Innovation in Education: MechE Goes Online

Here’s a great piece on the MIT Mechanical Engineering website that shares how that department is using digital tools to transform the experience of residential students.  It includes extensive commentary from MIT Director of Digital Learning Sanjay Sarma.

Innovation in Education: MechE Goes Online

By Alissa Mallinson

mecheconnects_feature_F2013The online learning revolution isn’t the first time that the Department of Mechanical Engineering – nor the Institute as a whole for that matter – has been at the forefront of educational breakthroughs. From the very beginning, MIT was the natural outgrowth of a different state of mind, one that is inextricably linked to making, building, and doing. The MIT motto mens et manus (“mind and hand”) was as distinctive a principle on which to build a new kind of higher education in 1865 as it is now. At that time, rote memorization was considered the standard method – and indeed a perfectly respectable one – by which to learn at any level.

MIT’s founder William Barton Rogers had a different idea. He founded MIT to think and to do – to teach craftsmen and farmers, as well as engineers and academics, to “democratize science” as Sanjay Sarma, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the recently formed Office of Digital Learning, puts it. And from that moment on, it’s been in our destiny to up-end traditional ways of teaching and to democratize science and technology for the betterment of all.

The Department of Mechanical Engineering, the second course of study to be offered at MIT, was a natural leader of the innovative mens et manus way. The passion of our faculty and students, both then and now, for pushing boundaries and developing creative solutions to the world’s problems has led to a remarkable number of discoveries along the way, from the wind tunnel built by MechE student Albert Wells that launched the field of aeronautics to the artificial skin developed by Professor Ioannis Yannas, to Professor Dick Yue’s idea for the OpenCourseWare program of offering free MIT course materials online, and many in between. Several of our faculty have also been the authors of seminal textbooks that codified the framework of fundamental mechanical engineering principles, such as Professor Lionel Marks’ Mark’s Standard Handbook for Mechanical Engineers and Professor Stephen Crandall’s An Introduction to the Mechanics of Solids.

By the time Professor Emeritus Woodie Flowers had transformed Course 2.70 (now 2.007) into the project-based, get-your-hands-dirty, robotics-competition-focused experience in the 1970s, Meche’s reputation for innovation was already solidified. Nevertheless, the magnitude of the educational revolution he helped to evolve was profound. By giving an identifiable context to the more academic ideas behind the course – adding a tangible element of fun and community – he triggered a domino effect across the country and then the world, and eventually engineering programs everywhere were emulating his hands-on approach. Read more.

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