Gaining Street Smarts in 1.252J Urban Transportation Planning

A photo of a mural depicting a group of people standing in front of a bulldozer. The bulldozer reads "Federal Inner Belt I-95.

“Beat the Belt” is a 1980s mural on Memorial Drive in Cambridge, MA, commemorating the success of citizen resistance to the Inner Belt Highway that threatened to run through Cambridge. (Courtesy of Chris Ball on Flickr. CC-BY.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Try to remember: When was the last time an instructor sent you out to watch the traffic go by?

Not recently?

For students taking Frederick Salvucci’s 1.252J Urban Transportation Planning, whose site has just appeared on OCW, it was just the other day.

For the first of four main assignments in the course, Salvucci sends students out in groups to four different intersections and has them count what goes by. The point is “to get students used to thinking about quantities: How many bicycles? How many people in buses? How many people in cars? How many trucks? How many cabs are going down the street? What problems do you observe at that intersection?” Salvucci explains his thinking in his Instructor Insights on the site’s This Course at MIT page.

Knowledge at First Hand

For the students, Boston and Cambridge are a kind of lab, and if there’s anyone who knows this lab, and its highways, byways, and flyways, it’s Salvucci. Growing up in Boston, he served two stints as Secretary of Transportation for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, oversaw the extension of the T’s Red and Orange lines, and orchestrated the financial backing and political support for the “Big Dig,” one of the most complex public works projects in history.

Students go on walking tours, observing roads and neighborhoods, evaluating the impact of urban planning on neighborhoods. They attend public meetings, which “force proponents of transportation projects to explain why they make sense to the public.” The students also investigate what might have been but never came to pass—projects like the “Inner Belt Highway” that were proposed and boosted but ultimately dropped because of community opposition.

Combining experiential learning with the study of research in transportation planning and projects, students write reports and give presentations on their findings.

Boston’s transportation problems, from its half-mad drivers and winding roads to its snowmaggedons and parking torments, are the stuff of legend. Why not join these heroic students and their sage guide in 1.252J, and start learning how to make everything flow more smoothly. Please!

OCW’s latest peak: 2400 courses

Photo of rock cairn on a mountaintop.

Photo by Wolfgang Lutz on Unsplash, license CC 0 (public domain).

Over the past two months, OCW has published 16 more courses. Six of these are brand-new subjects, taking our total live collection above 2400 total courses for the first time. Another 10 recent publications are updates of prior versions, as we work to bring you the latest MIT teaching from subjects across the entire curriculum.

Here’s the latest 16:

 

New OCW version of 8.01 Classical Mechanics!

Man gesturing at an overlaid diagram with math formulas.

Using a lightboard, Senior Lecturer Peter Dourmashkin gives a brief lecture on “Newton’s 2nd Law and Circular Motion.”

The How and Why of Motion: Classical Mechanics

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Terrific news for students and teachers of introductory physics: OCW has just published a new version of 8.01 Classical Mechanics.

This course is taken by all MIT students in their first year and helps form the foundation for much of what they will learn in their undergraduate careers.

Arranged in weekly learning units, the OCW course site abounds in useful materials. The centerpiece is a series of 220 short instructional videos that cover the full range of topics, from kinematics and Newton’s Laws of Motion to rotational motion and angular momentum. An additional six review videos cover basic concepts like vectors and scalars, so you can be familiar with the necessary terminology before you start the first learning unit.

Videos Galore

The course is taught by a team of seven MIT instructors led by Professor Deepto Chakrabarty and Senior Lecturer Peter Dourmashkin. The videos are presented in variety of formats: studio, tablet, and lightboard. 8.01 is the first OCW course to employ a lightboard, a relatively new technology that allows the instructor to face the viewer while writing on a transparent surface (a software program reverses the writing so the viewer can read it). Many instructors like this form of online instruction for its more intimate and personal feel over traditional classroom videos.

Students can also read Peter Dourmashkin’s openly published and fully downloadable textbook.

Each course topic has a problem set tied to videos of related worked examples to help learners make the most of their homework.

Materials for Multiple Uses

The materials on the OCW site were used both for on-campus instruction and in a series of MOOCs hosted on the edX platform. The MOOCs are run periodically, so students interested in getting an MITx on edX certificate can get a head start by familiarizing themselves with the materials on OCW before diving into the MOOC.

So don’t let inertia get the better of you! Steer your vector to 8.01 and get moving!

More Introductory Computer Science

A visualization of clusters found by a clustering algorithm.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Back in February we told you about a new OCW course in computer science, 6.0001 Introduction to Computer Science and Programming in Python. It’s a true introduction, for students with little or no programming experience.

Now you can develop your newly acquired skills further with the 2nd module in the sequence, 6.0002 Introduction to Computational Thinking and Data Science. It picks up where 6.0001 left off, providing you with “an understanding of the role computation can play in solving problems and to help students, regardless of their major, feel justifiably confident of their ability to write small programs that allow them to accomplish useful goals.”

The OCW site has full video lectures, featuring Professors John Guttag and Eric Grimson, along with lecture slides and supporting code, problem sets (so you can try out what you’ve learned), and files to install the latest version of Python, version 3.5.

Topics include Optimization Problems, Stochastic Thinking, Monte Carlo Simulation, Understanding Experimental Data, Introduction to Machine Learning, and Clustering.

This module offers a fresh approach to teaching how to think like a computer scientist. It joins our collection of Introductory Programming courses from MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department, and is sure to join 6.0001 as one of OCW’s most visited courses.

Peer Review: Learning How to Give and Take

Photo of a traffic sign for "two way traffic" with two arrows, one pointing up and one pointing down. By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Peer review! Hardly are those words out than a writing instructor’s heart starts to stir—but with joy or trepidation?

Peer review! That activity in which students review each other’s work and give each other feedback. It’s an essential writing skill, after all, being able to assess a piece of writing critically and offer suggestions for making it more effective without sending the author into a tailspin of despair.

It’s what every good editor does.

Writing is an art, like playing a musical instrument, and to learn how to do it well, you have to practice, so students in writing courses have to write a lot if they are going to improve. But even the most conscientious writing instructor can’t analyze everything the students in a class produce, and it’s often helpful to get more than one perspective on a piece of writing, so peer review offers an attractive solution on more than one front. It can also allow an instructor the breathing space to focus on higher-level things, like getting the students to think like writers.

Not Sweating the Small Stuff

Running a peer-review workshop is not easy, as anyone who’s tried it knows. Great advice from a veteran of many workshops is offered by Jared David Berezin, whose 21W.035 Science Writing and New Media: Communicating Science to the Public appeared this month on OCW.

Rather than just throwing the students into the workshop environment, he begins by holding a discussion, where he shares his own experience on the best and worst of workshopping and gets students’ thinking “about the value of peer-review in the workplace, and ways to solicit peer feedback in a professional, non-classroom setting.”

In the workshops, he wants students “to focus on the larger, global issues in the drafts, rather than editing sentences.” How come? “For many readers, it’s easier to focus on the little things, because they can be commented on with confidence and fixed quickly. Instead, I’d rather students use the precious time in the classroom to discuss the more difficult and nebulous issues within a text.”

Paraphrase as a Passport to Understanding

Nonetheless, he asks students “to provide evidence for all comments by referring directly to the text. Referencing single moments in the text can allow readers and authors to engage in a concrete discussion of ways to improve the overall draft, rather than speaking in vague abstractions.”

Students are required to take notes on each other’s work and to ask others to paraphrase what they have written. This “allows the author to assess whether the reader’s understanding aligns with the intent and desired meaning.”

Active Experiments

Aside from these and many other practical tips for making peer-review workshops a success, the course site has a gold mine of detailed assignments, in-class exercises, and “communication experiments” designed to foster creativity and versatility (Berezin shares his reflections on these experiments, peer review, and other facets of his teaching in his Instructor Insights). Most experiments, like “reverse-engineering metaphors” and descriptions of a green space from assigned perspectives, involve group work as well as individual writing. In this class, isolation is not an option.

If you are a writing teacher, or an aspiring writer hoping to make your mark, you’ll want to take a look at 21W.035. It has a lot to offer, both to you and to your peers.

Here’s what OCW has accomplished in the past 100 days

Photo of a person holding up a sign "100" made out of many small pictures.

Photo: Brian J. Matis / Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Over the past 100 days, OCW has kept its open sharing promise to you, publishing courses, courses, and more courses. (Not to mention a steady stream of fun and fascinating Tweets and Facebook posts.) This batch of courses is a testament to the diversity and richness of the MIT curriculum.

Anthropology

Architecture

Biology

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Economics

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Global Studies and Languages

History

Literature

Management

Mechanical Engineering

Political Science

Urban Studies and Planning

Writing

Interdisciplinary

Writing for Success and Pleasure

Planning diagram for a short story. (Image courtesy of Simon Scott on Flickr.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

The great majority of courses published on OCW have a communications component to them, in no small part because of MIT’s communications requirement for undergraduates. MIT sees communications as an essential component to any career its graduates might undertake, regardless of their area of concentration. Since 2001 (the year when OCW came to life) MIT has required undergraduates to take four communications-intensive subjects “to ensure that the students’ communication training is distributed over several years of study.” Two subjects must be from the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and two must be from the student’s major.

Among the many communications-intensive course offerings in the MIT curriculum are courses devoted to writing. Many of these have their home in the Comparative Media Studies/Writing department, which is amply represented on OCW.

The course sites all have assignments designed to ignite the creative spark. Most have ingenious, practical exercises for developing the skills needed to impress and convince readers. You’ll find valuable writing resources with a variety of tips and guidelines about how to write well. And of course there are readings that present admirable models for the genre of writing in question.

Below is a sampler of recently published OCW writing courses:

 

Professional Writing Courses

 

“This course offers analysis and practice of various forms of scientific and technical writing, from memos to journal articles, in addition to strategies for conveying technical information to specialist and non-specialist audiences.”  Designed to deal with special problems of advanced ELS or bilingual students, the course has resources that almost any writer would be wise to take advantage of. Eminently practical, it covers writing for the public; emails and memos; job letters; writing up research; conference papers and posters, and two minute “nano-presentations.”

 

“In our reading and writing we explore the craft of making scientific concepts, and the work of scientists, accessible to the public through news articles and essays. The chief work of the class is students’ writing; assignments include a brief essay and news article, an interview-based or archival essay, and a longer (2,000–2,500 word) researched essay. Students also write a review-essay of a book of their choice from a list provided and make one or more short oral presentations.” Check out the “Resource for Checking Facts and Controversies.”

 

This course helps writers discover and engage with issues that matter to them. Students write narrative essays, investigative essays, and grant proposals. They examine “different rhetorical strategies that aim to increase awareness of social problems, to educate the public about different perspectives on contemporary issues and to persuade readers of the value of particular solutions to social problems.” Resources include “Exercise on research and note-taking,” “Working with Quotes,” “The Use of Outside Sources in Narrative Essays.”

 

Personal (“Creative”) Writing Courses

 

“Writers will craft essays that reflect on their own experience as participants or viewers of a sport that reflect on issues related to sports, and that research and explore a sports-related topic in depth. Revision and workshopping are both an important part of the class’s work.”

 

“This class will focus on the craft of the short story, which we will explore through reading great short stories, writers speaking about writing, writing exercises and conducting workshops on original stories.”

The site has lecture notes on everything from “What is Plot and How Can It Be Constructed?” to “The Way a Professional Writer Works in the World.” Most topics are accompanied with exercises, like “Where to Start,” “Character,” and “Point of View.” There’s even a guide on how to participate in the course’s workshops.

 

“During the first seven weeks . . . we will discuss techniques directly related to the assigned stories . . . The second seven weeks . . . will be devoted to workshops of original student stories. Using the vocabulary of technique, every student will participate in workshops leading to polished, finished fiction.”

 

“This course explores, through reading and writing, what it means to construct a sense of self-and a life narrative-in relation to the larger social world of family and friends, education, media, work, and community.” Most readings have corresponding written assignments. Students also write four main essays, whose assignments are described in detail.

“The very notion of what constitutes race remains a complex and evolving question in cultural terms. In this course we will engage this question head-on, reading and writing about issues involving the construction of race and racial identity as reflected from a number of vantage points and via a rich array of voices and genres.”