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.]

Innovating Dirt Cheap: What Sadoway Can Teach Us About The Future Of Clean Energy (Huffington Post)

Screenshot of video with tuxedo-clad professor at the front of lecture hall, holding up a glass of champagne.

Professor Donald Sadoway toasts the students at end of his class 3.091 Introduction to Solid State Chemistry.

Professor Donald Sadoway is the charismatic and insightful instructor of one of OCW’s most popular courses, 3.091SC Introduction to Solid State Chemistry. With legions of fans around the world, his video lectures reveal frequent pearls of general wisdom among the clear explanations of chemistry fundamentals and applications.

Sadoway’s research on grid-scale energy storage also has legions of fans. Louika Papadopoulos recently wrote on five favorite Sadoway quotes springing from his clean energy work.

When it comes to alternate power sources and batteries, Donald R. Sadoway, John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is the man to turn to. Voted one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2012, Sadoway is not only known for his packed classes, despite being one of the largest in the history of the institute, but for the pieces of wisdom he imparts when simply speaking about batteries. Here are a few of my favorite Sadoway quotes and what I believe they can teach us about the future of clean energy.

My personal favorites are these two:

2. “The liquid metal battery story is more than an account of inventing technology. It’s a blueprint for inventing inventors.”
This is an often overlooked and yet ubiquitous truth. Whenever dealing with innovation it is important to remember it’s not just about the technology, it is about nurturing a culture of innovation. It’s about investing in people who can maximize any technology’s potential, adapt it efficiently to current circumstances and ensure its appropriate future development. It’s about creating inventors of technology who can use what they have learned to tackle new problems and develop new technologies. The bottom line is: more energy inventors moulded, more energy inventions made…

4. “If you want to make something dirt cheap, make it out of dirt. Preferably dirt that’s locally sourced.”
If we want innovation in energy to truly benefit humanity we have to make sure it is available to all. What better way to do that than to make it cheap and locally sourced? This quote is also the inspiration for the title of this piece as it also represents a key element of Sadoway’s work. Instead of trying to invent a product and then struggle to make it economically viable, Sadoway opted instead to develop a battery that would meet the pricing point of the electricity market upon creation. This is the reason why he looked only at earth-abundant materials that would work well with cheap manufacturing techniques. Dirt-cheap innovation indeed!

Read the complete story.

Seeking simple solutions with huge impacts (MIT News)

Photo of Cauam Cardoso standing with a group of young Indian women.

MIT PhD student Cauam Cardoso led focus group discussions in low-income communities in Delhi and other cities in India. Women described how they use technology, who makes decisions on what to purchase for their work or home, and how they regard technology’s impact on their lives and self-reliance. At a session this winter in Delhi, pictured here, Cardoso met with young women who were taking a class to improve their skills at sewing. (Photo: Tom Gearty)

Cauam Cardoso was only 17 when he decided to break from family tradition and pursue engineering instead of the arts, a move that set him on a path to working with communities in need.

Over the past decade, Cardoso, a PhD student in international economic development at MIT, has helped communities on five continents overcome infrastructure issues such as a lack of sanitation, while always following the advice his dad gave him growing up: “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason, so listen more than you talk.”

Since coming to MIT, Cardoso has mainly been involved in a project called Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation, or CITE. OCW recently published a CITE Reports supplemental resource, featuring studies of solar lanterns in Uganda and water filters in India.

“The idea is one simple technology can have this huge impact on someone’s well-being,” explains Cardoso. “But today there are a lot of technologies out there such as solar lanterns or water filters, and there’s no way to systematically evaluate what works and what doesn’t work on the ground.”

With CITE, Cardoso and the project’s other team members are working to develop an objective methodology to assess the usefulness of various technologies. To assess a product, CITE focuses on three main categories: suitability (does the technology work properly?), scalability (can the technology actually reach the consumers?), and sustainability (will the technology create a long-lasting impact, and will the business model supporting it survive long-term?). For the past five years, Cardoso and the rest of the CITE team have been organizing pilot studies all over the world, from solar lanterns in Uganda to water filters in India, and now they are in the process of compiling their results and developing the best methodology.

Cardoso has also shared his global experience and perspective with MIT undergraduates, through his course 11.005 Introduction to International Development (also recently published in OCW). As MIT News reports:

Cardoso redesigned the course syllabus to reflect his background, and draws heavily on his own experiences in the field to engage his students. “Leading my own course and directing the students was probably one of the most rewarding experiences I had at MIT,” says Cardoso, who received his department’s 2016 Outstanding PhD Teaching Assistant award. “I love teaching, and I take it very seriously. You learn so much from the students — it’s really a gift.”

Read the complete MIT News profile of Cauam Cardoso.

New season of “Science Out Loud” sparks curiosity

Photo of woman in a lab coat being video'd, surrounded by lighting and camera equipment, with two production people assisting.

Left to right: Elizabeth Choe ’13, executive producer; George Zaidan ’08, director; and Whitney Hess PhD ’16 film “Choose-Your-Own-Chemistry-Adventure” for “Science Out Loud” from MIT+K12 Videos.

By MIT Office of Digital Learning

No equations allowed. This basic rule drives the thinking behind “Science Out Loud,” an original web series hosted and co-written by MIT students. The fun, engaging videos are geared towards middle and high school students and designed to bring scientific concepts to life through research, experiments, and demos performed by real scientists and engineers. No chalkboards. No textbooks. Lots of learning.

The new season of Science Out Loud – now live on YouTube – pushes the boundaries of video production to turn academic education into curiosity-sparking interactive experiences.

There’s a choose-your-own chemistry adventure where viewers can click through the video to change the ingredients of a chemical reaction (yeast, soap, and hydrogen peroxide) and create the best foam explosion.

Another video explores how virtual reality works, which viewers can watch in 360 degrees on YouTube and Google Cardboard. Yet another showcases MIT’s Scratch programming to make a video game, with the option to watch in English or Italian.

Science Out Loud is part of MIT+K12 Videos, an educational outreach program from the Office of Digital Learning that seeks to encourage a lifelong love of learning through original digital media and live programming. The program aims to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) literacy while opening the world of MIT to as many people as possible.

“The foundation of MIT+K12 is not video, camera work, or editing,” explains program director Elizabeth Choe. “It’s about what the videos enable. We want to leverage the amazing community of students and people at MIT to challenge people’s notions of what scientists and science look like while sparking curiosity and agency among young people.”

Originally launched by the School of Engineering in 2011, MIT+K12 Videos has produced more than 150 videos that have garnered close to 10 million views on YouTube. The program fits within MIT’s larger pK-12 vision to bring the university’s immersive, hands-on approach beyond the campus and deliver STEM education to pre-kindergarten through grade-12 learners and educators.

For MIT students participating, the program is about developing the skills not just to make a video but to clearly communicate their research and share their passion with a non-STEM audience. All to complement what they’re learning in the classroom.

“K12 Videos gave me such a variety of practical experience,” says K12 Videos Educational Media Fellow and recent graduate Ceri Riley ’16. “Every project was different so I got to try out new skills — from producing and editing to animating and filming. It really acted as a springboard for me.” Post-graduation, Riley is already working for SciShow, an extremely popular science channel on YouTube.

“I’m proud of putting myself out there. It challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone, to try new things, and to appreciate the process as much as (or more than) the final product,” says Whitney Hess PhD ’16 and “star” of the choose-your-own chemistry adventure video.

MIT students can get involved with MIT+K12 Videos in a variety of ways, from hands-on hosting and writing to behind-the-scenes education outreach or content consultants to becoming an Educational Media Fellow. For Science Out Loud, students can either directly pitch a video idea or enroll in 20.219 (Becoming the Next Bill Nye) to earn course credit. Volunteers from freshmen to graduate students are always welcome. MIT faculty can also play a role — hosting the #askMIT Q&A series, supporting student-run videos, or collaborating on new projects.

Curiosity sparked? Watch the new season of Science Out Loud or email mitk12videos@mit.edu to get involved. You can also explore materials from previous seasons on PBS Learning Media (including teacher supplementary resources), Khan Academy, iTunes U, and Curiosity.com. All videos are freely available and downloadable under a Creative Commons license.

Courses from MIT’s 2016 Teaching with Digital Technology Awards Recipients

By Sarah Hansen, OCW Educator Project Manager

2016 marked the inaugural year of MIT’s Teaching with Digital Technology Awards. These awards, co-sponsored by the Office of Digital Learning, the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education, and the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education, are student-nominated awards for faculty and instructors who have effectively used digital technology to improve teaching and learning at MIT. The awards recognize the faculty for their teaching innovations and give the MIT community the opportunity to learn from their practices.

This year’s (first ever!) awardees are Lorna Gibson (materials science and engineering), Max Goldman & Robert Miller (electrical engineering and computer science), Chris Terman (electrical engineering and computer science), Peter Dourmashkin (physics), and Kurt Fendt (comparative media studies/writing).

OCW is honored to share courses and instructional insights from several of this year’s recipients.

Lorna Gibson

Rob Miller

Chris Terman

Peter Dourmashkin

Kurt Fendt

Math and Hollywood mix it up at MIT

Photo of Matt Damon writing mathematical symbols on a chalkboard.

Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. (© Miramax).

At this Friday’s MIT commencement, the featured speaker is Matt Damon: actor, filmmaker, co-founder of Water.org, and Cambridge MA native. In Good Will Hunting, Mr. Damon played an unrecognized math-genius janitor at MIT; and as a stranded astronaut in The Martian, his ability to assess, plan, improvise and survive is an extreme illustration of the MIT motto “Mens et Manus” (Mind and Hand).

Damon’s fusion of Hollywood fame, humanitarian activism, and on-screen math/science wizardry should make for a memorable speech. In anticipation, let’s play with another mashup of mathematics and Hollywood: the Erdős–Bacon number. Per Wikipedia,

A person’s Erdős–Bacon number is the sum of one’s Erdős number—which measures the “collaborative distance” in authoring mathematical papers between that person and Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős—and one’s Bacon number—which represents the number of links, through roles in films, by which the individual is separated from American actor Kevin Bacon. The lower the number, the closer a person is to Erdős and Bacon, which reflects a small world phenomenon in academia and entertainment.

According to the Oakland University Erdős Number Project, MIT math professor Daniel Kleitman is an Erdős–Bacon star. Kleitman coauthored at least six papers with Erdős, giving him an Erdős number of 1. And since Minnie Driver, who appeared in Good Will Hunting, also appeared in Sleepers with Kevin Bacon, Kleitman has a Bacon number of 2. With the resulting Erdős–Bacon number of 3, he’s tied for the lead with University of Illinois professor Bruce Reznick.

How is Matt Damon’s Erdős–Bacon score? Well, Kleitman was an advisor and an extra in Good Will Hunting, so Damon’s Erdős number is 2. Meanwhile, Damon was in School Ties with Will Lyman, who appeared with Kevin Bacon in Mystic River, for a Bacon number of 2.  So Matt Damon’s Erdős–Bacon number is a quite respectable 4.

Had enough?  Check out these marquee OCW resources by Professor Kleitman.

[Concept and research for this post by Elizabeth DeRienzo, OCW Publication Manager]

OCW courses from MIT’s newest AAAS members

MIT News reports that six MIT faculty members and the chair of the MIT Corporation are among 213 leaders from academia, business, public affairs, the humanities, and the arts elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS).  AAAS is “one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies [and] a leading center for independent policy research. Members contribute to academy publications, as well as studies of science and technology policy, energy and global security, social policy and American institutions, the humanities and culture, and education.”

OCW is pleased to highlight course materials from five of these MIT faculty.

Andrea Louise Campbell, the Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science and head of the Department of Political Science.

Victor Chernozhukov, professor of economics.

Pavel Etingof, professor of mathematics.

John Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology.

Vann McGee, professor of philosophy.

Also elected to AAAS are Jacqueline Hewitt, professor of physics and director of the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research; and Robert Brian Millard ’73, chair of the MIT Corporation. Congratulations to all!