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.

Love is love is love is love

Love is a many-splendored thing, and on OCW, there is so much to love and learn.

Our amazing team of OCW Digital Publication Specialists offer you a short list of MIT courses that delve into the subject of love in all of its varied roles in history, music and culture.

  • CC.112 Philosophy of Love – Explore the nature of love through works of philosophy, literature, film, poetry, and individual experience. This course investigates the distinction among eros, philia, and agape. Students discuss ideas of love as a feeling, an action, a species of ‘knowing someone,’ or a way to give or take.
  • 24.261 Philosophy of Love in the Western World – This course is a seminar on the nature of love and sex, approached as topics both in philosophy and in literature. Readings include recent philosophy as well as classic myths of love that occur in works of literature and lend themselves to philosophical analysis.
  • 21L.000J Writing About Literature: Writing About Love – Designed around analyzing intimate bonds and the permutations of heartbreak, this course focuses on the analysis of a set of relations in novels, short stories, poetry, music videos, and live theatre. We’ll consider the transformative states of the lover’s (un)becoming, for how consciousness is constituted by bonds yet how the lover transcends crisis in the moment of the epiphany that surfaces in love’s very failure; indeed, love itself becomes narcissistically yet optimistically illuminating, even in its oppressive hold.
  • 21L.460 Medieval Literature: Love, Sex, and Marriage – It is easy to think of love as a “universal language” – but do ideas about love translate easily across history, culture, and identity? In this course, we will encounter some surprising, even disturbing ideas about love and sex from medieval writers and characters: For instance, that married people can never be in love, that the most satisfying romantic love incorporates pain and violence, and that intense erotic pleasure can be found in celibate service to God. Through Arthurian romances, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, love letters, mystical visions, and more, we will explore medieval attitudes toward marriage, sexuality, and gender roles. What can these perspectives teach us about the uniqueness of the Middle Ages—and how do medieval ideas about love continue to influence the beliefs and fantasies of our own culture?
  • 21A.111J / WGS.172J For Love and Money: Rethinking the Family – Through investigating cross-cultural case studies, this course introduces students to the anthropological study of the social institutions and symbolic meanings of family, gender, and sexuality. Explore the myriad forms that families and households take and consider their social, emotional, and economic dynamics.
  • ES.S60 The Art and Science of Happiness – This seminar looks at current theories on happiness and positive psychology as well as practical implications of those theories for our own lives. It explores the concept of happiness, different cultural definitions of happiness, and the connection between happiness, optimism, and meaning. Also explored are practical strategies for creating more opportunities for happiness in our lives and for learning how to deal more effectively with sources of unhappiness.
  • 21M.299 The Beatles (See week XI for All You Need is Love) This class surveys the music of the Beatles, from the band’s early years to the break-up of the group, mapping how the Beatle’s musical style changed from skiffle and rock to studio-based experimentation. Cultural influences that helped to shape them, as well as the group’s influence worldwide, will be a continuous theme.

Love to find more topics on OCW?  Check out our find by topics course finder.

Improving Student Engagement through Active Learning

a classroom with students standing up, one holding a slip of paper in his hand.

Students engaging in an active learning exercise in a 6.033 recitation session. (Photo by MIT OCW)

By Peter Chipman, Digital Publication Specialist and OCW Educator Assistant

Dr. Katrina LaCurts, a lecturer in MIT’s department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, had a problem. Her course 6.033 Computer System Engineering included twice-weekly recitation sessions in addition to the regular lectures. These recitations were meant to allow students to discuss questions raised in the lectures and readings and to work through sample problems in smaller groups. But recitation instructors reported that many students weren’t participating in discussions because they hadn’t done the assigned readings. When the instructors tried to compensate by going over key material from the readings all over again in class, not only did this take up valuable time, it also produced an undesirable secondary effect: when students came to expect that recitations would recapitulate the key points from the readings, they had even less incentive to do the readings themselves, and they came to class even less prepared to participate meaningfully.

So in redesigning the course, Dr. LaCurts decided to emphasize active learning as a key element in the recitations. What is “active learning”? It’s a general term for any and all classroom techniques that have a participatory, non-passive component, ranging from small-group discussion to skits, polls, simulations, and role playing. Dr. LaCurts describes her motivation for making this change:

“There’s some evidence that this style of learning is good for a lot of things. There’s evidence to support the effectiveness of student engagement in exam scores, failure rates, how well students remember content, student attitudes, study habits. And there’s also evidence that active learning has a disproportionate benefit for minorities, students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and female students in male dominated fields.”

An Unsuccessful First Try

But Dr. LaCurts soon found out that implementing active learning in a large, multi-section course is easier said than done. In one of the video excerpts posted on the Instructor Insights page of the OCW course site, she explains that simply telling instructors to implement active learning was ineffective:

“It turns out you can’t tell your recitation instructors to do a thing that they’ve never done before and just have them magically do it. In particular, you can’t tell your instructors to fundamentally change the way they teach and magically have that happen. I would say it’s difficult enough for us to change the way we teach, much less to get other people to change the way they teach.”

She concluded that to implement active learning effectively, she’d have to take a more active approach herself. Here are the steps she recommends for anyone trying to encourage a team of instructors to incorporate active learning in their class sessions:

1. Get Everyone on Board

The very first staff meeting, before the semester had even begun, was about active learning. Dr. LaCurts and her teaching staff, consisting of nine recitation instructors, nine teaching assistants, and thirteen communications instructors, discussed why active learning is better than lecturing, and how it could support the other learning objectives in 6.033 Computer System Engineering. Dr. LaCurts explained that there would be extensive support for the recitation instructors’ efforts, with check-ins throughout the semester to make sure active learning was really working for them and for the students. She appealed to everyone’s scientific nature, explaining that this restructuring of the course was a sort of research project, to find out whether active learning techniques would work in 6.033. She also told them that if the experiment went badly, they wouldn’t keep doing it.

Dr. LaCurts did expect some pushback. She’s in charge of a lot of educators, some of whom have been at MIT for a very long time. But she reports that talking about active learning early on and setting expectations from the beginning was surprisingly helpful. Everybody–not just the recitation instructors but also the teaching assistants and communications instructors–knew that active learning wasn’t an optional element of the course, it was their primary instructional goal for the semester.

2. Plan a Lot

Dr. LaCurts supplied her staff with an annotated version of a well-known list of several hundred active learning activities. In the second staff meeting, she and her staff went through the whole list. They knew that not all of the activities would work in the recitations, but going through the list gave everyone a better sense of what active learning can be.

Dr. LaCurts also identified specific active learning techniques for each recitation. In previous semesters, she had planned recitations strictly for technical content. She would tell instructors the technical issues they needed to hit on, but her instructors had great leeway in how they taught those topics. Now, in addition to the technical content, she began specifying two or three active learning techniques that could be employed in each recitation. For instance, she might point out places where students could break into groups to discuss a particular question, or where it would be useful to hold a debate in the class. For each recitation, the instructors had multiple options for implementing active learning in their sections, and from among these options, they could pick the ones they were the most comfortable with.

3. Support Staff as Individuals

Dr. LaCurts didn’t just plan these activities and set the staff free. She took the time to observe recitation sessions throughout the semester, making sure to stress that she wasn’t there to evaluate the instructors themselves but to see what was working and what wasn’t, so staff could implement those techniques more effectively in future sessions.

In practice, Dr. LaCurts was pleased to discover that in her observations she found far more successful activities than problematic ones. Most of her feedback to the instructors consisted of pointing out things they were doing that were really well, and encouraging them to share those techniques with the other instructors. In the end, she says, “I kind of thought of myself more as a cheerleader for them and what they were doing, than someone who was coming in and really critiquing anything.”

4. Support Staff as a Group

Dr. LaCurts’s staff had many creative ideas as to how to use active learning techniques to present the course’s technical content. So at every staff meeting, instructors would share techniques they had tried and report on how they went. Knowing what worked well in other recitation sections gave more hesitant instructors the confidence to try similar techniques with their own students.

Conversely, fostering a space for discussion at staff meetings meant that everybody was generally comfortable bringing up techniques that they had tried but that weren’t going as well. Dr. LaCurts reports that it was helpful for the staff to have this dedicated space for mutual support and nonjudgmental reflection.

What Kinds of Things Did Students Do?

Small group discussion is a very common type of active learning: students are put in small groups and asked to talk something over and then report back for a class-wide discussion. Dr. LaCurts has found that talking in these small groups beforehand makes the shyer students a lot more confident, and that asking each group to contribute to the eventual discussion means that the discussion isn’t dominated by one or two groups.

In a second technique, debating, students are asked to read two short papers that come to opposing conclusions. The recitation section is split into two teams, with each team assigned to debate in favor of one of the papers’ conclusions. Students usually enjoy this activity, Dr. LaCurts says: “They love to argue, so they’re very excited to do this.” But she admits the activity does require more monitoring on the instructors’ part, to ensure that no one team or person dominates the debate. To combat that, teams are asked to meet beforehand to prepare their arguments for the in-class debate.

A third technique is to ask students to draw pictures on the board, illustrating a particular system or component. The class then comes together to discuss what each drawing is showing, what features the various depictions share, what level of abstraction each drawing captures, and so on. This activity is especially useful because part of the communication curriculum for 6.033 Computer System Engineering involves learning how to design and draw figures. The activity provides a way for students to practice that skill while also forcing them to figure out exactly what the system is doing.

The last technique Dr. LaCurts describes in her video is one where students are asked to physically act out a computer system’s completion of a task. Students are assigned roles as parts of the system, usually with two or three students assigned to each role so shyer students will be more comfortable and no one student is in charge of something. Each part of the system is given instructions, and the system is set into operation. Afterward, the class reconvenes to discuss how the system performed (or failed to perform) its task.

Two women, one wearing a large paper hat, standing in the front of a classrom.

Dr. LaCurts (right) and a volunteer (left, in silly hat) demonstrate acting out how a master machine assigns tasks in MapReduce. (Image by MIT OCW.)

How It Turned Out

Dr. LaCurts reports that restructuring 6.033 Computer System Engineering has resulted in significant improvements in class participation. In surveys, students reported feeling comfortable in the recitations and overwhelmingly felt that these activities improved their engagement. Further, Dr. LaCurts and her staff have seen that students are understanding the details of the systems better, while developing a sense of camaraderie.

It hasn’t been only the students who have benefited from the restructuring of the recitation sessions, however. The staff has benefited as well, as Dr. LaCurts explains:

“It’s a lot of work, but this class is so much fun now. It’s fun for me to run. It’s fun for instructors to teach. I don’t know how many people would tell you that their 400-person class is fun to run. But I have a great time. And the amount of enjoyment that we get out of teaching 6.033 this way really comes through for the students.”

To Learn More

Want to know more about active learning in MIT classrooms? The following courses feature Instructor Insights that you may find of interest:

An electron micrograph of long, slender cells interacting with shorter, thicker, roughly cylindrical cells.8.591J Systems Biology

In this course, Professor Jeff Gore uses color-coded flash cards to quickly survey students’ responses to key concept questions. At the Instructor Insights page, he discusses how and why he uses these cards, and he addresses the perceived barriers to implementing active learning in large classrooms.

The body of a helicopterlike device.16.06 Principles of Automatic Control

The Instructor Insights page for this course features videos on the experience of using active learning, including a candid description of the apprehensions students may feel when asked to try unfamiliar activities in the classroom.

A graph of several curves of varying heights and widths18.05 Introduction to Probability and Statistics

In one of the Instructor Insights for this course, Dr. Jeremy Orloff and Dr. Jonathan Bloom discuss the importance of trust in their active learning classroom and their strategies for promoting it.

Students holding up a QR card5.95J Teaching College-Level Science and Engineering

Dr. Janet Rankin shares an overview of active learning and seven active learning strategies in the Instructor Insights videos for this course, which aims to prepare graduate students to teach in higher education settings.

Webinar on OCW recent highlights and future direction

Headshot photo of Curt Newton.Please join OCW Director Curt Newton on a free webinar, Monday March 4, 12:30-1:30 ET, for a tour through some recent highlights on MIT OpenCourseWare, and thoughts on its bright future.

Register here.

This webinar is presented by the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL). A program of MIT Open Learning, J-WEL at MIT seeks to promote excellence and transformation in education globally. As an incubator for change in education at MIT and around the world, J-WEL provides a platform that engages educators, technologists, policymakers, and societal leaders in addressing global opportunities for education through online and in-person collaborations, workshops, and information sharing events.

The webinar is a contribution to Open Education Week, a global event to raise awareness of free and open sharing in education and the benefits they bring to teachers and learners. Coordinated by the Open Education Consortium, Open Education Week showcases projects, resources, and ideas from around the world that demonstrate open education in practice.

 

 

 

2019 is your new year of learning!

2019 is your new year of learning! To kick off your educational journey, our fabulous team of OCW Publication Specialists came up with some of the essential courses to ignite your entrepreneurial spirit and exercise your creativity and logical thinking.

Consider the following as gentle suggestions for your new year resolutions. And may your curiosity be your guide!

Be Your Own Boss with these entrepreneurship courses:

  • 16.660J / ESD.62J / 16.853 Introduction to Lean Six Sigma Methods -This course covers the fundamental principles, practices and tools of Lean Six Sigma methods that underlay modern organizational productivity approaches applied in aerospace, automotive, health care, and other sectors. It includes lectures, active learning exercises, a plant tour, talks by industry practitioners, and videos.
  • 15.S21 Nuts and Bolts of Business Plans – Devise your master plan with this course that covers the basics of starting your new venture. The course includes a video and slide player to see the lecturer while the slides advance automatically.

  • 15.390 New Enterprises – The video tutorials are great for people who want to start their own business, further develop an existing business, be a member of a management team in a new enterprise, or better understand the entrepreneur and the entrepreneurial process.

New Year’s Resolution: Learn something new

New Year’s Resolution: Travel more

  • 21L.007 World Literatures: Travel Writing – Read writing about travel and place from Columbus’s Diario through the present. (The reading list is particularly good.) Travel writing has some special features that will shape both the content and the work for this subject: reflecting the point of view, narrative choices, and style of individuals, it also responds to the pressures of a real world only marginally under their control. Whether the traveler is a curious tourist, the leader of a national expedition, or a starving, half-naked survivor, the encounter with place shapes what travel writing can be.

New Year’s Resolution: Read more

  • 21L.004 Reading Poetry – How do you read a poem? Intuition is not the only answer. In this class, we will investigate some of the formal tools poets use—meter, sound, syntax, word-choice, and other properties of language—as well as exploring a range of approaches to reading poetry, from the old (memorization and reading out loud) to the new (digitally enabled visualization and annotation).
  • 21L.001 Foundations of Western Culture: Homer to Dante – As we read broadly from throughout the vast chronological period that is “Homer to Dante,” we will pepper our readings of individual ancient and medieval texts with broader questions like: what images, themes, and philosophical questions recur through the period; are there distinctly “classical” or “medieval” ways of depicting or addressing them; and what do terms like “Antiquity” or “the Middle Ages” even mean?
  • 21L.002 Foundations of Western Culture: The Making of the Modern World – This course comprises a broad survey of texts, literary and philosophical, which trace the development of the modern world from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century. Intrinsic to this development is the growth of individualism in a world no longer understood to be at the center of the universe. The texts chosen for study exemplify the emergence of a new humanism, at once troubled and dynamic in comparison to the old.
  • 21L.430 / CMS.920 Popular Culture and Narrative: Use and Abuse of the Fairy Tale – We ask where Fairy Tales come from and we examine the structure of Fairy Tales. We’ll also look at how Fairy Tales are conditioned by oral transmission and inherited story-telling techniques.

New Year’s Resolution: Laugh more

 

Want to learn even more? Check out any and all 2,447 free MIT courses on OCW!