Fly High, Fly Low

Photo of man sitting in an airplane cockpit, wearing a helmet.

Professor Oliver de Weck flies the prize.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Ever hear someone complain about a recent flight on an airliner?

There wasn’t enough legroom to stretch out, the food (if there was any) was only so-so, the movie selection could have been better, it wasn’t easy falling asleep tilted back only slightly in that seat.

What people don’t much complain about is the aircraft itself, which holds 300 people and their luggage, zooms along at 600 miles per hour for thousands of miles up at 35,000 feet, has a pressurized cabin with a comfortable climate, is remarkably quiet, and affords a fairly smooth ride, even in rough weather.

The reason we find ourselves preoccupied with airborne beverage options and not the air-sick bag is the fantastic success of systems engineering in designing aircraft, which now have thousands of requirements, from efficient, powerful engines to sophisticated electronics.

It’s All in the System

Now you can discover for yourself how all this has been made possible by cruising through 16.842 Fundamental of System Engineering, just published on OCW. Taught by Professor Olivier de Weck, whose fascination with aircraft and flight goes back to childhood, the course provides an overview of the entire design process. Professor de Weck takes you along the wings of the V-model, which begins with stakeholder analysis (what the customer wants) and requirements definition through concept generation and selection, and on to validation and lifecycle management. The focus in 16.842 is on aircraft and space craft, but the V-model can be applied to almost any engineered product.

The course site features classroom videos, lecture notes, and assignments.

Competition in a Can

For the central assignment, students are tasked with designing satellites for the CanSat Competition, in which teams from around the world create satellites that must fit in a can, be lofted by a rocket, and be deployed at high altitude. The satellites are then supposed to glide back to earth tracing a circular pattern, collecting data as they go. That’s if everything goes right. It’s a six-week course. No pressure!

Needless to say, teamwork is essential. In his video Instructor Insights, Professor de Weck discusses how he fosters effective teamwork, assesses students both as teams and as individuals, teaches the design process in a SPOC (small private online course) that blends online and in-class learning with students from two different schools, and favors both written and oral exams.

So buckle up for 16.842. OCW has approved you for take-off!

Kerry Emanuel on climate change and hurricanes

A satellite measurement of Hurricane Harvey on Aug. 25 found that intense storms in the eastern side were dropping rain at a rate greater than 3.2 inches (82 mm) per hour.
Credits: NASA/JAXA, Hal Pierce.

“‘[With global warming, we could see] a 50-percent increase in the destructive potential” of the most powerful tropical storms,’ says meteorologist Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

For decades, MIT’s Kerry Emanuel has been a go-to researcher for those seeking insight into how climate change may affect catastrophic storms. The above quote is from 1992, in a Newsweek article “Was Andrew a Freak — Or a Preview of Things to Come?” — and has never been more timely.

Kerry is also an eloquent and forceful voice pushing leaders around the world to take the risks of climate change more seriously.

Now we’re once again deep into storm season around the world, and it’s not pretty. With events still unfolding in Texas with Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey, and weeks of escalating devastating monsoon floods in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, many people are asking: are these extreme storms the result of climate change?

The current thinking: it’s complicated. Foremost, we shouldn’t be seeking a direct causal link between climate change and any particular storm. As Professor Emanuel told The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney a few days ago:

“My feeling is, when there’s a hurricane, there’s an occasion to talk about the subject,” he said. “But attributing a particular [weather] event to anything, whether it’s climate change or anything else, is a badly posed question, really.”

Scientists are clear that climate change has “threat multiplier” effects on storms, increasing the likelihood and severity of some aspects. For instance: warmer waters and warmer air increase the moisture available and the energy in storms; disruptions in atmospheric circulation increase the likelihood of a storm “stalling out” over a region; and ocean storm surges are made more destructive when melting ice caps have raised the baseline sea level.

“The thing that keeps forecasters up at night is the prospect that a storm will rapidly gain strength just before it hits land,” Emanuel recently told Agence France-Presse, citing Harvey as an example. “Global warming can accentuate that sudden acceleration in intensity.”

Interestingly, it’s still uncertain whether global warming will lead to more or less frequent hurricanes. But in terms of catastrophic damage, storm frequency seems less important than the severity of storms, where climate change does have a clear footprint.

Kerry Emanuel has been a frequent contributor on OCW. Check out these two courses particularly connected to the storms + climate change issue.

  • 12.103 Science and Policy of Natural Hazards introduces the science of natural catastrophes such as earthquakes and hurricanes and explores the relationships between the science of and policy toward such hazards. It presents the causes and effects of these phenomena, discusses their predictability, and examines how this knowledge influences policy making.
  • 12.340 Global Warming Science provides a scientifically rigorous foundation to understand anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change, an introduction to climate models, the material impacts of climate change, and the science behind mitigation and adaptation proposals. [See also the archived MITx on edX version of this course.]

Want to get into a global conversation about this? Check out the growing community on MIT ClimateX.

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!

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