Finding Ties That Bind

Photo of Toni Morrison, smiling.

Toni Morrison, one of thirteen women who have won a Nobel Prize in Literature. (Courtesy of the American Library Association on Flickr. Creative Commons license BY-NC-SA.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

“I selected these particular readings because I wanted to provide students with a list that didn’t have a logical narrative,” Instructor Wyn Kelley says of her course 21L.315 Prizewinners: Nobelistas in one of her Instructor Insights pages. “The coherence came from finding connections between the authors and their works.”

21L.315 is the fifteenth course Kelley has published on OCW. Here is a sampler of her other courses:

In the Nobelistas class, Kelley chose to have students read novels and stories by five women who won the Nobel Prize: Toni Morrison, Nadine Gordimer, Doris Lessing, Herta Mϋller, and Alice Munro.

The connections between these very different writers emerged from class discussions generated by the students themselves. Kelley has used this technique in other classes and found it a sure way to boost student engagement:

“For students who don’t necessarily feel comfortable with each other, beginning with student-led reports  . . . can be a good way to cultivate discussion. In these reports, students provide an introduction to the author, a passage to discuss, and a few discussion questions. Students are required to speak for only about 10 minutes, but they set the terms for the discussion. In this way, students’ perspectives and their responses to the reading shape the discussions, rather than the instructor’s pre-existing structure and narrative.”

Another technique that Kelley has used with great success is the 10-minute quiz at the start of the class. These are less to test how much the students have learned than to get their gears turning:

“Lately, I’ve been devising quizzes that I think will focus them before class and give them a chance to remind themselves of what was in the text. I start the discussion based on the quiz.”

Kelley sees her evolving approach to teaching in part as a response to MIT’s requirement that student take Communications Intensive courses:

“I now focus more on skills than on topics, and on close reading rather than themes. So often, looking more closely at a passage opens it up and gives you a very different understanding. If you’re open to it, something wonderful happens. So rather than students showing me mastery of an entire text, they work with a small piece of the text that is connected to larger issues.”

What’s new for Kelley is often new for her students as well:

“Frequently, students have been trained to read for content and to get to the point quickly. That’s how they’ve passed all those tests! And I’m slowing them down and holding them back by design.”

This experience can be painful for some students, but Kelley has developed ways to assuage their discomfort:

“To scaffold students’ close reading, I provide guidelines for how to approach the essay I assign in the course. I give them a sense of the different steps they might go through and the different things they might avoid. I want as much as possible to make what we’re doing transparent. I feel that if they understand the process, they’ll produce something really interesting.”

Five of the Best Computer Sciences Classes in the U.S. (Bloomberg Business)

Image of man pointing to a chalkboard diagram.

Prof. Patrick Winston teaching about goal trees and rule-based expert systems, in a lecture video from his OCW course 6.034 Artificial Intelligence.

Thanks to Bloomberg Business for the recognition that MIT offers some of the best computer science education in the country:

Five of the Best Computer Science Classes in the U.S.
This is where the smartest coders cut their teeth
By Peter Reford

Plenty of adults wander the professional world hiding their ignorance about how computers work, a knowledge gap that can now be closed in a few hours. But in the modern workforce, to shun programming is to likely get left behind, and young learners have gotten the message. The number of college graduates who got degrees in computer science in 2011 was 2,000 percent higher than it was in 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Some legendary classes at the country’s best CS programs have elevated professors to idols, and classrooms to cultural phenomena. Here are five courses where the coding elite hone their skills…

MIT’s 6.034: Artificial Intelligence 

Professor: Patrick Winston, PhD

Notable alumni: Early Googler Wesley Chan, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, Internet entrepreneur Brewster Kahle

Professor Winston, a pioneer in artificial intelligence, teaches students how to apply its core concepts. He “has a style all his own that you either love or hate, but you have to give it to him, he gives it to you straight,” writes an anonymous student reviewer on Michael Connell, CEO and co-founder of education startup Native Brain called Winston’s class “one of the best courses in the major” on Quora.

Read the complete story >

What they don’t tell you is that the materials of 6.034 Artificial Intelligence are available to the whole world, free of charge, on MIT OpenCourseWare. The OCW site includes complete lecture videos, assignment and exam problems, videos of teaching assistants working through quiz problems for the class,  and online demonstrations. Check out what the buzz is all about!

Presenting five more new courses

Photo of a mural showing a woman's face in closeup.

This portrait of Simone de Beauvoir, known for her 1949 book The Second Sex, a major work of feminist philosophy, is from our recent update of WGS.301J Feminist Thought. (Image courtesy of thierry ehrmann on Flickr. License CC BY.)

June continues to be a busy time at OCW, with five more courses published since last week’s notice. We hope you find them as interesting and engaging as we do!

Brand new courses

Updates to previously published courses

Plenty more to come later this month…


MIT in new collaboration to transform teaching in the digital age

Photo of professor speaking to a classroom.

MIT Professor Eric Klopfer is co-leading MIT’s new teacher training initiative, along with ODL’s Vijay Kumar.

MIT does not have an education school, but it’s just announced a big new initiative with the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation on elementary and secondary teacher training.  From MIT News:

MIT, through its Office of Digital Learning (ODL) and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, today announced a new collaboration aimed at supporting teachers in their efforts to use emerging digital learning tools and environments, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The effort will promote new ideas, technologies, and curricula along with research related to educator preparation with a focus on STEM subjects for students from pre-kindergarten through the senior year of high school.

Specifically, this collaboration brings together the Woodrow Wilson Academy for Teaching and Learning (WW Academy) and a new research effort within ODL called the MIT PK12 Initiative. It is designed to fill a growing need in education by providing new capabilities to teachers as they transform their classrooms into the technology-enhanced learning environments of tomorrow. The MIT PK12 Initiative has been created with $9.9 million in seed funding from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation to bring together educators and researchers at MIT interested in learning from infancy through the secondary level.

“Hands-on, problem-focused, curiosity-driven learning is squarely at the heart of an MIT education, and it will be central to MIT’s work with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. Together, we will combine MIT’s ‘mind and hand’ approach to learning with recent breakthroughs in cognitive science and digital learning to inform the Woodrow Wilson Foundation’s efforts to develop and support excellent STEM teachers and school leaders,” said MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “We are thrilled to begin this effort to reimagine the classroom experience.”

Read the complete article >

The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that

The venture also builds on some of the ambitions for greater educational experimentation that MIT articulated last year in its report on [The Future of MIT Education]. That plan called for MIT to become more involved with elementary and secondary education; to make greater use of competency-based teaching, blended learning, and simulations; and to develop new roles for professors and new kinds of credentials. The new academy is “a chance to apply it all to teacher education,” said [Woodrow Wilson Foundation President] Arthur Levine…

The teaching academy will start out small; 25 students will attend free in the first class, beginning in the fall of 2017. After that, the academy hopes to enroll about 200 students who will each pay about $15,000 for a degree earned by satisfying the required competencies set out in several modules. The program will focus at first on training teachers for mathematics, and the sciences, working directly with two MIT professors: Eric Klopfer, an expert in the use of computer games and simulations to understand science, and Vijay Kumar, MIT’s associate dean of digital learning.

Professor Klopfer has long been an enthusiastic champion of online learning. Learn more about him in this faculty profile, and check out some of his courses on OCW and MITx.

OCW courses by Eric Klopfer

MITx on edX courses by Eric Klopfer



What to Do on Your Summer Vacation

Photo of students walking down a school hallway, with a bank of electronic devices on their right.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

The school year has wound down, and summer promises to be a time for recharging batteries and reflecting on how things might go better, or even be different, next time around.

Many instructors, indeed entire school districts, see great potential to transform education by implementing new technology in the classroom.

But the landscape of videos, online assessments, tracking tools, and evaluation metrics remains an intimidating one. How can teachers hope to get up to speed in the vanishing weeks of summer?

Professor Eric Klopfer’s edX course 11.133x Implementation and Evaluation of Educational Technology offers an easy way to get into the pool and make waves.

The course starts on July 15, giving teachers enough time to decompress from the school year before taking on a new assignment. The course should also be of interest to entrepreneurs, developers, practitioners, and leaders in educational technology. Running for seven weeks, 11.133x has a very manageable workload of only 4–5 hours per week.

Professor Klopfer is practiced hand at online teaching. He has developed and led three successful courses on edX already.  11.132x Design and Development of Educational Technology ran last fall. It is not a requirement for 11.133x, which is open to all comers. Two other edX courses offered in the past year tapped into a second area of Professor Klopfer’s research—games in learning: 11.126x Introduction to Game Design and 11.127x Design and Development of Games For Learning.

Students interested in gaining some background might examine Professor’s Klopfer’s courses available now on OCW:

As the course registration page says, 11.133x “provides a practical overview for selecting, integrating, implementing, and evaluating educational technology initiatives in formal educational settings, primarily in the US. It will include the perspectives of stakeholders that make such initiatives possible, and consider how to evaluate for efficacy.”

Like nearly all of Professor Klopfer’s offerings, this one is project-based. Students will learn by doing. Lounging on a beach towel is not an option!

Ten new courses, from the topical to the timeless

A plate of yellow cream-filled sponge cakes

This popular snack cake, rumored to never go bad, is featured in OCW’s new course 21H.S01 Food in American History. (Photo courtesy of Christian Cable on Flickr, license CC BY.)

MIT’s spring semester is now a memory, and summertime approaches. But OCW is still hard at work bringing you more free courseware. In fact, June is one of our busiest months of the year, as it marks the end of our spring publication cycle.

In the past 30 days, we’ve added ten new courses. Seven courses are brand new subjects on OCW, while three are updates to previously published courses.

You’ll find literary theory to bolster your summer beach reading; a historical perspective on American food, to ponder while packing a picnic; a timely treatment of the problems of mass violence and oppression; and of course more math, science, and business content for which MIT is widely renowned.

New Courses

Updated Courses

There’s lots more to come later this month. Stay tuned!

Gambling That Pays Off – In More Ways Than One

Photo of cards and poker chips laid out on table, with a ace high straight flush in a player's hand.

A Texas Hold’em game from a player’s point of view. (Courtesy of Peter Hopper on Flickr. License CC BY-NC.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

What kind of career requires:

  • high-pressure decision making with incomplete information
  • the ability to accurately read the actions of others
  • a capacity for honest self-assessment

Political leader? Police detective? Labor negotiator?

Perhaps all of these. But the career that most fully meets these criteria? Poker player!

And now you can become one—or certainly a better one—thanks to 15.S50 Poker Theory and Analytics, just published on OCW.

The course combines an overview of poker theory with lots of practice and analytics. Taught during January 2015’s IAP period by Kevin Desmond, a graduate student at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, the course has video lectures, lecture notes, assignments and solutions, and links to a variety of poker software programs.

Desmond spent several years playing poker professionally as an undergraduate, and the experience of taking calculated risks and making high-pressure decisions provided him with a strong background for a career in finance at Morgan Stanley. After coming to the Sloan School, Desmond decided to share what he knows about pot odds, fold equity, and semi-bluffing with others. He also got some of his most accomplished poker buddies to share what they know in guest lectures.

“The class serves as an opportunity for students interested in trading and other careers to enjoy some of the benefits of learning and mastering poker without the need to risk money,” Desmond explains in one of his Instructor Insights from 15.S50’s This Course at MIT Page.

Desmond faced the challenge of teaching 150 students at all levels of ability from raw beginner to advanced, but he structured the course to allow everyone to succeed, including review sessions for the least experienced players and ensuring that students competed against others with a similar skill level.

Students were offered different modes of assessment: they could demonstrate their ability by winning play money, or they could play in 10 class tournaments, thereby gaining loads of practice. Even the best students played poker for 15 to 20 hours a week, with an average student playing 5,000 hands by class end.

All play was online. This enabled abundant practice and allowed that practice to be analyzed in depth using tracking software that gathered data from hand histories. Students could also visualize their past play using an animator. Maverick never had it so good!

So if you want to know more about big blinds, deep stacks, pre-flop decisions, flop play, when to fold ‘em and when to hold ‘em, check out this course!