Fourteen courses added in July

Image of Barack Obama's signature, stamped "Approved - Mar 23 2010."

In 11.002J Making Public Policy, politics is explored “as a struggle among competing advocates trying to persuade others to see the world as they do, working within a context that is structured primarily by institutions and cultural ideas.” Image: President Barack Obama’s signature on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law on March 23, 2010.

OCW added fourteen more courses during the month of July: eleven are brand-new to OCW, and three are updates to previously published courses. Continuing the recent trend, several of these courses have video lectures, and several others include extensive Instructor Insights commentary about how the course was taught.

New Courses

Updated Courses

Ten Years of Photographing Strangers on the T (Boston Magazine)

Photo of two people in a laundromat facing away from each other.

Students in B. D. Colen’s course 21W.749 Documentary Photography and Photojournalism: Still Images of a World in Motion learn to see the world clearly and tell stories with photographs. This laundromat, from a student project, seems to share the same “alone, together” social order found in the Boston subway system. (Photo courtesy of MIT student.)

“Alone, together.” It’s become common wisdom that technology like smartphones and iPods are driving us apart, that we’re losing human interaction in public spaces.

But maybe it’s not really about the technologies, and also not really such a new thing—rather it could be something more fundamental to human nature. In his project “Alone, Together,” MIT’s B. D. Colen, who teaches photography and science journalism, shows how Boston subway riders were plenty willing to act this way with older, purely analog means.

Last week, Boston Magazine published an interview and photo feature about this project, “concerns with the current state of street photography, and issues of privacy in the golden age of surveillance.”

You started shooting this project in 2005, before the advent of iPhones, Twitter, and Kindles. Did you see people isolating themselves more intensely or more frequently as technology proliferated over the past decade?

On the T [Boston’s subway system], I don’t think so, because people would either have Walkmans or books or newspapers or magazines beforehand. They were just as isolated when I started doing this, as I saw it. It was print initially, and then the electronic devices took over.

If you go back and look at the first subway project of Walker Evans—he had a camera sewn inside his coat and was surreptitiously shooting people—they look just as isolated as my T riders do. I’m not comparing myself to Walker Evans, but he sort of saw the same thing. It’s not like people sat down and chatted with the people next to them. They were just sort of in their own world.

Read the complete story >

B. D. Colen’s OCW course 21W.749 Documentary Photography and Photojournalism: Still Images of a World in Motion is all about these topics. The class emphasizes “thinking about why people photograph, what photographs do and do not mean to us, and on doing documentary work, on telling stories with photographs.”  The OCW site includes several student projects, including one called “The Lost Sock – Lonely Laundromat” that finds laundromats share common social ground with the subway.

Student, Rate This Problem!

Survey questions to rate the problems and rate the lectures.

Students in 18.783 Elliptic Curves are expected to rate the course instruction and materials in terms like these.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Student evaluations of courses are a time-honored end-of-semester ritual at most educational institutions. The utility of these surveys, forms, and write-ups has never been highly regarded, as the responses only come from a portion of the students, tend to praise instructors known for easy grading, and are too general to improve teaching in any meaningful way. Of course, they are of little use to the students who took the course because they have already moved on to other things.

In an ideal world, instructors would get specific feedback from students on different aspects of a course as the semester is rolling along. That way, the instructor could see what’s working well and what isn’t, what excites students and what doesn’t. This would enable improvements not just in future iterations of the course but also in the same semester, as the instructor could make adjustments for the particular mix of students in a given class.

Dr. Andrew Sutherland has actually implemented such a system in his course 18.783 Elliptic Curves, a graduate-level course on elliptic curves with applications to number theory and cryptography. The course has just published on OCW. Sutherland explains how his survey system works on his This Course at MIT page.

Each of the 13 problem sets assigned during the semester ends with a survey, which students are required to fill out. The survey is brief and asks students to rate each problem in the set by interest, difficulty, and time spent, and to rate each lecture in a similar way, including the quality and novelty of the material and the pace of presentation. Although the surveys are a requirement, Sutherland keeps the tone lighthearted. For example, the rating scale for interest ranges from 1 = “mind-numbing” to 10 = “mind-blowing.”

In response to problem set feedback, Sutherland has improved the course over several iterations. In particular, he has dropped or added problems, dropped or added hints, clarified points of confusion, and adjusted problems to make the connection clearer to the rest of the course content.

Deleted problems often get added to the course lecture notes. The lecture portion of the survey has led to a variety of adjustments, including the addition of review material and background topics and the slowing of the pace of delivery.

Sutherland reviews the surveys as he grades the p-sets, with a goal of turning everything around in a few days after the submission date. He often replies to students by email, sparking a dialogue. Sutherland has also used this survey strategy in another course, 18.782 Introduction to Arithmetic Geometry.

It might seem that gathering all this feedback requires a lot of dedication—and a thick skin! But as Sutherland sees it, the benefits are very much worth the effort:

“Perhaps the most useful thing I have learned as an educator from this dialogue is that it is very empowering (both for them and me) when students help to shape their own education. MIT students want to optimize everything and they have little patience for poor design. This can make them harsh critics, but it also makes them enthusiastic collaborators when they feel they are partners in the process.”

MIT Biology and Office of Digital Learning Team Recognized for DNA Video

By Lisa Eichel, MITx Community and Outreach Manager


A DNA structure animation created for the MITx course 7.28.1x Molecular Biology: DNA Replication and Repair won the BioCommunications Association Medical Education Award for Motion Video and a Citation of Merit in the Motion Media: Video category at the 2015 BioImages visual media competition. The annual competition honors still, graphic, and motion media projects that focus on life sciences and medicine.

MITx Biology Digital Learning Fellow Sera Thornton and Office of Digital Learning Science Visualization Specialist Betsy Skrip collaborated on the deep dive video, which marries 2D and 3D representations to present a cohesive picture of DNA structure. The video reinforces the key structural and functional characteristics of DNA and illustrates some often difficult-to-visualize perspectives, such as how the flattened view of the structure is derived from the helix and how the major and minor grooves coil in 3D space.

While initially produced as part of the 7.28.1x MOOC for MITx on edX (offered again starting August 4), the team purposely designed the video to be able to stand alone from the full course so that it could be used by a diverse audience of biology students — from high school to graduate level, and on and off the MIT campus.

On the MIT campus, students enrolled in Professor Steve Bell and Professor Wendy Gilbert’s 7.28/7.58 (Molecular Biology) are utilizing this video, along with other videos and online assessment questions developed for 7.28.1x, as supplementary materials to enhance their classroom learning. The MITx Biology team also plans to circulate the clip more widely so that it can benefit a broader scope of science educators and learners. Already, Skrip’s former professor at The College of New Rochelle has made the video a requirement in their undergraduate Molecular Biology course.

“ODL has brought together under one umbrella a group of people with diverse skill sets,” describes Dr. Thornton. “We’ve really taken advantage of that in this collaboration, and it’s allowed us not only to learn from each other, but also to create exactly the teaching tool we envisioned – a video that is both beautiful and biologically accurate.”

Skrip and Thornton worked closely together on both the scripting and the animation. MIT student Ceri Riley narrated the video, Julian Samal refined the sound, and Professor Steve Bell and MITx Digital Learning Lab members Mary Ellen Wiltrout and Nathaniel Schafheimer assisted with script editing and feedback. MITx Media Specialist Caitlin Stier provided additional support for the entire 7.28x course.

Want to learn more about DNA and molecular biology? 7.28.1x starts on August 4 — register now.

Ten more courses drop in June

Photo series showing a large drop detaching from a stream of smaller droplets.

Photo sequence of the “gobbling droplets” phenomenon, from 2.25 Advanced Fluid Mechanics. (Photo by Jose Bico and Christian Clasen, used courtesy of Prof. Gareth McKinley.)

Yesterday, June 30, marked the official end of OCW’s spring publication cycle. Since last week’s new courses post, we have added ten more courses our growing pool: six that are new to OCW, and four that are updates to previously published subjects.

New Courses

Updated Courses

The final tally? That’s 21 courses published in the month of June, and 69 courses published so far in 2015. As always, our New Courses page lists everything published in the past six months.

Overall, MIT OpenCourseWare now has over 2,280 courses and 47 supplemental resources from across the MIT curriculum. We are grateful for the continued support of so many MIT faculty willing to share their teaching materials and insights with you via OCW.

Courses from MIT’s new Institute Professors

A lineup of three portrait photos.

MIT’s new Institute Professors, from left: Sallie “Penny ” Chisholm, Ron Rivest and Marcus Thompson. (Photos by Richard Howard,  Dominick Reuter and Bryce Vickmark).

Chisholm, Rivest, and Thompson appointed as new Institute Professors
Biologist, computer scientist, and musician awarded MIT’s highest faculty honor.
Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office | June 29, 2015

A marine biologist who studies tiny ocean organisms, a computer scientist who developed a global security standard, and an acclaimed violist who has performed with renowned orchestras have been awarded MIT’s highest faculty honor: the title of Institute Professor.

Sallie “Penny” Chisholm, Ron Rivest, and Marcus Thompson join a small group of Institute Professors at MIT, now numbering 13, along with 10 Institute Professors emeriti. Their new appointments are effective July 1, making them the first faculty members to be named Institute Professors since 2008.

MIT President L. Rafael Reif says, “Although our new Institute Professors were chosen as individuals, it is interesting to consider them together: Penny Chisholm, a pioneering field scientist whose discoveries revolutionized our understanding of the oceans; Ron Rivest, a brilliant theorist and problem-solver who ranks as one of the founding fathers of modern cryptography; and Marcus Thompson, among the most celebrated string performers in the United States today.

“Their fields could not be more different,” Reif says. “Yet each is an explorer, creator, and teacher of the first order. Together they reflect the standard of faculty excellence that is a signature of MIT.”

Read the complete story >

OCW is pleased to share courses from all three of these distinguished professors.

Courses by Sallie “Penny” Chisholm

Courses by Ron Rivest

Courses by Marcus Thompson

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.”