The MicroMasters program in Data, Economics, and Development Policy provides new path to MIT

Online learning initiative provides real-world opportunity for students.

Chuka Ezeoguine is a student from Port Harcourt, Nigeria, who is majoring in computer science. Driven to help the world’s poor, he is developing the knowledge base he needs to create algorithm-based solutions to economic problems.

Camelia Vasilov recently graduated from Leiden University College and interns at the World Startup Factory. Raised in Moldova, her first-hand experience with poverty motivates her to master the analysis and application of empirical research, so she can return home to design and implement sound development policies.

Sangalore Sumit is a computer science engineer in Bangalore, India. He hopes to aid government in the development and implementation of data-driven programs that bridge the gap between public policy and public welfare.

Living and working on separate continents, these people have one thing in common: they all studied together at MIT. MITx, that is.

Studying together around the world, students in the MITx MicroMasters program in Data, Economics, and Development Policy (DEDP) are connected by digital learning technologies and driven by a common cause: to help people in their communities and developing countries overcome challenges facing the world’s poor.

MITx MicroMasters is a new way to pursue a credentialed course of study from MIT. The cost of the DEDP program is based on ability to pay, and classes are open to anyone. According to Benjamin Olken, Professor of Economics, MIT, and Director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (JPAL), “Whether you’re interested in a career in development policy, or interested in pursuing graduate school admissions, this certificate will signal your competence with advanced material.”

Students who successfully complete the five-course curriculum can apply to a newly-established accelerated master’s degree program offered by MIT’s department of economics. Accepted students will earn their degree in one semester while studying at the main campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“There are thousands of social programs all over the world,” says Esther Duflo, Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics, MIT, Co-founder and Co-director of JPAL. “But how do you evaluate their effectiveness? How do you ensure that policies used to tackle these problems are backed by scientific evidence? And how do you determine which methods are most useful in addressing these problems and yielding the best outcomes?”

Staying true to MIT’s commitment to academic rigor, the MicroMasters program in DEDP equips students with the skills and knowledge required to assess the effectiveness of anti-poverty initiatives through data-driven methodologies. It provides a solid foundation in microeconomics, data analysis, probability and statistics, development economics, and program evaluation.

“Our goal is to create a cadre of rigorously trained development economists to engage the problems of developing the world,” says Abhijit Banerjee, Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics, MIT, Co-founder and Co-director of JPAL.

Expand your mind. Expand your future. Learn more about the MicroMasters program and start improving the world today.

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.”

The Once and Future City

“A cloudy evening on the bridge between Boston and Cambridge. In 2015, this course focused on the 100th anniversary of MIT’s move across the Charles River, from Boston to Cambridge. (Courtesy of nd-nʎ on Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA.)”

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Walk around a neighborhood in your city or town, and you might notice the different styles of buildings, the width of the streets, the kinds of trees or other plants, the open spaces, the way the wind whistles. Taking it all in, you might feel caught up in the moment. Ah!

But maybe you’re just trapped in the present.

Stretching your time frame is a major focus of 11.016J The Once and Future City, just published on OCW as taught by Professor Anne Whiston Spirn in Spring 2015.

 

Identifying the Pieces

“Cities are the products of the actions of millions of people and countless decisions, public and private,” Professor Spirn notes in one of her three videos that kick off the assignments. “How do all the pieces, styles, and times fit together?”

Early in the class students investigate maps of Boston, discovering how the city has changed over the centuries. “Who has the power to erase roads, to consolidate hundreds of properties?” a second video asks. “Why do some things persist and others disappear?”

A big part of the course is learning how to look, how to find “significant detail.” This process can be awkward for students accustomed to finding a right answer to a given question. The students are “not just taking a text and applying it, or critiquing something that already exists. They are developing visual thinking skills, and they have to make observations using their own eyes and mind. Many are not prepared for this.”

 

Stepping outside the Classroom Box

Professor Spirn helps them see for themselves by taking them on short field trips, where she asks provocative questions to get students thinking. As she explains in “Leading Productive Field Trips,” one of her Instructor Insights,

“The field trips are designed to give the students an introduction to methods of observation before they have to go out and perform field observations on their own at the sites they choose for their projects. We walk around and I show them how to look at things, how to find significant detail. But what is significant? Some students don’t see anything at all . . . Others see so many things that they can’t make sense out of what is significant and what is trivial. The field trip helps both kinds of students.”

 

Seeing Patterns Emerge

This form of teaching is very different from how Professor Spirn originally taught the course, back when she imparted knowledge through class lectures. Several years ago she decided to flip her classroom. Now instead of lecturing, she says

“I put together a series of images—mostly maps and photographs . . . Depending on the current assignment, the images emphasize different phenomena. But they always consist of puzzles . . . I’ll project an image on the screen and say, ‘What pattern do you see here?’ Sometimes nobody sees a pattern, so I say, ‘OK, do you see any anomalies? Does anything stick out or seem odd?’”

From the puzzles emerge patterns, and from the patterns, a hypothesis.

 

Opening the Mind’s Eye through Projects

The course site has extensive descriptions of the assignments, in which students select a site to explore, observe the natural processes at play in it, analyze its changes through time, and see what all of this bodes for the future.

Included on the site are examples of student projects from four different iterations of the course, among them papers on Coolidge Corner, The Bullfinch Triangle, and Boston’s West End.

11.016J turns the present into a portal for time travel. If it sounds fantastic, that’s because it is.

Actively Teaching Active Learning

Image of students

Students in 5.95 engage in “lightning round” discussions.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

When you think about education, it’s easy to feel jaded. After all, waves of education reform have swept over American schools and colleges for decades, and tangible improvements—let alone a sea change—don’t exactly spring to mind.

But new hope has arisen in recent years, and with good reason, because for the first time teaching practices are being aligned with how the mind actually works. Studies are showing that there are certain things that teachers can do to make substantial improvements in student learning.

Action and Interaction

One of the key discoveries is that students learn best when they are actively engaged in their own learning, rather than sitting back passively and just listening (or not) to an instructor. And they learn even better when this active engagement is accompanied by interactive exchanges with other students.

How to put this wisdom into practice is at the center of 5.95 Teaching College-Level Science and Engineering, just published on OCW. As taught in Fall 2015, the course surveys all aspects of teaching a STEM course, including what is known about student learning and cognition, how to design a course and develop learning outcomes, how to design effective assignments and assessments, and even how to grade.

The instructor is Dr. Janet Rankin, the acting Director of MIT’s Teaching and Learning Lab, which has been helping to boost effective educational practices on campus for many years.

Well-Informed Practice  

The centerpiece of the 5.95 course site is a collection of videos that show why Dr. Rankin is such an avid advocate of active learning and how she puts active learning to effective use in her own classes. In other words, she doesn’t just preach. She practices.

Three class videos show how Dr. Rankin combines short lectures with a variety of active learning techniques to bolster student learning and knowledge retention.

In a number of video Instructor Insights, Dr. Rankin explains the virtues of active learning in its various manifestations, and footage from her class shows how the different techniques played out. With experience teaching in a variety of settings, from discussion-based seminars to large lectures, Rankin knows how to adapt the techniques to different situations in order to get the best results and avoid missteps.

 

Many Methods to Success

The techniques often have intriguing names: mud cards, think-pair-share, debate, beach ball, personal response systems, lightning round, jigsaw. And they often produce scenes that would surprise STEM educators accustomed to giving non-interactive lectures. How can serious learning take place with students tossing a beach ball around the classroom?  If each student who catches the ball has to say what they think about a given question, discussion is rapid-fire, participation is high, and the often inhibiting dynamic in which the all-knowing instructor puts students on the spot with pointed questions never comes into play.

In the lightning round, students line up face to face so that each person briefly shares with their counterpart their views on a given question. Then students shift places in the line, and begin again. In this way, students can quickly get a sense of how others in the class think about a topic. They get comfortable talking to one another.  They have fun! And their understanding is broadened and made more sophisticated. Knowledge gets reinforced.

Coming up with productive questions can make a big difference in these activities, and Dr. Rankin offers advice on this as well.

**********************

OCW has another version of 5.95, taught in Spring 2009 by Sanjoy Mahajan, also an advocate of active learning. Now a Professor at Olin College, Mahajan was at the time Associate Director of the Teaching and Learning Lab. The course site has full videos of the class sessions and is also worth a visit.

You can change the world!

Submit your idea to MIT Solve

Maybe it’s an idea that’s been rattling around your head or maybe you’re about to have an epiphany that can dramatically improve the lives of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people.

Now is your chance to make your idea become a reality.

Solve, an initiative of MIT, has launched three new challenges on its open innovation platform and is seeking submissions which could be pitched at the United Nations on March 7th.

Aimed at developing and implementing solutions to major global issues, the current Solve challenges seek innovative solutions that address: 

  • Refugee Education: How can we improve learning outcomes for refugee and displaced young people under 24? Click here to view the challenge.
  • Carbon Contributions: How can individuals and corporations manage and reduce their carbon contributions? Click here to view the challenge.
  • Chronic Diseases: How can we help people prevent, detect and manage chronic diseases, especially in resources-limited settings? Click here to view the challenge.

Challenges are active and open for applications until January 20, 2017. Anyone with innovative ideas and a passion for finding affordable, far-reaching, and implementable solutions is encouraged to apply.

You can find out more information about MIT Solve at http://solve.mit.edu/

Understanding What’s Happened and Is Happening in The Middle East

In 2012, hundreds of thousands gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo to protest the verdicts in the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek. (Image courtesy of Lorenz Khazaleh on Flickr. Available CC BY-NC-SA.)

In 2012, hundreds of thousands gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo to protest the verdicts in the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek. (Image courtesy of Lorenz Khazaleh on Flickr. Available CC BY-NC-SA.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

The region known as the Middle East has been in upheaval for decades now, and trying to gain understanding and perspective on its complexities can be both difficult and daunting. The region includes many countries, with long histories, rich cultures, and varied interests.  There are many different points of view on what’s been happening there and why. How do you make sense of it all?

A great way to start is by reading. But what should you read? There are countless books and articles on the Middle East, not all of them accurate, and many of them tendentious. How can you know what you’re getting into?

There is no better place to start than a reading list curated by an MIT instructor who has spent years studying and assessing key publications. Each one of the many OCW courses on the Middle East has a reading list, sorted into different topics.

Here is a sampler of courses with reading lists that might pique your interest:

 

“. . . a historical introduction to the Middle East in the late Ottoman period and the eve of imperialism at the beginning of the Twentieth century after World War I . . . the establishment of nation-states in the Middle East . . . the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict  . . .  the rise of political Islam and the Iranian Revolution . . . the debates regarding Islam and democracy, and Islam post 9/11 . . . the 2011 revolts in the Arab world . . . today’s realities in the Middle East.”

 

“The first half discusses the Ottoman Empire by exploring how this multiethnic, polyglot empire survived for several relatively peaceful centuries and what happened when its formula for existence was challenged by politics based on mono-ethnic states. The second half of the course focuses on post-Ottoman nation-states, such as Turkey and Egypt, and Western-mandated Arab states, such as Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq. Finally, the course concludes with a case analysis of Israel.”

 

“ . . . The sixth section applies the course theories and methods to the Arab Spring and current conflict in Mali.”

 

“ . . . the dilemmas, misperceptions, crimes and blunders that caused wars of the past; the origins of these and other war-causes; the possible causes of wars of the future; and possible means to prevent such wars, including short-term policy steps and more utopian schemes.” Sessions 22 – 23 discuss the Israel-Arab conflict and the 2003 US-Iraq war.

 

“. . . ideational, institutional and material foundations of the state of Israel; Israeli national identity, Israeli society, economy, and foreign and security policies.”

 

“How do Islam and media technologies relate? What kinds of practices of inscription and transmission characterize Islam in all its varieties across time and place? How might Islamic thought and practice be understood in light of databases, networks, and audiovisual sensation?“

 

“[This course’s] aim is to examine why non-state actors (such as warlords, terrorists, militias, etc.) resort to violence, what means and tactics they use, and what can be done to counter that violence.”

Traveling 65mph on the world’s tallest water slide

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View from the top of Verrückt, the world’s tallest waterslide. (Image courtesy of Schlitterbahn Waterparks & Resorts. Used with permission.)

By Cheryl Siegel

You’ve climbed 246 stairs, and now you’re strapped to a raft 168 feet above the ground. You are about to begin your ride on the tallest, steepest, and fastest waterslide in the world. Verrückt—which means “insane” in German–opened to the public July 2014 at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City. The initial descent is essentially a free-fall—almost a straight drop from 15 stories, in which the raft then accelerates to 65 mph.

The course takes advantage of the relationship between gravity and friction to ensure the rafts remain on the slide. By conducting extensive tests with both sandbags and humans, the ride’s engineers were able to ensure that Verrückt would be safe for all, though they do impose a weight limit of 550 pounds per raft.

To learn more about gravity, friction, velocity and acceleration, please visit OCW’s introductory physics course, 8.01L Physics I: Classical Mechanics. The unit called “Kinematics: Describing 1D Motion, Relative Velocity,” explains the concepts of position, velocity, and acceleration.