Why This MIT Professor Wants to Help Everyone Learn Basic Economics

Simple line drawing of two neighboring houses, people out front of each house looking at the other one and saying "Wierd".

Image from a video in Introductory AP® Microeconomics, using the challenges negotiating with a noisy party next door to illustrate the concept of market failure.

Professor Jon Gruber’s 14.01SC Principles of Microeconomics is OCW’s most popular economics course, with legions of appreciative fans. 

Professor Gruber wants the world to understand that economics is not only useful, it’s also “beautiful and surprising and cool.” He’s invested in spreading the economics gospel to a wider audience, such as his 2011 graphic-novel treatment of health care reform [still a timely work, it seems!].

So we wanted to spread the word about Professor Gruber’s new online course with MITx on edX. Introductory AP® Microeconomics opens on August 15, 2017 for self-paced learning. Compared to his OCW course, this gentle introduction is for a more general audience, explaining key points with fun video animations rather than the beauty of calculus. Read on…

Why This MIT Professor Wants to Help Everyone Learn Basic Economics

Jonathan Gruber, Ford Professor of Economics, MIT

I’m excited to announce the launch of a new course on edX that covers Introductory AP Microeconomics. I’ve wanted to do a course like this for years. I have always found economics provides a terrific way to think about the world. Economics principles explain so much of what drives our everyday life: how people decide which goods to buy and how to spend their time; how firms set prices and hire workers, and whether the outcomes of markets are fair and efficient.

These economics principles were inspirational to me when I first learned them as an undergraduate. I have gone on to apply to them to a set of topics I am passionate about, both as a Professor at MIT and as a policy expert for both state and local governments. Whether in the classroom, in Washington D.C., or in state capitals, I have found that basic economic principles never lead me wrong in terms of explaining important aspects of the world.

Yet these basic economics principles are not understood by many. This isn’t surprising. Economics is kind of like a new language. Once you understand it, whole new experiences are open to you – but first you have to learn it, which can be hard.

But what is neat is that learning economics is it’s a whole lot easier than learning a new language. I have realized through years of teaching economics principles that with a relatively short set of lessons we can provide the tools for everyone to see the world the way economists do. And that’s what this course is about.

By combining short videos on economics principles with fun applications of those principles, the course provides both the level of economics knowledge that is sufficient to pass the Advanced Placement® exam and a means of understanding more broadly how economics works.  Now, more than ever, the lessons of the course and the questions that it asks are vital. Is going to college worth it? Why is Tesla building the world’s largest battery production plant? Is rising inequality something we should worry about, and what can we do about it?  These are hard questions – that become much easier once you understand the principles of economics.

Economics is a way of seeing the world that’s useful, but it’s also beautiful and surprising and cool. I truly believe our world would be better if everyone took this course. And I know that you’ll have a great time if you take it.

It’s Only Logical to Take This Math

Image of a 4x4 square puzzle with different numbers in each square, one square empty, and spelling out the course number 6 (blank) 4 2 on the diagonal.,

6.042 serves as an introduction to discrete mathematics, probability, and mathematical thinking for computer scientists. (Image by OpenCourseWare, based on an image by Nick Matsakis.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

If you’re interested in computer programming, you might be familiar with OCW’s extensive resources in the discipline, ranging from our introductory classes to the graduate courses offered by the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Sooner or later, students must face the reality that to do serious programming, design algorithms, or become a software engineer, they need to know some math.

What kind of math?

The kind presented in 6.042J Mathematics for Computer Science, whose Spring 2015 course has just been published on OCW. Taught by Professors Albert Meyer and Adam Chlipala, the course has an extensive array of content covering a wide variety of mathematical topics. 

Tutorials, Textbook, and Much More

Chief among these resources are 130 short tutorial videos created by Professor Meyer, who drew on more than a decade of teaching experience in the subject to create them. Ever an educational innovator, and one of the first instructors to flip his classroom at MIT, Professor Meyer put his Spring 2015 course content on Residential MITx, MIT’s version of the Open edX platform. MIT students watched the videos via the online platform before coming to class, where they worked in teams to solve problems.

Screengrabs of video player, with interactive text transcript below, and interactive questions, with horizontal navigation bar above.

A sequence of two OCW pages from 6.042J. Left: Tutorial video, with interactive text transcript. Right: A pair of interactive questions that come after the video.

Now on OCW, the video tutorials are presented in the same sequential fashion, interspersed with brief interactive questions that allow you to check your understanding, over four learning units.

The in-class questions are also included on the course site, in a table showing the relevant video tutorial for each one, so you can get the same background that MIT students had when they were asked to face these challenges.

The entire course textbook is also available for free and can be downloaded.

All the non-video resources for the course are gathered together in a handy course index, so you can see in one place which resource aligns with which for each week of the semester, including the problem sets and exams.

Other Versions, Other Resources

The Spring 2015 course site is but the latest version of 6.042J to be published on OCW. Math enthusiasts can find more excitement in a Fall 2010 version taught by Professor Tom Leighton and Dr. Marten van Dijk (which features full video lectures), and a Fall 2005 version, co-taught by Professor Meyer and Professor Ronitt Rubenfield, that has solutions for its in-class problems, problem sets, and exams.

It all adds up to a very logical conclusion: OCW’s suite of 6.042J course sites is awesome!

MIT announces new learning research initiatives

Photo of student in a library working on papers and her laptop.MIT’s committed efforts to understand learning and improve it at all levels of education took a big step forward yesterday. As reported by MIT News:

MIT President L. Rafael Reif announced today a significant expansion of the Institute’s programs in learning research and online and digital education — from pre-kindergarten through residential higher education and lifelong learning — that fulfills a number of recommendations made in 2014 by the Institute-Wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education.

Most notably, Reif announced the creation of the MIT Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili), to be led by Professor John Gabrieli, and a new effort to increase MIT’s ability to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning by students from pre-kindergarten through high school (pK-12), to be led by Professor Angela Belcher. The announcement also included a program to support faculty innovations in MIT residential education and new work to enhance MIT’s continuing education programs. Read more >

What does this mean for OCW and other MIT open educational resources? We look forward to providing better opportunities for learners, and sharing MIT’s latest teaching methods through initiatives like OCW Educator. The accompanying FAQ: Reshaping MIT’s programs in online and digital education states that

Research out of MITili will inform MIT’s digital learning and open education efforts, such as MIT OpenCourseWare, MITx, and the new MicroMaster’s program, and seeks to further improve these online learning platforms by applying latest developments in learning scholarship and educational technology. Read more >

Exciting times!

As an OpenMatters blog post wouldn’t be complete without some related OCW content, we heartily recommend MITili founding director John Gabrieli’s popular 9.00SC Introduction to Psychology. This OCW Scholar course takes you on an engaging scientific journey through human nature, including “how the mind works and how the brain supports the mind.”

Education is key in MIT’s new five-year plan for action on climate change

Arial photo of MIT campus.

Photo: Christopher Harting/AboveSummit

Yesterday MIT introduced a sweeping new five-year plan for action on climate change.

This plan embodies the fundamental agreement across our community that the problem of climate change, the subject of serious work at MIT for decades, demands society’s urgent attention. Given the Institute’s mission, history and capabilities, MIT has a particular responsibility to lead. Yet addressing this global problem will take deep societal change, and that means there is a role – and a personal responsibility – for everyone: every nation, every sector, every institution, every firm, every individual human being.

MIT News summarizes that the plan focuses MIT’s efforts in five areas whose elements have consensus support within the MIT community:

  1. research to further understand climate change and advance solutions to mitigate and adapt to it;
  2. the acceleration of low-carbon energy technology via eight new research centers;
  3. the development of enhanced educational programs on climate change;
  4. new tools to share climate information globally; and
  5. measures to reduce carbon use on the MIT campus.

Also noteworthy: the plan rejects the proposal for MIT to divest its investments in fossil fuel companies in favor of a strategy of active engagement; and specifically asserts the need for a price on carbon in order to align the incentives of industry with the imperatives of climate science.

The focus on educational programs is of particular interest to us at OCW. Enhancing the extensive educational opportunities currently available, the plan describes how MIT will:

  • offer an Environment and Sustainability undergraduate degree minor beginning in Fall 2017;
  • develop an online Climate Change and Sustainability credential offered through MITx on edX, building on Professor Kerry Emanuel’s outstanding course on climate change;
  • and, in a joint effort between MIT’s School of Engineering and School of Architecture and Planning, find ways to insert principles of “benign and sustainable design” more widely throughout MIT’s engineering and design instruction.

Stated simply: “Perhaps the most powerful way to trigger new thinking on climate is to educate a new generation of innovators—here on our campus and around the world.”

OCW heartily supports this effort. Check out our list of forty OCW courses on climate change and sustainability. We look forward to adding many more resources on this vital topic in the months and years ahead.

Going Green in Supply Chains

Two people in orangutan costumes holding a sign that says "Nestle, Give us a break!"

A protest against Nestle over the palm oil plantation controversy is used as a case study in ESD.S43 Green Supply Chain Management for students to learn about multi-stakeholder engagements and corporate social responsibilities. (Image courtesy of Philip Reynolds. Used with permission.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

By now, most people are somewhat familiar with the concept of a supply chain, the complex of systems that make it possible for a product to be developed, manufactured, and delivered to customers. In a global economy, many of these activities—extraction of resources, manufacturing, transportation, warehousing—take place in different countries. Understanding supply chains is thus crucial to success of a dynamic, world-wide enterprise.

You don’t hear much about how the role good environmental practices can play in supply chains and how they can be implemented to minimize the impact a business has on the planet.

Not unless you have explored ESD.S43 Green Supply Chain Management, a course that has just published on OCW. This half-semester graduate course  . . . “focuses on the fundamental strategies, tools and techniques required to analyze and design environmentally sustainable supply chain systems,” as the course site tells us. “Students work on course-long team projects that critically evaluate the environmental supply chain strategy of an industry or a publicly traded company.”

The course site has six video lectures, selected lecture notes, and a full reading list, consisting largely of case studies.

“These case studies reflect over five years of research completed here at the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics,” says Dr. Edgar Blanco on the This Course at MIT page. “As part of this research, we worked with many companies. I had the opportunity to meet with leaders from these companies who were trying to implement sustainability initiatives. I learned first-hand about the struggles they encountered in this area.”

With co-instructors Dr. Alexis Bateman and Professor Anthony Craig, Dr. Blanco runs a discussion-based class, challenging students to think for themselves and question their own thinking. Typical questions on case studies include:

How much energy is used and how much carbon is released to make paper towels dispensed in a typical restroom? Would you save energy and release less carbon if an electric hand dryer was used? What factors should be included in such a determination?

Does it make sense to offer obsolete cell phones for reuse in other countries? Can this implementation of reverse logistics be sustainable? How?

ESD.S43 takes its place on a growing list of OCW courses on Supply Chains. These courses cover a range of topics, including planning and logistics to systems optimization.

People interested in how supply chains are designed should sign up for the MITx on edX course Supply Chain Design. But don’t delay! The course starts on September 30.

MITx learners on why you should try out 3.032x

Our colleagues at MITx have a big fall planned, with many courses starting during September. Here’s motivation to explore one of those upcoming courses.

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Photo collage of several mechanical structures.

By Lisa Eichel, MITx Community and Outreach Manager

MITx MOOC 3.032x Mechanical Behavior of Materials is a fascinating exploration of how engineers create materials for different purposes. In advance of its next run starting September 9th, MITx talked to a few learners from the first run of 3.032x to tell us about their experience and share why someone may want to take the course this time.

Why did you decide to take 3.032x?

The learners we spoke to had a variety of reasons for taking the course.  They were eager to get exposure to subjects not available to them during their own university course of study, or were aiming to fill in gaps in knowledge that could benefit them in their current careers.

But commonly, they were drawn to a chance to learn from Professor Lorna Gibson.  Even across the globe, learner Tri Suseno of Perth, Australia was aware of Professor Gibson’s highly respected profile in this field after taking a materials science course during his undergraduate education. “Professor Gibson is a well-known expert in her area, and a well-known excellent teacher.” Mungo Aiken noted that staff from a related MITx on edX course he had completed recommended 3.032x as a next step and specifically emphasized the excellence of Gibson’s teaching.

What was your favorite aspect of the course?

Learners enjoyed the section of the course on Mohr’s Circle, a method of determining stresses on materials.  While challenging, they could really understand how easily it could be applied to common problems. They also appreciated how Professor Gibson included examples found in nature into the course.  “It’s amazing to see how strategies of mechanical advantage are reflected in evolutionary development — how woodpeckers avoid brain damage, for example,” said another 3.032x learner Steven Frank.

Aiken was also impressed by how much time Professor Gibson and MITx Digital Learning Lab Scientist Jessica Sandland spent answering student questions. “The high-quality answers from the staff really furthered my understanding of the subject and led to me taking an interest in current research in material sciences,” he said, “Lorna’s passion for her research really shines through in her posts.”

How did this course help you, either in your career or in your life?

All of the learners we spoke to really appreciated what they got out of 3.032x.  While the course is challenging and time-intensive, they were happy with the decision they made to stick with it.  For patent lawyer Frank, he felt more equipped to talk with clients: “Familiarity with the underlying mechanisms [of materials] helps me ask smarter questions.”  Seseno also noted that as a business owner, taking part in the course, “helped expand my curiosity and problem-solving skills.”

Aiken experienced an even more profound outcome from the course – the chance to meet Professor Gibson in person and talk to her about a potential science career. “I consider myself incredibly fortunate in the sense that taking 3.032x gave me a massive boost to my career,” said Aiken.  He is happy to share that he has accepted an internship at a science company in Massachusetts, which he was initially introduced to via Professor Gibson’s contacts.

Frank’s final thoughts? “If you’re even thinking of taking the course, just DO IT.”

3.032.1x Mechanical Behavior of Materials: Part 1 – Linear Elastic Behavior starts on edX.org on September 9.  The course is formatted as 3 consecutive modules, which make up the full course.

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OCW has other examples of Professor Gibson’s teaching, including her recent 3.054 Cellular Solids: Structure, Properties and Applications. This course is a follow-up to 3.032, and spotlights the surprising structure and mechanical behavior of honeycombs and foams. Students apply models for the behavior of cellular solids to applications in engineering and medicine and to natural materials like plants and animal skulls. The OCW course includes a complete set of lecture notes, examples of student projects, and several Instructor Insights videos in which Professor Gibson explains how she teaches.

MIT’s freshman year in OCW: after the core

Photo of three students facing a whiteboard covered with mechanics review notes.

MIT students at a mechanics review session. (Photo by Christopher Harting / MIT Communication Production Services)

As we described in a recent post, OCW gives you a complete picture of the core classes that comprise the typical MIT freshman year.

OCW also gives you plenty of next steps. For instance, check out these courses that might be taken by MIT freshmen who test out of one or more of the core math/science requirements.