITx:

Richard Harlow, this year’s OCW Pi Day challenge donor

What role does education play in your life?

Richard: In the years 1971-73, I was a lecturer in Chemistry at the University of Zambia. The University, as well as the country, were relatively isolated with very few resources, and little communication with the rest of the world: no reliable telephone service and, of course, no internet at that time.

When I returned to the US, a mild recession was in progress and the only jobs available were temporary post-doctoral type positions.  I accepted a Welch Foundation offer at the University of Texas at Austin where, for a period of 3 years, I labored to get my academic credentials re-established. Having accomplished that, I was successful in obtaining a permanent position at DuPont’s Experimental Station in 1977.

How has OpenCourseWare supported your learning goals?

Richard: I kept in touch with the University of Zambia once the internet was available and, one day, I discovered a reference to the OCW offerings on its website.  I checked out some of the lower-level science courses and realized that they would be a valuable asset for any student who was interested in learning science from some of the best professors in the business.  And cost would not be a barrier!

Intensely curious, I have listened over the last 5 years to lectures on chemistry – how was my field being taught these days;  material sciences – technical details of solar panels; quantum physics – I simply wanted to understand the fundamentals; and finance – circumstances that led to the crash of 2008-09.

What inspired you to support OCW in this year’s Pi Day challenge?

Richard: I began to modestly support the OCW program a few years ago as I could see for myself what a treasure these lectures are. I support, and will continue to support, individual initiatives which expand the ability of people to gain free access to higher education.  OCW is well worth supporting.

 

 

Michele Sorenson, this year’s MITx Pi Day challenge donor

What are you learning now?

Michele: Being a lifelong learner, I subscribe to many feeds, ranging from the spiritual to the academic, the cerebral to the practical. As a faith community nurse, attorney, bioethicist and professor of law and ethics, I do almost all of my continuing education online.  It is free and authoritative, and allows me to stay current in all my professional and avocational ventures. These not only keep me fresh in my fields but also take me just about anywhere I want to go for information. I earned a scholarship to attend the University of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University, where I am currently working to attain my geriatric education certification, for which much of the training is online.

What inspired you to support MITx in this challenge?

Michele: My life has been devoted to supporting and advocating for the underprivileged, and the underserved. MITx provides for this, and at a location accessible to even the most isolated among us. All that’s needed is connectivity; once you’re plugged in, you own the universe. How inspiring and empowering to those who have little! A life-altering game changer.

[My son] Andrew ’21 spent his IAP (Independent Activities Period) in Kazakhstan, teaching physics to Astanan high school students. He returned home deeply appreciative of MIT. “Mom” he said, “These kids are smarter than I am. When I asked them what they most wanted in life, every one of them said: ‘I want to go to MIT.’ I looked at them and sadly realized how infinitesimally harder it was for them to attend, and realized how incredibly lucky I was to be there.”  MITx affords these talented kids the opportunity to fulfill that dream: to get an MIT education.

What do you think of MITx’s role in shaping education?

Michele: With great gifts, comes great responsibility. MIT has emerged from a dense pack of excellent universities to be regarded as the premier institute of higher learning in the world. Because of this, MIT has an absolute duty to shape education responsibly, to inform its motto of mens et manus with agape, with love and respect for everyone; the duty incarnate in its Better World campaign. MITx takes this concept global, by “expanding access to quality educational opportunities worldwide.”

Richard and Michele’s stories are just two of many powerful examples of why OCW and MITx remain committed to open access and to helping independent learners and educators make the most of their education. You can make the most of your support and help us unlock Richard and Michele’s $5,000 challenge gifts with a gift of any size on Pi Day.

We hope you’ll join Richard and Michele in supporting us on March 14 by giving to OCW or MITx.