Pivotal Concepts, Pivotal Videos

OCW has been publishing more video than ever before. We recently put up a collection of 47 short videos, the STEM Concept Videos. These videos are designed to help students understand pivotal concepts in undergraduate courses in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. As conceived for the collection, a pivotal concept is one that:

  • has importance in multiple disciplines
  • is necessary for understanding higher-level coursework
  • recurs throughout the curriculum for the same discipline

Examples of science concepts treated in the series are conservation of mass, Newton’s laws, and equilibrium. Mathematics concepts include derivatives and integrals (as applied to motion or electric potential, for instance), differential equations (as used to describe enzyme kinetics, among other topics), and probability. Other videos address problem-solving processes and various techniques and applications of representation (torque, vectors, free-body diagrams, e.g.).

Model cars on top of a model dome.

Robots place model police cars atop MIT’s dome. Find out how in Motion, one of 47 STEM concept videos.

The video collection has three fundamental goals:

  • to reinforce pivotal concepts and multidisciplinary themes from the first two years of a general engineering curriculum
  • to provide opportunities for students to actively engage with content (as by presenting challenge questions for the students to consider after pausing the videos)
  • to provide concrete examples from everyday life, or from the laboratory, of the utility of the concepts

The videos were created by MIT’s Teaching and Learning Lab, originally as part of collaboration between MIT and the government of Singapore to establish a new university, the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). The idea was to create videos to supplement the newly designed SUTD curriculum, but the videos proved so useful that instructors incorporated them into their courses on the MIT campus, and students began to watch on their own.

These videos provide a wonderful resource for teachers and students interested in college-level science.

The stars of the videos? MIT faculty, instructors, postdocs, and graduate students!

People interested in how these videos were developed can read the paper presented by TLL researchers at the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) 2013 conference.

The videos do not constitute a course and are not listed in MIT’s curriculum. Rather, they are published on OCW as a Supplemental Resource. OCW’s collection of Supplemental Resources includes other video series, online textbooks, and other publications and learning tools.

— Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

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