Insights for Remote Teaching and Learning

Professor holding a lap top that shows the words Never Stop Learning

How to keep education happening when students and instructors can’t meet in person

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

These days, university professors worldwide are scrambling to begin teaching their classes online rather than in person. At the most basic level, some courses can be taught online using just streaming video (whether live or pre-recorded) and familiar, readily available technology such as email and group chat apps. But if you’re looking to step up your online teaching, you may find inspiration in reading about what tools MIT’s faculty have been adopting in recent years.

For an extensive list of OCW Instructor Insights pages in which instructors discuss their implementation of online teaching technology, simply visit the Educator Portal on the OCW website. Click on the “Instructor Insights” tab, and then scroll down the “Topics” menu to find and click on the topic “Teaching with Technology.” Here’s a sampling of the dozens of Instructor Insights pages you’ll find in that list:

Offering a Small Private Online Course

Professor Olivier de Weck taught 16.842 Fundamentals of Systems Engineering as a SPOC (that is, a small private online course), rather than a MOOC (a massive open online course). In his Instructor Insights video, he discusses how he collaborated with a university in Europe to overcome the challenge of hosting discussions among students located in widely different time zones.

Online Tutoring

Professor Dennis Freeman describes how he and his colleagues used an online tutoring environment in 6.01 Introduction to Electrical Engineering and Computer Science I to promote student self-assessment. He describes the tool they developed to help students make sure the code they were writing was performing as intended, and he explains how that tool could be generalized to serve other online tutoring functions in other courses.

Web-Based Problem Sets

Professors Wolfgang Ketterle muses on the advantages and challenges of using web-based problem sets in teaching 8.421 Atomic and Optical Physics I. Though he still sees value in traditional on-paper homework problems, he recognizes that for instructors who are tasked with teaching completely online, it’s “extremely encouraging to know that even very complicated questions can be transformed into web-based problems.”

Collaborative Text Annotation

Dr. Kurt Fendt and his teaching assistant Andrew Kelleher Stuhl use a tool called  Annotation Studio with students in CMS.633 Digital Humanities. Annotation Studio enables groups to annotate a text collaboratively, to highlight and comment on passages in the text, and to respond to one another’s comments. The tool, developed by Dr. Fendt’s digital humanities lab, was still in development at the time the course was first taught; the students were thus able to offer feedback that helped shape the evolution of the software.

Automated Answer Checking

Dr. Jeremy Orloff and Dr. Jonathan Bloom, the instructors for 18.05 Introduction to Probability and Statistics, believe that the best time for students to be made aware of their mistakes is when they’re still working on the assigned problems, rather than after the fact. In their Instructor Insights, they explain their decision to provide their students with an online tool that allows them to check their answers to problem sets before submitting them.

Onward and Upward with OCW Educator

We hope that the insights discussed above will inspire you to experiment with new tools and techniques in your own online teaching–and that you’ll return to the OCW Educator Portal in the future for insights on other aspects of teaching, whether that teaching is happening online or in a traditional classroom!

Courses from MIT’s 2020 MacVicar Fellows

Four faculty portrait photos.

The 2020 MacVicar Faculty Fellows are (clockwise from top left):
Polina Anikeeva, Jacob White, William Tisdale, and Mary Fuller.
Photo credits (clockwise from top left):
Lillie Paquette, Sampson Wilcox, Webb Chappell, Jon Sachs

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

For the past 28 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 Polina Anikeeva (materials science and engineering), Mary Fuller (literature), William Tisdale (chemical engineering), and Jacob White (electrical engineering and computer science).

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

Polina Anikeeva

Mary Fuller

Jacob White

Interested in 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 Arthur Bahr, Wit Busza, Catherine Drennan, Lorna Gibson, and many other MIT professors advancing teaching and learning in their fields.

Faculty Profile: Gilbert Strang

“My life is in teaching,” says one of MIT’s most revered professors. “To have a chance to do that with a world audience is just wonderful.”

By MIT OpenCourseWare

Portrait of Gilbert Strang

MIT mathematics professor Gilbert Strang was among the first MIT faculty members to publish a course on OpenCourseWare. He has continued to contribute content through the years: to date, his contributions have included six full courses, two video resources, and an online textbook on the OCW website.

He has also shared his knowledge and passion for mathematics in person, traveling extensively around the world. Open thinking has played a major role in his professional career. “A big part of my life is to open mathematics to students everywhere,” says Strang. “I’m very supportive of the whole idea of making these courses available to people around the world. Everyone has the capacity to learn mathematics, and if you can offer a little bit of guidance, the process of discovery is so valuable.”

Linear Algebra

The concepts in Strang’s foundational Linear Algebra course are useful in physics, economics and social sciences, natural sciences, computer sciences, and engineering. Due to its broad range of applications, it has long been one of the most popular courses on OCW. The 18.06 site has received more than 10 million visits since its first publication in 2002. Professor Strang has a website dedicated to his linear algebra teaching.

A new version was released in 2011, in the innovative OCW Scholar format designed for independent learners. The OCW Scholar version of Linear Algebra includes 35 lecture videos and 36 short (and highly-praised) problem-solving help videos by teaching assistants.

Matrix Methods in Data Analysis, Signal Processing, and Machine Learning

In 2017, Professor Strang launched a new undergraduate course at MIT: Matrix Methods in Data Analysis, Signal Processing, and Machine Learning. Published on the OCW site in 2019, the course uses linear algebra concepts for understanding and creating machine learning algorithms, especially as applied to deep learning and neural networks. This course reviews linear algebra with applications to probability and statistics and optimization—and above all a full explanation of deep learning.

MIT News Article: Gil Strang is Still Going Strong, Online and in Print


Professor Strang has also published a collection of other materials on the OCW site including his Calculus textbook. First released in 1991 and still in print from Wellesley-Cambridge Press, the book is a useful resource for educators and independent learners alike. It is well organized, covers single variable and multivariable calculus in depth, and is rich with applications. The book has an online instructor’s manual and a student study guide.

When OCW approached Professor Strang about contributing to Highlights for High School, he offered his support immediately. “I’ve always wanted to contribute to K-12. I think high school students taking Algebra or Calculus would find some of the study materials useful.”

The result is Highlights of Calculus—a series of short videos that introduces the basics of calculus—how it works and why it is important. The intended audience is high school students, college students, or anyone who might need help understanding the subject.

The videos are garnering praise and thanks from viewers around the world. To quote one OCW user, “This series is fabulous! It summarizes the important points of calculus and gives me confidence to learn calculus without being so fearful about it.”

Differential Equations and Linear Algebra Textbook & Videos

Professor Strang has continued to offer new insights into key mathematics subjects. In 2014, he published Differential Equations and Linear Algebra. In 2016, that textbook was developed into a series of 55 short videos supported by MathWorks—with parallel videos about numerical solutions by Dr. Cleve Moler, the creator of MATLAB®. The textbook and video lectures help students in a basic Ordinary Differential Equations (ODE) course. This new series, Learn Differential Equations: Up Close with Gilbert Strang and Cleve Moler, is also available on the MathWorks website.

Higher-Level Mathematics

Computational Science and Engineering

Professor Strang also teaches two graduate-level courses on Computational Science and Engineering, a discipline that deals with the development and application of computational models and simulations. Both courses are on OCW and have full sets of lecture videos:

Wavelets, Filter Banks, and Applications

Another graduate-level course that Professor Strang has published on OCW is Wavelets, Filter Banks, and Applications, a subject with broad applications, including audio and image compression, digital communication, medical imaging, and scientific visualization.

OCW Publications by Prof. Gilbert Strang

All of Professor Strang’s books are available through Wellesley-Cambridge Press.

Professor Strang on Chalk Radio

Interested in learning about Professor Strang’s approach to teaching at MIT? Click to listen to his conversation with Dr. Sarah Hansen on Chalk Radio, the new podcast from OCW’s Educator initiative.


A Day in the Life with MIT OpenCourseWare

Photo of Cathleen

Cathleen Nalezyty (‘16), OCW digital publication specialist, provides insight into the OCW Team

For OCW, there is joy in helping people achieve their learning goals
By Yvonne Ng | MIT Open Learning

Every day at OCW, the team looks forward to creating, collaborating, and above all, learning. Each team member recognizes the importance of their role in helping to publish the free MIT courses so many learners around the world use and enjoy.

For Cathleen Nalezyty (‘16), a digital publication specialist, OCW is an expression of the Institute’s commitment to advancing knowledge to serve the world. She shared some of her thoughts about what it’s like to work at OCW every day.

What is a typical day like for you? What are some of the highlights?

It’s hard to say what a “typical” day is like—it varies so much depending on what courses I’m working on. One day I might be writing a list of edits for course videos and another I might be making PDFs accessible and adding metadata. Other days I may be reaching out to instructors of classes I’d like to see on OCW or contacting guest lecturers outside of MIT to get permission to use their work in the course.

Something that always makes my week (and often my month!) is when one of my larger courses goes live on OCW. There’s a lot of work and time invested in these courses. This is especially true for video courses, where the process takes months, since we start working with the professors before the class even starts, throughout the course, and only get to start building the course after that! I love getting to send out emails to our faculty letting them know that their course is published and open to the public.

Photo of Professor Strang leacturing in class

The OCW Video Team works to capture MIT professors sharing their knowledge. Here is Professor Strang lecturing in class.

What do you like about working with MIT faculty or fellow team members?

Working with MIT faculty is always inspiring as they’re the best in their field and yet, they’re also wonderfully human. (Some of my best conversations with faculty are completely incidental—like spending a few minutes at the end of a meeting talking about Tolkien because you happened to notice a particularly nice edition of The Lord of the Rings on their shelf…) They’re also very passionate about teaching and are excited to be able to share their knowledge with the world!

What about the OCW mission inspires you?

It’s really inspiring to know that the work you’re doing can help so many other people. OCW has a huge reach and that’s because it’s part of our mission: we want anyone to be able to access our content from anywhere. It’s incredible to work with a team who wants to share this knowledge, not just with MIT students, but everyone—from lifelong learners to other educators to curious high school students.

Is there anything else you want learners to know?

We love getting to hear your stories and your kind comments! We even have a little board right now that’s decorated with your quotes.

OCW spotlights learner feedback

OCW has a wall dedicated to wonderful feedback from learners.

Every day Cathleen and the OCW team work to meet the needs of learners eager to enhance their knowledge, lift up their communities, and change the world for the benefit of everyone. If OCW has been a valuable resource to you, please consider supporting our work with a gift on March 12, 2020 during the MIT 24-Hour Challenge. Visit us online to learn more or to support OCW on March 12. 

Chalk Radio Is Here!

Professor Gilbert Strang and Dr. Sarah Hansen, sitting in chais in front of a blackboard

Professor Gilbert Strang in conversation with Chalk Radio host, Dr. Sarah Hansen.

MIT OpenCourseWare is proud to announce the premiere of a new podcast series.

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

Chalk Radio is a podcast about inspired teaching at MIT, hosted by Dr. Sarah Hansen. The show takes listeners behind the scenes of some of the most interesting courses on campus to talk with the professors who make those courses possible. The guests on Chalk Radio open up to us about the passions that drive their cutting-edge research and innovative teaching, sharing stories that are candid, funny, serious, personal, and full of insights. Listening in on these conversations is like being present in person under the MIT dome, talking with your favorite professors.

About the Guests

In the first episodes, we talk with a nuclear science professor who finds surprisingly entertaining educational uses for MIT’s fission reactor, and with an African studies professor who asks her students to attend theatrical performances out in the “real world.” In subsequent episodes, we meet a math professor who champions the value of getting stuck, the instructors of a popular three-day intensive course on piloting small planes, and a literature professor who wants to teach students to love the movies. And that’s just the first half of the first season!

About the Host

Professor M. Amah Edoh and Dr. Sarah Hansen, sitting in front of microphones in a recording studio

Professor M. Amah Edoh and Dr. Sarah Hansen recording the second episode of Chalk Radio.

Sarah Hansen connects educators around the world to openly licensed MIT teaching materials and approaches through the MIT OpenCourseWare Educator Initiative. Before working at MIT, she was a faculty member in the Education Department at St. Catherine University, and before that she was an elementary school teacher. She holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction from the University of Minnesota, where her scholarship focused on equity issues in education.

How to Listen

Chalk Radio album artA new episode of Chalk Radio will appear every other Wednesday, starting February 19, 2020. All episodes will be accessible through the podcast’s website, which also includes links to Apple Podcasts and other popular platforms where you can find the latest episodes or subscribe to the whole series.

Faculty Profile: Hazel Sive

How do cells organize themselves into a heart or a brain?

Portrait of Hazel Sive

By MIT OpenCourseWare

Ask MIT’s Hazel Sive, an expert in developmental biology, about her work in embryonic development, and her love for teaching immediately shines through. She’s just as likely to start talking to you about music. “Embryonic development has its own tempo—from the thumping rock beat of early cell division to something more like modern minimalism, where you have cells working together while still doing their own thing, making the music more melodious and complex. Finally, as nerves start working and sending impulses, it moves to something more syncopated and rhythmic.”

Sive has been teaching at MIT since 1991 and is currently Associate Dean of the School of Science and Member of the Whitehead Institute, where she runs her own lab. Her multidisciplinary work, combining genetics, molecular biology, and brain imaging, is highly regarded worldwide for opening exciting new pathways in biomedical research. She has been a pioneer in the study of the vertebrate embryo, with a focus on the various signaling systems that determine how cells differentiate into specific organs.

A Teacher Who Can Teach Anyone Anything

As a child growing up in South Africa, Sive showed an early curiosity for the sciences, and credits her father as a major influence: “He was an inventor—an electrical engineer. I remember him working in his shop, designing switching devices or circuits that he would sell to the telephone company,” she recalls. “I was always welcome in his shop. For me, as a child, it was a wonderful place to explore. He allowed me to use absolutely anything, his band saw, his tools, anything,” she jokes.

Yet her love for the lush coastal landscape of South Africa, and “digging in the garden for all sorts of crawly, jumping things,” eventually led Sive into the life sciences. Her high school science teacher noticed Sive’s aptitude for science: “She was a very serious teacher. I think if she saw that you were interested, she paid extra attention to you. I remember how she once took me aside in lab and taught me how to properly use a burette. She said, ‘You’re going to study science in university someday, so you better learn to use this thing properly.’ That really meant a lot to me, that kind of attention.”

Although Sive admits that she had only a vague idea where her studies would actually lead her, she held on to two goals as an undergraduate—either to become a veterinarian and fight for animal rights, or to study ecology and politics and work to preserve the South African environment. Growing political tensions in apartheid South Africa, however, led her to make the difficult decision to leave for England after completing a double major in zoology and chemistry at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

At the time, England’s public high schools were short of qualified science teachers: “It meant that as a chemistry-zoology double major, they were ready to let me teach practically anything, even without a teacher’s diploma. But it was trial by fire, and all very challenging. I was only 21 and at one point they had me teaching A-level boys who were sometimes as old as 19.”

“Two weeks later I received a teaching diploma from the government, which meant I could teach anywhere in England. I suppose they felt that someone who could successfully teach 60 kids about fractions could teach anyone anything.”

From those days in England, she recalls one of the proudest moments in her early teaching career. “On one particular day, I had sixty pre-teen boys in my class and my job was to teach them something about fractions—not such an exciting lesson. A gentleman in a suit asked if he could observe, and I told him that if he could find a seat, he was welcome to stay. By the end of the hour, I’d managed to cover my lesson, and the gentleman left without a word. Two weeks later I received a teaching diploma from the government, which meant I could teach anywhere in England. I suppose they felt that someone who could successfully teach 60 kids about fractions could teach anyone anything.”

A Different Style of Thinking

Teaching remains a core focus of Sive’s professional life and a clear source of enjoyment and inspiration to her. She teaches an introductory biology course to incoming first-year students every year, and she loves how the students constantly challenge her with new questions that she’s never considered. She remarks admiringly how, in recent years, students have acquired a more sophisticated molecular vocabulary, thanks to the increased presence of molecular biology in the high school curriculum: “When I ask students how cells know to build a heart, they talk about active and inactive genes, and signaling pathways. It’s a different style of thinking, a different approach. Students use a very different vocabulary than I might have encountered even five years ago.”

It’s a vocabulary that Sive’s research continues to enrich. Her undergraduate studies, doctoral studies at Rockefeller University, and postdoctoral studies at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center influenced the three major pursuits of the Sive Lab at the Whitehead Institute. The first is trying to better understand why the brain forms in a tubular shape, and what specific properties and advantages that brings to vertebrates. The second is gaining an understanding of how the various features of a face form and organize themselves at a cellular level. Lastly, she studies the early development of the zebrafish nervous system as a means to better understand how genetic mutations can cause human mental health disorders.

Hazel Sive’s early and ardent support of OCW is a perfect reflection of her firm belief in the importance of science and education in advancing society today.

OCW Courses Taught by Professor Sive


Learning to Read the Scholarly Literature

hela cells

Specimens from a line of cultured human cells used for medical research. (Image by Tom Deerinck, National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research, courtesy of NIH Image Gallery on Flickr. License CC BY.)

Students in MIT Biology’s Advanced Undergraduate Seminars hone their professional skills by studying specialized topics in depth.

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

If you browse the OpenCourseWare offerings in Biology, quickly skimming the list of course numbers, you’re likely to be struck by how many courses have numbers between 7.340 and 7.349: there are eight versions of 7.340, ten versions of 7.341, eighteen versions of 7.342, and so on. In fact, these ten course numbers account for well over half of the OCW courses in Biology. 

Why do we include so many versions of the same few subjects? Actually, all of the courses with numbers 7.340 through 7.349 are on different topics, though they’re all the same in one crucial respect: they’re all Advanced Undergraduate Seminars. The Advanced Undergraduate Seminars are courses designed to allow students to study and discuss primary literature while learning about current biological research.

How They Work

Prerequisites vary slightly from one course to another, but the seminars typically require students to have taken introductory courses in topics such as cell biology, molecular biology, and genetics. The class size is limited to eight students to ensure as much interaction as possible between student and instructor. And the instructors for the seminars are typically postdoctoral research scientists with a strong interest in teaching; they’re thus uniquely qualified to help their students learn to read research articles and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the experiments presented.

Class sessions are designed to be as interactive as possible. Typically, before each week’s session, students are asked to read one or two primary research papers. They’re expected to come to class having read the papers thoroughly, and to be prepared to discuss and critique each paper. In order to ensure that students are fully prepared, some instructors require each student to submit one or two questions based on the reading by email before each class; these questions then form the basis for the class discussion. In other cases, instructors assign each student a role in leading the class by explaining or interpreting one figure from one of the readings each week. The goal is for the students to be the ones actively propelling the discussion, with the instructor serving primarily as a facilitator and factual resource.  

Two Instructors Share Their Perspective

At the Instructor Insights page for 7.341 The Microbiome and Drug Delivery: Cross-species Communication in Health and Disease, you can find a video interview with the course’s instructors, Dr. Ali Beyzavi and Dr. Miguel Jimenez. In the various chapters of this video, Drs. Beyzavi and Jimenez share their strategies for teaching students to read the primary literature, the role of instructors’ questions in guiding class discussions, the surprising structure of their course’s mid-term assignment, the way the final presentations summed up what the students had been learning throughout the course, the reason why the class field trip was to a biotech firm rather than to an MIT lab, and what post-docs like themselves stand to gain from teaching an Advanced Undergraduate Seminar.

The Range of Offerings

For examples of the kinds of topics covered in Advanced Undergraduate Seminars, check out this small sampling of the seminars represented on OCW:

7.340 Nano-Life: An Introduction to Virus Structure and Assembly
7.341 DNA’s Sister Does All the Work: The Central Roles of RNA in Gene Expression
7.342 A Double-Edged Sword: Cellular Immunity in Health and Disease
7.343 An RNA Safari: Exploring the Surprising Diversity of Mammalian Transcriptomes
7.345 The Science of Sperm
7.345 Survival in Extreme Conditions: The Bacterial Stress Response
7.347 Living Dangerously: How the Immune System Maintains Peace with Trillions of Commensal Bacteria while Preventing Pathogenic Invasions
7.349 Biological Computing: At the Crossroads of Engineering and Science