Machine learning courses by Regina Barzilay, 2017 MacArthur Fellow

Photo of Regina Barzilay relaxing against a table in classroom, with students working in the background.

Photo: Lillie Paquette/MIT School of Engineering

Congratulations to MIT computer scientist Regina Barzilay, Delta Electronics professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

This morning, the MacArthur Foundation announced that she’s a 2017 Fellow, awarded for her leading-edge work “[d]eveloping machine learning methods that enable computers to process and analyze vast amounts of human language data.”

In one of her most recent projects, Professor Barzilay aims to bring machine learning assistance to the complex and constantly-evolving field of oncology.

You can sample Professor Barzilay’s teaching in these two OCW courses:

Fly High, Fly Low

Photo of man sitting in an airplane cockpit, wearing a helmet.

Professor Oliver de Weck flies the prize.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Ever hear someone complain about a recent flight on an airliner?

There wasn’t enough legroom to stretch out, the food (if there was any) was only so-so, the movie selection could have been better, it wasn’t easy falling asleep tilted back only slightly in that seat.

What people don’t much complain about is the aircraft itself, which holds 300 people and their luggage, zooms along at 600 miles per hour for thousands of miles up at 35,000 feet, has a pressurized cabin with a comfortable climate, is remarkably quiet, and affords a fairly smooth ride, even in rough weather.

The reason we find ourselves preoccupied with airborne beverage options and not the air-sick bag is the fantastic success of systems engineering in designing aircraft, which now have thousands of requirements, from efficient, powerful engines to sophisticated electronics.

It’s All in the System

Now you can discover for yourself how all this has been made possible by cruising through 16.842 Fundamental of System Engineering, just published on OCW. Taught by Professor Olivier de Weck, whose fascination with aircraft and flight goes back to childhood, the course provides an overview of the entire design process. Professor de Weck takes you along the wings of the V-model, which begins with stakeholder analysis (what the customer wants) and requirements definition through concept generation and selection, and on to validation and lifecycle management. The focus in 16.842 is on aircraft and space craft, but the V-model can be applied to almost any engineered product.

The course site features classroom videos, lecture notes, and assignments.

Competition in a Can

For the central assignment, students are tasked with designing satellites for the CanSat Competition, in which teams from around the world create satellites that must fit in a can, be lofted by a rocket, and be deployed at high altitude. The satellites are then supposed to glide back to earth tracing a circular pattern, collecting data as they go. That’s if everything goes right. It’s a six-week course. No pressure!

Needless to say, teamwork is essential. In his video Instructor Insights, Professor de Weck discusses how he fosters effective teamwork, assesses students both as teams and as individuals, teaches the design process in a SPOC (small private online course) that blends online and in-class learning with students from two different schools, and favors both written and oral exams.

So buckle up for 16.842. OCW has approved you for take-off!

Kerry Emanuel on climate change and hurricanes

A satellite measurement of Hurricane Harvey on Aug. 25 found that intense storms in the eastern side were dropping rain at a rate greater than 3.2 inches (82 mm) per hour.
Credits: NASA/JAXA, Hal Pierce.

“‘[With global warming, we could see] a 50-percent increase in the destructive potential” of the most powerful tropical storms,’ says meteorologist Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

For decades, MIT’s Kerry Emanuel has been a go-to researcher for those seeking insight into how climate change may affect catastrophic storms. The above quote is from 1992, in a Newsweek article “Was Andrew a Freak — Or a Preview of Things to Come?” — and has never been more timely.

Kerry is also an eloquent and forceful voice pushing leaders around the world to take the risks of climate change more seriously.

Now we’re once again deep into storm season around the world, and it’s not pretty. With events still unfolding in Texas with Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey, and weeks of escalating devastating monsoon floods in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, many people are asking: are these extreme storms the result of climate change?

The current thinking: it’s complicated. Foremost, we shouldn’t be seeking a direct causal link between climate change and any particular storm. As Professor Emanuel told The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney a few days ago:

“My feeling is, when there’s a hurricane, there’s an occasion to talk about the subject,” he said. “But attributing a particular [weather] event to anything, whether it’s climate change or anything else, is a badly posed question, really.”

Scientists are clear that climate change has “threat multiplier” effects on storms, increasing the likelihood and severity of some aspects. For instance: warmer waters and warmer air increase the moisture available and the energy in storms; disruptions in atmospheric circulation increase the likelihood of a storm “stalling out” over a region; and ocean storm surges are made more destructive when melting ice caps have raised the baseline sea level.

“The thing that keeps forecasters up at night is the prospect that a storm will rapidly gain strength just before it hits land,” Emanuel recently told Agence France-Presse, citing Harvey as an example. “Global warming can accentuate that sudden acceleration in intensity.”

Interestingly, it’s still uncertain whether global warming will lead to more or less frequent hurricanes. But in terms of catastrophic damage, storm frequency seems less important than the severity of storms, where climate change does have a clear footprint.

[Update, Sept. 26 2017: Kerry just gave an in-depth 1 hour talk at MIT, entitled “What Do Hurricanes Harvey and Irma Portend?” Watch the video, or read highlights in the news coverage.]

Kerry Emanuel has been a frequent contributor on OCW. Check out these two courses particularly connected to the storms + climate change issue.

  • 12.103 Science and Policy of Natural Hazards introduces the science of natural catastrophes such as earthquakes and hurricanes and explores the relationships between the science of and policy toward such hazards. It presents the causes and effects of these phenomena, discusses their predictability, and examines how this knowledge influences policy making.
  • 12.340 Global Warming Science provides a scientifically rigorous foundation to understand anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change, an introduction to climate models, the material impacts of climate change, and the science behind mitigation and adaptation proposals. [See also the archived MITx on edX version of this course.]

Want to get into a global conversation about climate change, its impacts and how we should respond? Check out the growing online community at MIT ClimateX.

Biochemistry Becomes Us All

Pair of helix structures, showing one with missing H bond.

An illustration from the notes for Session 2 of 5.07SC Biological Chemistry I, describing the hierarchy in protein structure, with hemoglobin as an example. (Figure by O’Reilly Science Art for MIT OpenCourseWare.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Did you know that life, in all its mindboggling diversity, from single-celled bacteria to reptiles, birds, and mammals, is made possible by ten simple chemical reactions?

These reactions, and their interconversions in our primary metabolic pathways, are the focus of 5.07SC Biological Chemistry I, just published on OCW.

It’s amazing, really. The basic reactions, their metabolic pathways, and the vitamins that are modified to make catalysts boosting still more reactions, are conserved across organisms.  “It doesn’t matter whether you study a bacteria or a human, the central metabolism is pretty much the same,” says star researcher Professor JoAnne Stubbe, one of the 5.07SC instructors. “The thing that’s different is the detailed regulation and the complexity of the regulation.”

So if you can understand the basics of biochemistry, you have the keys to understanding the living universe.

And the keys to understanding most diseases, since most diseases involve some sort of dysfunction in the regulation of metabolic reactions.

Co-Teaching with Varied Resources

A recipient of the National Medal of Science, Stubbe has devoted much of her career to elucidating the workings of nucleotide reductases, the enzymes involved in the chemical reactions essential to the biosynthesis of DNA and RNA. Professor Stubbe’s co-instructors are Professor John Essigmann and Dr. Bogdan Fedeles. Essigmann leads a lab that investigates how chemicals in the environment can damage DNA in cells and how cells respond to and sometimes repair the damage. Working in that lab, Fedeles and Essigmann have shown how chronic inflammation in the body can lead to cancer and how the HIV virus can be induced to deactivate itself after invading a cell.

As another of OCW’s Scholar courses, 5.07SC Biological Chemistry I abounds in learning resources. The course is arranged in a linear structure through three modules that reflect the shared teaching of the professors. Stubbe teaches the first part of the course, introducing fundamental reactions in her four Lexicon videos, and detailing further biochemical reactions through seven sessions in her illustrated lecture notes.

Starting in session 8, Professor Essigmann narrates a series of storyboard videos, showing how energy is produced in the cell and how that energy is used to make macromolecules like proteins.

In his own series of videos, Fedeles guides learners through carbonyl chemistry, pyridoxal phosphate (PLP) chemistry, and ten key problems sets distributed throughout the site.

All the learning resources are assembled on a single Resource Index page for convenient reference.

Envisioning Future Pathways for Students

The course site also features a series of video interview clips on its This Course at MIT page (“Meet the Educators” and “Instructor Insights”), in which Professors Stubbe and Essigmann share their reflections about how they teach biochemistry, what turned them on to biochemistry in the first place, what their research focuses on, and where they think biochemical research is headed. Topics include “Using the Vitamin Bottle as a Teaching Tool,” “How Can You Not Think Enzymes Are Cool?,” and “Motivating Students to Study Metabolic Biochemistry with Oncology Applications.”

So take a look at 5.07SC. Like the cell itself, it’s packed with material delivered with lots of energy.

Asia in the Modern World: Images to Flip Over

A painting with a man and a woman standing at the pier with a sail boat in the background, and the man is holding a parasol.

“Eight Views of Yokohama: Sails Returning to the Landing Pier” by Yoshitora, 1861, from Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. (Public domain image.)

OCW has just published an updated version of 21G.027 Asia in the Modern World: Images and Representations. It is an unusual course site, with a unique history, and a remarkable instructor, who has learned new things about teaching even after many years in the classroom.

The course looks at history primarily through images, rather than texts, with a special emphasis on Japan. The instructor is Professor Shigeru Miyagawa, Professor of Linguistics and Kochi-Majiro Professor of Japanese Language and Culture. He also holds a joint project professorship at the University of Tokyo, where he is Director of Online Education.

Professor Miyagawa has devoted much energy in his career to creating a large collection of images, assembled from museums from all over the world, on the Visualizing Cultures website. What’s even more impressive, the images are published under a Creative Commons license, so that people can download them and use them in their own teaching and projects.

Beginning with OCW

Professor Miyagawa describes the course and its history in his video Instructor Insights on his This Course at MIT page.  As a member of OCW’s Faculty Advisory Committee from its inception and as Chair of the Committee from 2010 to 2013, he has long been a leading advocate of open sharing, and in another of his videos, he openly shares the story of how OCW was conceived.

Photo (video screengrab) of Professor Miyagawa speaking while seated at a desk.

In a series of short videos, Professor Miyagawa talks about the creation of OCW and his many insights into teaching.

Weaving Online Resources into a Unique Course

The 21G.027 site is a very unusual one for OCW in that it is really a kind of hub. Its Study Materials page points to pieces of content for each topic on three different websites: Visualizing Japan (1850s-1930s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity (a MOOC Professor Miyagawa helped create on the edX platform), Visualizing Cultures, and Visualizing Postwar Tokyo (another MOOC on edX, which Professor Miyagawa was indirectly involved with as Director of Online Education at the University of Tokyo).

If sending learners to different places to get study materials seems peculiar for OCW, in this case it shouldn’t, because that’s how Professor Miyagawa teaches 21G.027 on the MIT campus.

Flipping over a Flipped Class

When he had prepared materials for the VJx MOOC, he had his students check out the videos before coming to class, just to see what their reaction was. The results were a revelation:

And what I realized right away was that students would come into class, and they would have a lot of knowledge, which was not the case before…I had a whole set of PowerPoints which I had created from years of teaching. I did not show a single PowerPoint. For 70 minutes I just asked them questions, just to see if I can find something that they didn’t know. They knew the whole thing. And I said, gee, this is different.

And without realizing it–I didn’t even know what a flipped class was–I just did a flipped class.

Making All the Difference by Working in Teams

Another epiphany he has had involves the importance of student teamwork. All the students at MIT, he notes, “are academically gifted, and they’re highly motivated.” But a couple of students in each class “stand out after they graduate and go on and do big things.” So, he wondered, what’s different about these students? And the distinguishing feature was that they

…have learned to work with others. That’s it…They have learned to work not only with people they share interests, but also with people that they don’t necessarily share interests. That’s the trick.

It’s easy to work with people who are like you. It’s harder to work with people who are not like you. But when you learn to be able to work across the spectrum of people, then you can basically tap their gifts. That’s what entrepreneurship is actually.

As a result, Professor Miyagawa now puts special focus on developing students’ interpersonal skills.

New Chemistry from OCW

Woman in t-shirt standing in front of classroom chalkboard, holding up a water bottle.

Professor Catherine Drennan, wearing one of her many chemistry t-shirts, lectures in 5.111 on Acid-Base Equilibrium, posing the question: Is MIT Water Safe to Drink?

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Do you love chemistry? Doesn’t matter!

OCW has just published a new version of 5.111SC Principles of Chemical Science. Designed for students who don’t have a strong background in chemistry or may not have taken any chemistry before, Principles of Chemical Science fulfills the introductory chemistry requirement that all MIT students must meet in order to graduate. 

Advancing Step by Step

The OCW site is another of OCW’s Scholar courses structured to help independent learners gain mastery of foundational subjects. Accordingly, the course site is supersaturated with content. There are full video lectures, lecture notes, problem sets and solutions, and exams and solutions, plus a set of clicker questions posed to students during the lectures to keep them actively engaged with the content. The site also has links to Behind the Scenes at MIT, a collection of short videos that feature current and former MIT researchers explaining how a particular chemistry topic is essential to their research and to an inspiring real-world application.

The course is structured in linear fashion, progressing through five learning units: The Atom, Chemical Bonding and Structure, Thermodynamics and Chemical Equilibrium, Transition Metals and Oxidation-Reduction Reactions, and Chemical Kinetics.

The course materials are also collected in one handy place, the Resource Index, where they are organized by content type (video lectures, notes, problem sets, etc.), so you can quickly find specific things you might be looking for.

Engaging Students in Many Ways

The instructor of the course is Professor Catherine Drennan, who runs the Drennan Research and Education Lab under the auspices of MIT and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Professor Drennan has special sympathy for students who might be lacking in an abundance of enthusiasm for chemistry, because she was once one of them.

As an incoming student at Vassar College, she was interested in studying drama and biology. When told she would have to take chemistry, she groaned, “Please don’t make me take chemistry. I took it in high school. I can tell you it has absolutely nothing to do with biology. It’s deadly, dull. Don’t make me!”

But thanks to an inspiring teacher, she fell in love with chemistry in her first semester. She tells the whole story of her conversion to chemistry and her love of teaching in her Instructor Insights videos on her This Course at MIT page.

Naturally, she wants to kindle a passion for her favorite subject in her MIT students. She tells them, “I’m going to try to help you understand why chemistry is so amazing and how it can affect all sorts of different disciplines . .  . I’m going to teach you really all the basics that you need to know. If you can get those, you can go on and do all sorts of things with that chemistry.”

Tapping her experience on the stage, Professor Drennan does not simply give lectures. Rather, she creates dynamic, interactive classroom experiences that include demonstrations, clicker question competitions, rewards for correct student explanations, and lots of humor, even to the point of embarrassing herself.

But there is a method to her zaniness.

“It really helps people remember when you do something a little bit different,” she observes wryly.

Building Teams to Foster a Sense of Belonging

In her Instructor Insights, she reflects on the challenges of teaching a large class with 350 students. Success very much depends on the strength and dedication of her TAs, who are first-year graduate students, and she fosters a sense of group identity among them, so they support one other as a team.

She employs a similar approach in getting students to see their cohorts in recitation sections as teams by having them compete as a group for t-shirts, chemistry rulers, and other gag prizes in class competitions.

For Professor Drennan, teaching chemistry is much more than showing up to class and holding forth. It’s creating a mixture with high reactivity.

Why This MIT Professor Wants to Help Everyone Learn Basic Economics

Simple line drawing of two neighboring houses, people out front of each house looking at the other one and saying "Wierd".

Image from a video in Introductory AP® Microeconomics, using the challenges negotiating with a noisy party next door to illustrate the concept of market failure.

Professor Jon Gruber’s 14.01SC Principles of Microeconomics is OCW’s most popular economics course, with legions of appreciative fans. 

Professor Gruber wants the world to understand that economics is not only useful, it’s also “beautiful and surprising and cool.” He’s invested in spreading the economics gospel to a wider audience, such as his 2011 graphic-novel treatment of health care reform [still a timely work, it seems!].

So we wanted to spread the word about Professor Gruber’s new online course with MITx on edX. Introductory AP® Microeconomics opens on August 15, 2017 for self-paced learning. Compared to his OCW course, this gentle introduction is for a more general audience, explaining key points with fun video animations rather than the beauty of calculus. Read on…

Why This MIT Professor Wants to Help Everyone Learn Basic Economics

Jonathan Gruber, Ford Professor of Economics, MIT

I’m excited to announce the launch of a new course on edX that covers Introductory AP Microeconomics. I’ve wanted to do a course like this for years. I have always found economics provides a terrific way to think about the world. Economics principles explain so much of what drives our everyday life: how people decide which goods to buy and how to spend their time; how firms set prices and hire workers, and whether the outcomes of markets are fair and efficient.

These economics principles were inspirational to me when I first learned them as an undergraduate. I have gone on to apply to them to a set of topics I am passionate about, both as a Professor at MIT and as a policy expert for both state and local governments. Whether in the classroom, in Washington D.C., or in state capitals, I have found that basic economic principles never lead me wrong in terms of explaining important aspects of the world.

Yet these basic economics principles are not understood by many. This isn’t surprising. Economics is kind of like a new language. Once you understand it, whole new experiences are open to you – but first you have to learn it, which can be hard.

But what is neat is that learning economics is it’s a whole lot easier than learning a new language. I have realized through years of teaching economics principles that with a relatively short set of lessons we can provide the tools for everyone to see the world the way economists do. And that’s what this course is about.

By combining short videos on economics principles with fun applications of those principles, the course provides both the level of economics knowledge that is sufficient to pass the Advanced Placement® exam and a means of understanding more broadly how economics works.  Now, more than ever, the lessons of the course and the questions that it asks are vital. Is going to college worth it? Why is Tesla building the world’s largest battery production plant? Is rising inequality something we should worry about, and what can we do about it?  These are hard questions – that become much easier once you understand the principles of economics.

Economics is a way of seeing the world that’s useful, but it’s also beautiful and surprising and cool. I truly believe our world would be better if everyone took this course. And I know that you’ll have a great time if you take it.