Machine learning courses by Regina Barzilay, 2017 MacArthur Fellow

Photo of Regina Barzilay relaxing against a table in classroom, with students working in the background.

Photo: Lillie Paquette/MIT School of Engineering

Congratulations to MIT computer scientist Regina Barzilay, Delta Electronics professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

This morning, the MacArthur Foundation announced that she’s a 2017 Fellow, awarded for her leading-edge work “[d]eveloping machine learning methods that enable computers to process and analyze vast amounts of human language data.”

In one of her most recent projects, Professor Barzilay aims to bring machine learning assistance to the complex and constantly-evolving field of oncology.

You can sample Professor Barzilay’s teaching in these two OCW courses:

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.

[Update, Sept. 26 2017: Kerry just gave an in-depth 1 hour talk at MIT, entitled “What Do Hurricanes Harvey and Irma Portend?” Watch the video, or read highlights in the news coverage.]

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 climate change, its impacts and how we should respond? Check out the growing online community at MIT ClimateX.

Courses from MIT’s 2017 MacVicar Fellows

Photos of three MIT professors

MIT professors Maria Yang (left), Caspar Hare (center), and Scott Hughes have been named 2017 MacVicar Fellows. (Photos by Bryce Vickmark (Yang), Patrick Gilooly (Hare), and Justin Knight.)

By Sarah Hansen, OCW Educator Project Manager

For the past 25 years, the MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program has honored several MIT professors each year who have made outstanding contributions to undergraduate teaching, educational innovation, and mentoring.

This year’s awardees are Professors Caspar Hare (philosophy), Scott A. Hughes (physics), and Maria Yang (mechanical engineering).

OCW is honored to share courses from two of this year’s Fellows.

Caspar Hare

24.06J/STS.006J Bioethics

Scott A. Hughes

8.962 General Relativity

Through the OCW Educator initiative, we have also collected teaching insights from several current and past MacVicar Fellows.

Arthur Bahr

21L.460 Medieval Literature: Legends of Arthur

21L.705 Major Authors: Old English and Beowulf

Wit Busza

Vibrations and Waves Problem Solving

Dennis M. Freeman

6.01SC Introduction to Electrical Engineering and Computer Science I

Lorna Gibson

3.054 Cellular Solids: Structure, Properties and Applications

Steven R. Hall

16.06 Principles of Automatic Control

Anne E. C. McCants

21H.134J Medieval Economic History in Comparative Perspective

21H.343J Making Books: The Renaissance and Today

21H.991 Theories and Methods in the Study of History

Haynes R. Miller

18.821 Project Laboratory in Mathematics

18.915 Graduate Topology Seminar: Kan Seminar

Hazel Sive

7.013 Introductory Biology (Spring 2013 version)

Insights on teaching Humanities, Arts, and Social Science at MIT

PHoto of several people around a wooden workbench.

History professor Jeff Ravel and students build a working printing press based on early modern European designs, in 21H.343J Making Books: The Renaissance and Today. (Photo by Jonathan Sachs / Jonathan Sachs Graphics, Inc.)

One of our favorite things at MIT OpenCourseWare is to shine a spotlight on fascinating subjects and great teachers that might otherwise escape notice. We’ve written before on the strength of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (SHASS), both in their own right and in community with MIT’s more widely recognized STEM and business programs. OCW is pleased to freely share material from nearly 800 courses from across all SHASS disciplines.

Where to begin among all this free learning material? If you’re an educator (or just curious about teaching and learning process), you’re in luck!  OCW Educator project manager Sarah Hansen recently worked with SHASS colleagues to compile a list of OCW highlights, which we republish here. Each of these links goes to the course’s “This Course at MIT” section, where the instructor shares detailed insights about their teaching approach.


21A.445 Slavery and Human Trafficking in the 21st Century (Spring 2015), Mitali Thakor
Mitali Thakor describes how she uses non-traditional examples to broaden students’ understanding of human trafficking, how she thinks about students’ emotional responses to triggering topics, how she navigates teaching as a new instructor, and her thoughts on using writing assignments to encourage students to complete reading assignments.

Comparative Media Studies/Writing

21W.758 Genre Fiction Workshop (Spring 2013), Shariann Lewitt
Shariann Lewitt shares unique aspects of teaching fiction writing at MIT and discusses how she teaches students to challenge texts.

21W.747 Rhetoric (Spring 2015), Steven Strang
Steven Strang describes how he facilitates writing workshops and how he changes the course from year to year.

CMS.590J Computer Games and Simulations for Education and Exploration (Spring 2015), Eric Klopfer
Eric Klopfer describes the form and function of teamwork in this course. He also shares tips for facilitating project-based learning.

CMS.611J Creating Video Games (Fall 2014), Philip Tan, Sara Verrilli, Richard Eberhardt, and Andrew Haydn Grant
The instructors share their pedagogical approaches in 8 videos. Topics include: teaching students how to solve creative problems as teams; sequencing learning experiences; encouraging iteration, fostering diversity of voice in the course; assessing students’ projects; refining the course; advice for other educators; and their reflections on the collaboration between MIT and the Red Cross/Red Crescent Society during the course.  

CMS.608/CMS.864 Game Design (Spring 2014), Philip Tan and Richard Eberhardt
Philip Tan and Richard Eberhardt discuss how they prepare for the semester and class sessions, how they help students build game-playing experience, their assessment design, and factors, such as student background and feedback from students, that impact how they teach the course.

Global Studies and Languages

21G.101 Chinese I (Regular) (Fall 2014), Haohsiang Liao
In video interviews, recorded in both English and Chinese, Haohsiang Liao shares how the curriculum in this course helps students develop cultural competence. He also describes the daily grading system in the course, the importance of listening to audio files, reasons to prioritize speaking and listening before reading and writing, how he supports struggling students, how he creates an immersive classroom environment, and how he motivates students to engage in language study. 

21G.107 Chinese I (Streamlined) (Fall 2014), Min-Min Liang
In video interviews, recorded in both English and Chinese, Min-Min Liang shares her philosophical approach to language teaching, her insights about teaching heritage learners, her use of technology in this streamlined language course, her approach to assessment, and her hopes for incorporating more authentic texts into the curriculum in future iterations of the course.

21G.735 Advanced Topics in Hispanic Literature and Film: The Films of Luis Bunuel (1999-2013), Elizabeth Garrels
This course was taught at MIT seven times between 1999 and 2013. Elizabeth Garrels shares a history of the course, her film selections, and how she facilitated discussions in Spanish with students at different language proficiency levels.

RES.21G-001 The User-Friendly Classroom, A.C. Kemp
A.C. Kemp discusses the importance of focusing on International Teaching Assistants (ITAs), shares how user experience can be applied to ITA training, and ways to use the materials in this video training series.


21H.134J Medieval Economic History in Comparative Perspective (Spring 2012), Anne McCants
Anne McCants shares insights about using a survey at the beginning of a course to understand students’ needs and backgrounds, to help students see that different students have different needs, and to encourage students to get into the habit of writing. She also discusses how she frames the humanities as problem solving endeavors and how she infuses the course with current events. Other topics include: teaching communication, the intersection of research and teaching, and adapting the course from year to year.

21H.343J Making Books: The Renaissance and Today (Spring 2016), Anne McCants, Jeffrey Ravel and Ken Stone
The instructors of this course, in which students built a printing press, discuss using archival experiences to ground readings and allay educators’ skepticism about facilitating a hands-on course in the humanities.

21H.991 Theories and Methods in the Study of History (Fall 2014), Anne McCants
Anne McCants shares how she engages students in archive-based research, how she infuses the course with multiple voices, and how she helps students develop professional competencies.


21L.011 The Film Experience (Fall 2013), David Thorburn
David Thorburn shares his pedagogical approach to teaching film in seven videos. Topics include his approach to lecturing, how he views the course as literary in nature, how the course has changed over the 30 years that he has taught it, the role of video lectures, and the themes structuring course.

21L.315 Prizewinners: Nobelistas (Spring 2015), Wyn Kelley
Wyn Kelley shares how she selects Nobelistas to spotlight in the course, how she facilitates discussions, and her approach to teaching novices.

21L.460 Medieval Literature: Legends of Arthur (Fall 2013), Arthur Bahr
Arthur Bahr describes how he sets the stage for the study of Arthurian literature with a key question, how he encourages participation during classroom discussions, and his ideas for alternative assessment strategies in the course.

21L.501 The American Novel: Stranger and Stranger (Spring 2013), Wyn Kelley
Wyn Kelley describes her motivation for developing the course and how she organizes it. She also describes her text selection, the digital tools she uses in the course, workshops, and unique aspects of teaching literature at MIT.

21L.705 Major Authors: Old English (Spring 2014), Arthur Bahr
Arthur Bahr describes the curricular scope and sequence of the course, his textbook choice, how he assesses student learning, and how he develops rapport with students.

Linguistics and Philosophy

24.191 Ethics in Your Life: Being, Thinking, Doing (or Not?) (Spring 2015), Sally Haslanger, Patricia-Maria Weinmann, Brendan de Kennessy
Patricia-Maria Weinmann and Brendan de Kenessey share the history and design of this course, how they cultivated a classroom culture conducive to honest discussions, and how they experimented with a new discussion format.

Music and Theater Arts

21M.065 Introduction to Musical Composition (Spring 2014), Keeril Makan 
Keeril Makan describes his pedagogical goals in the course, which include helping students develop different ways of listening to music and to their environments and providing students with a hands-on introduction to music. He also shares pedagogical strategies, such as emphasizing student performance, using paper and pencil before employing software to complete projects, and engaging students in composer forums and concerts.

21M.380 Music and Technology: Sound Design (Spring 2016), Florian Hollerweger 
Florian Hollerweger discusses course design, teaching with technology (and without), learning actively in groups, using surveys to get to know students, assessing student learning in creative contexts, and engaging students deeply in the design process.

Political Science

17.445/17.446 International Relations Theory in the Cyber Age (Fall 2015), Nazli Choucri
Nazli Choucri comments on the importance of active participation during seminars and shares how she uses questions to promote engagement.

Science, Technology, and Society

STS.080/11.151 Youth Political Participation (Spring 2016), Jennifer Light
tudents take an active role in this course. They help the instructor, Jennifer Light, write the exam questions, lead presentations, and examine primary sources at the MIT Museum. In addition to instructor insights, visitors to the OCW course will find student perspectives about the pedagogical strategies shaping the learning experiences in this class.

Women and Gender Studies

WGS.151 Gender, Health, and Society (Spring 2016), Brittany Charlton
Brittany Charlton shares teaching techniques she uses to engage students, her insights on teaching content rooted in real-world contexts, and her thoughts on teaching students with a broad range of background experiences. She also discusses students’ final projects.

William Bowen, Mellon Foundation president who led initial OCW funding, dies at 83

Photo of man standing at a Princeton University lectern, giving a speech.

Photo of William Bowen by Brian Wilson, Office of Communications, Princeton University.

MIT OpenCourseWare joins with our colleagues across higher education to mourn the passing of William Bowen. As president of the Mellon Foundation, he played a central role in the creation of OpenCourseWare.

More on the OCW story below. But first, those who didn’t know Bowen can get a glimpse of his life and reach in Brian Rosenberg’s eloquent rememberance in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

To Bill Bowen, the important things always mattered, regardless of his age or his title. He cared in 2016 as passionately about the entrenched inequities in higher education as he did when he assumed the presidency of Princeton, at age 38. He cared as much about issues of academic freedom and free speech as he did in 1973, when he defended the right of William Shockley, a physics professor who believed blacks were genetically inferior, to say things that Bowen himself found deeply offensive. He argued as forcefully for the importance of the arts and humanities in our culture as he did when he assumed the presidency of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, in 1988.

He never stopped caring, and he never stopped being the most thoughtful and articulate voice on these and a host of other issues central to our educational system and our civic life…

Outside the circles of academe, his name is not nearly as well known as those of innumerable politicians and business people. But whether they know his name or not, many people who have attended a college whose doors would have been closed to them previously, or who received financial aid that created a world of new possibilities, are better off because Bill Bowen cared about their lives.

How did Bill Bowen come into the OCW fold? In 2000, MIT President Charles Vest had just received the revolutionary recommendation that would lead to OpenCourseWare. An Institute committee of faculty, staff and alumni felt that MIT should respond to the rapid growth of the Internet by giving all of its basic teaching materials away on the web for free.

President Vest quickly saw the wisdom and the enormous potential of the proposal, and set out to make it real. One of the first big questions: how to fund it? His first stop was none other than Bill Bowen. Vest describes their initial meeting:

I had breakfast in New York with Bill Bowen, the distinguished former president of Princeton University and current president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Bill is that rare combination, a deep thinker and an effective leader.

Over eggs, I said, “Bill, I want to tell you how MIT is thinking about using the Internet for education. Then I’ll have three questions. Do you think it’s a good idea? If you think it is a good idea, do you think foundations might fund it? And, if so, might The Mellon Foundation be interested?”

Normally when one approaches a foundation for support, the answer, if not “No,” is a request to send a letter. Then one might be asked to do a draft proposal with an approximate budget. Finally, one might be asked for a full-blown proposal, to which the ultimate response seems most likely to be rejection. In this case, Bill looked at me and said, “Don’t take this idea anywhere else. Let’s go to work to figure out how to fund it.”

Vest tells an expanded version of this story, with more recollections of Bill Bowen, in the following video from a 2011 panel discussion (clip starts at 13:20).

Teaching Calculus, the Beautiful Language of Change


Move…accelerate…reach the peak…bottom out…transform…

So many ways to look at change, to talk about change. Change is inescapable. And change can be scary, especially when you don’t understand what’s happening. Yet change can also be an opportunity for growth, for progress, for new insights.

The same could be said of the millions of students who take calculus classes every year. As teachers know, it’s a rich opportunity for student growth and insight, and also scary as they’re getting started. More than a math subject, calculus is fundamentally the language of change. It’s a beautiful and powerful expression of this universal phenomenon, and a great way to tackle a wide range of real-world problems.

MIT’s John Bush, professor of applied mathematics (and a fabulous photographer of fluid phenomena), offers some great calculus teaching tips in the above video. We hope you can motivate students by demonstrating how to revel in the beauty of the language, and all the things it can do, before diving into the nitty-gritty grammar of deltas and epsilons. Professor Bush suggests:

  • Sharks hunt with calculus! They intuitively “follow the gradient” of scent, or the direction that gives the highest rate of increase, to take them toward their prey.
  • Introductory physics students will have learned Snell’s law as an equation about the angles of light paths through different media. But calculus can show that it’s fundamentally an optimization problem of light following the fastest route; just like how a smartphone GPS map calculates your fastest route home through tangled streets and busy traffic. (See this explanation of route-finding by mathematician and writer Steven Strogatz.)
  • Archimedes’ Principle is a great way to experience the concept and importance of volume, and also the way integrals work. (Again, see Steven Strogatz’s engaging explanation.)

As Professor Bush says, calculus “is a language that’s valuable in virtually all disciplines, from physics to biology, from finance to engineering.”  Motivate deeper student engagement by demonstrating how beautiful it can be to describe their ever-changing world with the poetics of mathematics.

Calculus on OCW

OCW has a wealth of inspiring calculus teaching materials, all free and licensed for you to re-use and remix in your classroom. You’ll find complete courses, online textbooks, videos, many sample problems with solutions, and more. Here are some highlights.

Complete Courses

These two courses, from the OCW Scholar series, provide the complete teaching materials comprising MIT’s undergraduate calculus requirement. They’re a great place to begin, and house some of OCW’s most popular calculus material.

These OCW sites include complete video lectures, selected problem solving videos by course teaching assistants, and problems and exams with solutions. You can start at the beginning and work through it all in sequence, or pick and choose your own topics of interest from the syllabus.

Online Textbooks

These open-licensed textbooks by respected authors are free to download and use in your classroom, and for your own learning and inspiration.

  • Calculus for Beginners and Artists, by Daniel Kleitman
    An overview of calculus in clear, easy to understand language designed for the non-mathematician.
  • Calculus, by Gilbert Strang
    In-depth treatment of single variable and multivariable calculus, with plenty of applications. Also has an online Instructor’s Manual and a student Study Guide.
  • Calculus with Applications, by Daniel Kleitman
    Detailed lecture notes (in the form of a textbook) that cover differential calculus in one and several dimensions.
  • Street-Fighting Mathematics: The Art of Educated Guessing and Opportunistic Problem Solving, by Sanjoy Mahajan
    From its MIT Press catalog description: “…an antidote to the rigor mortis brought on by too much mathematical rigor, teaching us how to guess answers without needing a proof or an exact calculation.”


Use these videos to inspire your own approach to teaching. Students can watch them for in-depth and engaging explanations of key concepts, and to supplement their classroom instruction time.

  • Highlights of Calculus video series, by Gilbert Strang
    Five videos provide an overview of the key topics and ideas of calculus and how they apply to real-life situations and problems. There are summary slides and practice problems complete with an audio narration by Professor Strang. The resource also includes a series of 12 videos, with slides and practice problems, that dig more deeply into derivatives.
  • Single Variable Calculus lecture videos with PDF notes, by David Jerison
    This sequence of videos and accompanying notes (beginning with the first class session) covers differentiation, applications of differentiation, the definite integral and its applications, techniques of integration, and exploring the infinite.
  • Calculus Revisited: Single Variable Calculus, by Herb Gross
    A revered series of videos and related resources covering the materials normally found in a freshman-level introductory calculus course. The series was first released in 1970, and has achieved something of a cult following in its second life on OCW and YouTube.
  • Get problem solving tips in the recitation videos by course teaching assistants in 18.01SC Single Variable Calculus and 18.02SC Multivariable Calculus. Start with these videos at the end of the first 18.01SC session “Introduction to Derivatives“:
    • Definition of Derivative, by Joel Lewis
    • Graphing a Derivative Function, by Christine Breiner

Problem Solving and Assessment

Use questions and accompanying solutions from OCW’s worked examples, problem sets and exams directly with your students, or as a basis for your own instruction. Begin your exploration with these examples:

AP Calculus Exam Study

With OCW Highlights for High School, you can search for OCW calculus materials by topic and subtopic, to help students prepare for their AP Calculus exams.

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These material highlights are just a tiny fraction of all of the calculus content on OCW. In the words of Professor John Bush, with calculus “the possibilities are endless!”

A Student-Centered Ethic

Person writing on a chalkboard at the front of a classroom,

A teaching assistant in one of the ‘mega-recitation videos’ for 6.034 Artificial Intelligence.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Like it or not, the first two years of an undergraduate’s education at a research university often consists of large lectures taught by professors, supplemented by discussion groups or problem-solving sessions (sometimes called “recitations”) run by teaching assistants (TAs).  Consequently, for many undergraduates, a TA is the first college instructor they get to know on a personal level.

So teaching assistants can have a huge impact on the experience of undergraduates, especially in the early going, where a student’s attitude about learning can take off—or stall out. Luckily, most TAs take their jobs seriously and put a lot of effort into helping their students.

Fostering Real Intelligence and Well-Being

OCW has for the first time provided a glimpse into the thinking that TAs put into their teaching by publishing the TAs’ Instructor Insights for 6.034 Artificial Intelligence. The TAs, Jessica Noss and Dylan Holmes, explain how they adhere to a student-centered ethic initiatied by Professor Patrick Winston, where the primary objects is “to help students learn the material and to become inspired.” This ethic informs all the course policies and TA activities, from assignment due dates to grading.

For instance, since the point of assessment is to demonstrate mastery (and not to make fine distinctions in accrued points), the final exam is optional, and four of its five parts reflect knowledge already assessed in quizzes given earlier in the semester. So if a student does poorly on a quiz, there’s a chance for redemption in the final. This relieves the pressure to do well on a single test.

Assignments are due by 10PM rather than the traditional zero hour of midnight to encourage students to get a decent night’s sleep.

Taking It Online

The TAs engage directly with students both in class and out. On an online forum, the TAs answer student questions, and these exchanges are visible for the entire class to see. Over time, the forum functions as an archive of Frequently Asked Questions and helps inform how recitations are taught.  But running an online forum can be tricky, and the TAs share how they have responded to the challenges to make the exchanges more productive.

Facing the Challenges

It’s not easy being a TA. You’re just starting out, just beginning to learn how to engage students and foster learning. You have to learn how to plan and manage a successful recitation, for example. Students can ask all kinds of questions that you might not know the answer to. And you have to do this while dealing with the pressures of being a student yourself.

For Noss and Holmes, the point is to show the students that the TAs care about them and about how well they do—that is, how well they learn. That’s an ethic that’s easy to get behind.

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[This is the 2nd of two recent posts on 6.034 Artifical Intelligence. The first post highlights some instructor insights from Professor Patrick Henry Winston.]