Understanding the past to prepare for the future

Image of antique map

Leo Belgicus by Petrus Kaerius (Pieter van den Keere), 1617. (This image is in the public domain.)

OCW covers 17 MIT special subject areas in History

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “I believe that the more you know about the past, the better you are prepared for the future.”

At MIT, the study of History teaches different ways to think critically about the past, present and future of the world. Students develop a rich, empathetic understanding of the people, events, and circumstances that ultimately prepares them to be active members of their local communities and an increasingly global society today.

Tailored to put the modern world in historical perspective, MIT History subjects explore the social, cultural, economic, and political transformations that shape the present.

On OCW, you can browse lists of courses on 17 History subtopics:

African History
American History
Ancient History
Asian History
Comparative History
European History
Historical Methods
Historiography
History of Science and Technology
Intellectual History
Jewish History
Latin American History
Medieval History
Middle Eastern History
Military History
Modern History
World History

OCW has recently published these history courses:

21H.102 American History Since 1865, Spring 2018
This course examines the social, cultural, political, and economic history of the United States, from the Civil War to the present. It uses secondary analysis and primary documents, such as court cases, personal accounts, photographs, and films, to examine some of the key issues in the shaping of modern America, including industrialization and urbanization, immigration, the rise of a mass consumer society, the emergence of the US as a global power, and the development of civil rights activism and other major social movements.

21H.132 The Ancient World: Rome, Spring 2017
This course covers the history of Rome from its humble beginnings to the 5th century A.D. The first half covers Kingship to Republican form; the conquest of Italy; Roman expansion: Pyrrhus, Punic Wars and provinces; classes, courts, and the Roman revolution; Augustus and the formation of empire. The second half covers Virgil to the Vandals; major social, economic, political and religious trends at Rome and in the provinces. There is an emphasis on the use of primary sources in translation.

21H.357 South Asian Migrations, Spring 2018
This course provides a global history of South Asians and introduces students to the cultural, social, economic, and political experiences of immigrants who traveled across the world. It studies how and why South Asians, who have migrated to America, Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and the Middle East, are considered a model minority in some countries and unwanted strangers in others. Through literature, memoirs, films, music, and historical writing, it follows South Asian migrants as they discovered the world beyond India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

21H.155 Modern Japan: 1868 to Present, Spring 2017
This course surveys Japanese history from the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603 to the present and explores the local and global nature of modernity in Japan. It highlights key themes, including the emergence of a modern nation-state, the rise and fall of the Japanese Empire, the development of mass consumer culture and the middle class, and the continued importance of historical memory in Japan today.

>Peruse all History courses on OCW

Talking about Creoles, Speaking in Kreyòl

By Peter Chipman, Digital Publication Specialist and OCW Educator Assistant

a cluster of small passenger boats on the beach in a cove.

Brightly painted water taxis crowd a beach in Haiti. (Image courtesy of Steve Bennett on flickr. License: CC BY-NC.)

We’re excited to announce the publication of the OpenCourseWare version of Professor Michel DeGraff’s course 24.908 Creole Languages and Caribbean Identities, as taught at MIT in the Spring semester of 2017.

Instructor Insights Two Times Over

In a departure from our typical procedure, the videos Professor DeGraff recorded for the course’s Instructor Insights page are all presented twice: once with him speaking in English, and then a second time with him speaking in his native language, Haitian Creole (or Kreyòl). Professor DeGraff decided to do this because he feels it’s important to spread the word, both to English speakers and to speakers of Creole languages, that Creoles aren’t flawed or debased versions of colonial languages such as French, but rather are fully-developed and grammatical languages in their own right. By making his insights available to educators and students in Creole-speaking communities, Professor DeGraff hopes to ensure that his academic research and his teaching will be a vehicle for social change.

Customizing the Course to Students’ Backgrounds

To make the course as meaningful as possible for his students, Professor DeGraff begins each semester by finding out where each student is coming from. “On the very first day,” he explains, “while they are still fresh and unsuspecting of the class contents, of my own ideology, I give them a survey where I ask very simple questions. You know, their major, their year….I also ask them personal questions. Where were they born? Where did they travel? And during what years? … And I ask them about some of the course content. You know, what do they know about Creole languages? How do they define identity? What does identity mean? What kind of images does the word Caribbean trigger in their minds?…Through these questions, I’m able to see and to get a sense of both their personal background, but also what kind of assumptions they bring to the course. And then I can use that to have a beginning where I can address the fundamental assumptions they do bring in the course, and also to connect the discussion to their personal profiles.”

Professor DeGraff sitting in his office at MIT.

Professor Michel DeGraff has been teaching linguistics at MIT for more than 20 years. (Image by OpenCourseWare.)

Reading the World, Not Just the Word

In addition to Professor DeGraff’s videos, the Instructor Insights page has links to four Student Insights videos, in which students José Esparza and Dalila Stanfield describe what they learned in the course and what advice they’d give to educators who are designing courses on similar topics. Both students feel that it’s important to create a classroom environment that promotes discussions about identities—“It’s not just about the curriculum; it’s about the space you create,” as Dalila Stanfield explains in the second of her two videos. Esparza, who draws on the work of Paulo Freire and Donaldo Macedo (1987) in his assessment of the course, agrees: “Being able to have a space of discussion, a space in which people can tell their own stories … That’s one of the essential parts to making this a true learning experience that helps you read read the world and not just the word.” (You can get a feel for how these discussions went by viewing the course’s selection of class videos.)

Learning Outcomes beyond the Class

Professor DeGraff hopes students who participate in 24.908 Creole Languages and Caribbean Identities will take what they’ve learned and apply it “to themselves, to their communities, to their countries.” He shares as an example one student who went on to volunteer in a bilingual education program in Boston, providing children with immersion from kindergarten in both Creole and English. “To me, that’s a dream,” he says, “because it’s one case where what you learn in the course can be directly applied in the real world context, which can make actual positive change in the lives of these children.”

A trilingual sign reading 'Au Revoir,' 'Orevwa' and 'Goodbye.'.

A sign in French, Haitian Creole, and English at the airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Image courtesy of Jason Rosenberg on flickr. License: CC BY.)

Reference: Buy at Amazon Freire, Paulo, and Donaldo Macedo. “Literacy and the Pedagogy of Political Empowerment” and “Rethinking Literacy A Dialogue.” In Literacy: Reading the Word and the World. Praeger, 1987. ISBN: 9780897891264. [Preview with Google Books]

Physics Is a Contact Sport

Several MIT students peering into a spherical apparatus with various wires attached.

Students perform an experiment in relativistic dynamics in MIT’s Junior Lab.
(Image by OCW)

By Peter Chipman, Digital Publication Specialist and OCW Educator Assistant

If you’re exceptionally gifted, you might be able to learn the established facts of physics by reading books and articles and by attending lectures. But if you want to contribute actively to the field, you need two other forms of expertise: skill in designing and conducting experiments, and a working knowledge of how to communicate your work to other physicists and to the world in general. MIT’s Junior Lab helps students develop firsthand expertise in both these areas.

What Is Junior Lab?

Junior Lab is a sequence of two undergraduate courses, officially designated as 8.13 Experimental Physics I and 8.14 Experimental Physics II, that most physics majors take in the fall and spring of their junior year (hence the name). As Nergis Mavalvala, Associate Head of MIT’s Physics department, explains:

Junior Lab is a keystone course of the MIT physics curriculum. This challenging and memorable course exposes students to diverse techniques in experimental physics, and develops scientific writing and oral presentation skills….Students learn to make measurements using sophisticated apparatus, analyze their data, compare their results to other empirical determinations of the same physical quantities or phenomena, write up their findings as a professional publishable paper, and communicate their results in an oral presentation — all skills with which a practicing physicist must be conversant.

Doing Hands-On Physics

During their year in Junior Lab, students perform a total of ten experiments covering a range of phenomena whose discoveries led to major advances in physics, such as Compton scattering, relativistic dynamics, cosmic-ray muons, radio astrophysics, laser spectroscopy, superconductivity, and quantum information processing. Students work in pairs to set up each experiment, to make measurements, and to analyze and interpret their data. After each experiment, each pair of lab partners participates in a one-hour oral examination and discussion with their instructors. Both students bring their lab notebooks to the oral exam session, and all oral exams are video-recorded so that students can review and refine their presentation technique.

At the end of the fall term, each student delivers a public oral presentation to peers, friends, and faculty in the style of a session at a professional conference. Near the end of the spring term, each pair of lab partners designs and conducts an original, open-ended experiment, after which they summarize their results in a scientific poster presented in an open poster session.

A Wealth of Information

The richness of the Junior Lab experience is reflected in the richness of the materials pertaining to the course on OpenCourseWare. In addition to the syllabus, the course on OCW includes the following:

  • Detailed descriptions of the standard experiments students in Junior Lab perform.
  • A set of guidelines for safety in the lab, including policies to maintain chemical hygiene, environmental safety, electrical safety, radiation safety, cryogenic safety, laser safety, and biological safety.
  • Itemized instructions on how to keep and use a lab notebook to record experimental procedures and results.

For educators and those interested in pedagogical theory, though, the most exciting aspect of Junior Lab on OCW is the wealth of interview videos, in which the course’s professors, other members of the instructional team, and several students share their insights into what’s special about the way Junior Lab is taught. A few highlights:

Junior Lab is based on the notion that the best way to learn physics is experientially, through hands-on learning. Professor Janet Conrad strongly feels that physics is “a contact sport.” In the video clip below, Professor Conrad gives a simple hands-on demonstration of electromagnetic induction that could be used to make physics real even for early elementary students:

(What’s going on in this video? Ordinarily, a dropped object falls half a meter in about a third of a second, but when Professor Conrad drops the magnet into the copper pipe, it takes almost four seconds to fall that far, because the magnet’s motion induces an electric current in the pipe, which in turn generates a magnetic field that brakes the magnet’s fall.)

The structure of the course is also designed to develop skills in collaboration and teamwork in scientific research. Students in Junior Lab don’t just conduct their experiments in teams of two; lab partners also participate in oral exams together, and work together to design their final experiment and to produce and present their poster for the presentation at the end of the spring term. This collaborative approach has clear benefits, but also brings with it some extra challenges, as Professor Gunther Roland explains.

Dr. Sean Robinson, Head of Junior Lab Technical Staff, discusses how the approach to teaching the course has changed in recent years, flipping the classroom to “get the students the information they need at the time when they’re most ready to learn it.” Data analysis, Dr. Robinson says, is best learned as you go along rather than by front-loading information in a lecture hall. Student Henry Shackleton agrees, emphasizing that the independent learning fostered by a flipped-classroom format meshes well with the nature of lab work, in which students are on their own much of the time.

One of the core tenets of Junior Lab is that science communication is a crucial professional competency for anyone wishing to pursue a research career. After all, progress in physics or any other scientific field requires not only that research be conducted and discoveries made, but also that experimental results and discoveries be communicated to other scientists. To help develop students’ communication skills, the instructional team for Junior Lab includes not only scientists but also a communication instructor, Senior Lecturer Atissa Banuazizi. “I think it’s somewhat of a misconception that communication can be separated from the work that scientists do,” Ms. Banuazizi says. “Because so much of what scientists do in their daily lives is communication. If you are a scientist, and you are doing really, really exciting work, that work is not going to have any kind of impact if you can’t tell people about it.”

Whether you’re a student, an independent learner, or an instructor pondering how best to teach the concepts of physics and the skills needed by working scientists, we encourage you to check out the rich collection of Junior Lab course material available to you on OCW.

The OCW course presents all the materials students use to carry out [their assigned] tasks, complemented by instructor, teaching assistant, and student perspectives on how the course is taught. It should serve as a unique guide for students and instructors on how to build and execute experiments, analyze data, and present results in effective written and oral reports.  -Nergis Mavalvala

The Facts Don’t Speak for Themselves

Graphic with thin vertical color bands going from dark blue to lighter to red.

What story do you get from this visualization of annual global temperatures from 1850-2017? (Image: Ed Hawkins, License CC BY-SA)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Big data is the signature feature of the Information Age. It reveals patterns we could never see before, patterns in consumer behavior, medical treatments, weather events, just about anything we can think of.

But those patterns have to be discerned, and their stories shaped before they can have an impact.

Shaped how? By collection and presentation methods, and then by researchers who interpret and explain what they have discovered.

Or so says Rahul Bhargava, the instructor of CMS.631 Data Storytelling Studio: Climate Change, a course just published on OCW:

“…The idea that facts could ever speak for themselves is a total misunderstanding of data. Everything from data collection (decisions about “who counts”) to presentation (choices about what kind of chart to use, where the vertical axis starts, what colors to use, etc.) comprise rhetorical decisions that change how someone understands what you’ve done. The minute you make the smallest decision about how to gather or present information, you’ve already turned data into speech. It’s not objective truth; it’s rhetoric.”

So if you want to use data to change the world, you need to devise a compelling argument. How to formulate and share that argument is the subject of this course, which uses climate change as its special focus.

The OCW course site has a full set of readings, lecture slides and notes, plus a variety of assignments to foster creative thinking.

Webpage screenshot with martini glass image, "The Olive," and photo of young blond white woman in exercise clothes.

This student project shows that satire and data do mix!

Sample coursework highlights how the students put their learning into practice, including a board game about the refugee experience, an online quiz about bikeshare programs, and a satire in the style of The Onion whose humor points are backed by creative data presentations.

Teaching with a Compass instead of a Map

Photo of a smiling man standing by desk and workspace, looking to the side.

Instructor Rahul Bhargava.

CMS.631 has its roots in workshops taught by Bhargava, and needless to say, teaching students who spend a lot of their time working on projects requires a flexible, somewhat improvisational approach. As Bhargava explains in one of his Instructor Insights:

“The Data Storytelling Studio is a compass-led course. I point students in the right direction, and then follow where they go. My role is to be with them on the journey to make sure they don’t fall into a giant crevasse…I’m definitely the guide in the classroom and I’m in charge of the course, there’s no question about that. But I respect and honor the skills that students bring into the classroom. It’s an essential part of the course design.”

In other Insights, Bhargava shares tips for building student confidence in working with data and for getting students to work productively in teams.  He notes further how he engages participation by having students create “data sculptures” with craft materials and by getting them to write in a common blogspace.

In their own series of Insights, several students identify the data storytelling techniques they found most compelling, and they offer their advice for future students and educators.

We think it makes a fabulous success story! But don’t take it from us. Look at the data yourself!

Good Vibrations Making Big Waves

Photo of water drop rebounding off surface of water, with several circular waves rolling out.

Vibrations and waves caused by water drops. (Image courtesy of erwan bazin on Flickr. License CC BY-NC-SA.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Good, good, good, good vibrations . . . are not just fundamental to love, but to the structure of the universe itself.

In fact, “without waves and vibrations, we would not be able to even recognize this universe,” says Professor Yen-Jie Lee, in his introductory video to Physics III: 8.03SC Vibrations and Waves, a course just published on OCW. Think about it: light, sound, brain activity, and even gravitation all involve vibrations and waves. These phenomena are everywhere. To understand them is to understand the universe.

The latest OCW Scholar course, 8.03SC has a tsunami of resources for those interested in discovering the physics that describe these phenomena. The course site has full video lectures, lecture notes, problem sets, exams with solutions, and a free online textbook. A second series of videos by Professor Wit Busza shows how to think about and solve problems.

Like other Scholar courses, 8.03SC is arranged sequentially, by learning units, so you can progress through the semester just the way Professor Lee’s students did. But there’s also a handy resource index to help you quickly zero in on specific resources that might be of interest.

As the description says, “This course will provide you with the concepts and mathematical tools necessary to understand and explain a broad range of vibrations and waves. You will learn that waves come from many interconnected (coupled) objects when they are vibrating together. We will discuss many of these phenomena, along with related topics, including mechanical vibrations and waves, sound waves, electromagnetic waves, optics, and gravitational waves.”

Demos to Make It Real

Man gesturing at a table with a wave demonstration apparatus, saying "Let's see what is going to happen."

Professor Lee conducts one of his many in-class demonstrations which are part of the course videos.

In most lectures, Professor Lee conducts reality-checks for the mathematics he presents by including a variety of physical demonstrations. You’ll see how sound waves can propagate across different systems, how a moonwalk works by having one wave moving forward over another moving backward, how optical fiber transmission is made possible by the way light waves bounce off surfaces, and much, much more. For user convenience, each lecture section also lists the demos separately, so you can go directly to the demos if you like.

Insights into How It Is Taught

In his video Instructor Insights, Professor Lee explains why these demonstrations are so important, how he weaves them into his lectures, and how they must be carefully staged before each lecture. In other insights, he shares further pedagogic stratagems, like how he uses humor to enliven his lectures and reinforce student learning, how he employs questionnaires to adjust the pace of the course to the particular mix of students in a given class, and how and why he has changed the course from the way it was previously taught.

So why not explore 8.03SC? You might catch a wave and find that you’re sitting on top of the world!

Brains, Minds and Machines: An Interdisciplinary Tour-de-Force

Diagram of human brain highlighting different regions; a process flow diagram about understanding a visual scene; and photo of a humanoid robot.What is the nature of intelligence?

How does the brain produce intelligent behavior?

How can we apply this understanding to build wiser and more useful machines, for the benefit of society?

By Curt Newton, OCW Site Curator

If these questions grab your interest, check out OCW’s just-published Brains, Minds and Machines Summer Course. It’s an interdisciplinary tour-de-force, presenting some of the latest thinking in neuroscience, cognitive science, computation, artificial intelligence, and robotics.

These questions are animating some of the world’s brightest minds — especially here at MIT, with the recently-announced Intelligence Quest initiative.

Consider the challenge of self-driving vehicles. Safe driving is plenty hard for humans…can we build machines which are better drivers? There are myriad challenges, like sophisticated vision, the ability to understand scenes, learn, and make predictions, and acting instantaneously on feedback. We need to understand these sophisticated behaviors, and many others, in “engineering” terms before we can build and use them in systems.

That’s precisely what this course is about. Through video lectures, panel discussions, and tutorials, you’ll get a state-of-the-art perspective from 40 faculty and research leaders: what do we know, what’s going on in labs right now, and where are we heading?

The course is organized by the Center for Brains, Minds and Machines: a National Science Foundation-funded multi-institutional collaboration for the interdisciplinary study of intelligence, headquartered at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and with managing partners at Harvard University.

The course is designed for graduate students, postdocs, faculty and professionals who may be well-grounded in one field, and want to develop a grasp of the synergistic interplay among all these related fields. Its goal is to “create a community of leaders in the science of intelligence who are equally knowledgeable in neuroscience, cognitive science, and computer science.”

The OCW course site is organized into 9 units. It’s chock full of video, over 46 hours in all, and with extensive linked reading lists for each unit.

Here are just a few of the many highlights:

Recognizing it’s hard to be an expert in every one of these fields, the OCW course site includes a set of background tutorials to bring you up to speed on topics like neuroscience, machine learning, and neural decoding.

Students enrolled in the summer course put their learning into practice by working on an open-ended project of their choice. Learn more about these projects through short video interviews with some students.

This new OCW course site enriches our Supplemental Resource collection of materials from outside the official MIT curriculum. The summer course also forms a basis for the on-campus MIT course 9.523 Aspects of a Computation Theory of Intelligence. Instructor Insights from Ellen Hildreth, the summer course coordinator, describe the summer course’s conversion into a focused full-semester MIT course.

Participants in the Brains, Minds and Machines Summer Course have an intensive non-stop learning experience. Fortunately, OCW lets you explore the materials at your own pace, in your own sequence, and return to it again and again. There’s a LOT to learn here, and the future world awaits!

Insights on Teaching Japanese, in Japanese (and English)

Traditional Japanese masks at Senso-ji (浅草寺) in Tokyo, Japan. (Image courtesy of rita11836 on Flickr. License CC BY-NC-SA.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

OCW has just published 21G.503 Japanese III, the third in a four-course sequence on Japanese taught at MIT. With relatively few Japanese speakers on the MIT campus, the instructors must make the most of what happens in the classroom and motivate students to work hard outside it.

The course site’s Instructor Insights feature brief video interviews with one of the instructors, Takako Aikawa. She addresses key topics in language instruction, such as grammar and drill sessions, developing students’ language skills, assessing students, and teaching language through culture.

Each interview is presented twice: once in English…

…and again in Japanese.

OCW has published similar interviews in two languages for 21G.101 Chinese I (Regular) and 21G.108 Chinese II (Streamlined).

Instructors of any language will surely benefit from the reflections and advice offered in all of these interviews. Maybe students even more!