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!

Courses from MIT’s 2018 MacVicar Fellows

Four faculty portrait photos.

The 2018 MacVicar Faculty fellows are (clockwise from top left): Shankar Raman, David Autor, Merritt Roe Smith, and Christopher Capozzola.
(Courtesy of MIT Registrar’s Office.)

By Sarah Hansen, OCW Educator Project Manager

For the past 26 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 David Autor (economics), Christopher Capozzola (history), Shankar Raman (literature), and Merritt Roe Smith (history).

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

David Autor

14.03 Microeconomic Theory and Public Policy

14.661 Labor Economics I

14.11 Putting Social Sciences to the Test: Field Experiments in Economics

14.662 Labor Economics II

Christopher Capozzola

21M.630 Black Matters: Introduction to Black Studies

21H.223 War & American Society

21H.221 The Places of  Migration in United States History

21H.105 American Classics

21H.225J Gender and the Law in U.S. History 

21H.224 Law and Society in US History

Shankar Raman

21L.451 Introduction to Literary Theory

21L.704 Studies in Poetry: From the Sonneteers to the Metaphysicals

21L.009 Shakespeare

21L.703 English Renaissance Drama: Theatre and Society in the Age of Shakespeare

21L.017 The Art of the Probable: Literature and Probability

Merritt Roe Smith

STS.462 Social and Political Implications of Technology

21H.116J The Civil War and Reconstruction

STS.050 The History of MIT

STS.001 Technology in American History

STS.025J Making the Modern World: The Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective

STS.427 The Civil War and the Emergence of Modern America, 1861-1890

Through the OCW Educator initiative, we have also collected Instructor Insights from Professor David Autor about how he teaches 14.03 Microeconomic Theory and Public Policy. His roundabout path to teaching labor economics is both fascinating and encouraging to those of us on a winding path toward finding our passions!

Interested in more Instructor Insights from past MacVicar Fellows? Visit our OCW Educator portal to search for Insights from MIT Teaching Award Recipients. Delve into the minds of Lorna Gibson, Catherine Drennan, Arthur Bahr, Dennis Freeman, and many other MIT professors advancing teaching and learning in their fields.

Solving the Assessment Puzzle

Photo of Rubik's Cube on a table, with a man sitting behind it and looking at it.

Education image created by Freepik.

By Sarah Hansen, OCW Educator Project Manager

Assessing students’ learning is one of the most important things we do as educators. It’s also one of the most complicated. There’s a lot to consider:

  • When will assessment happen? (Along the way? At the end of the course?)
  • How will we collect useful information about student learning? (Through writing samples? Surveys? Online reading questions? Student self-assessments? Performance assessments? Something else?)
  • How will we assess work that doesn’t have right and wrong answers, like creative writing or digital media projects?
  • How will we assess work students complete in teams? (It’s hard enough to assess students individually! But we know collaboration is an essential skill—so how do we measure it in a way that’s fair to individuals?)
  • How will we effectively communicate feedback to students (Via rubrics? Written comments? Oral exams that function as educative conversations?)
  • How will we use assessment to improve our own teaching? (When should curricular iteration occur?)

For every group of students, there’s a different combination of productive approaches to assessment that instructors need to configure. It’s a shape-shifting puzzle that can be exciting, enervating, and downright addictive. If you’re an educator and you’re intrigued by “the assessment challenge,” you’re not alone. MIT instructors are thinking hard about measuring student learning, providing feedback, and improving their teaching based on what they learn through assessments. In the following short videos, six MIT instructors candidly share the assessment strategies they’ve been trying in their own classrooms:

  • In 16.842 Fundamentals of Systems Engineering, students in a Small Private Online Course (SPOC) worked in teams to participate in an international imitation satellite design competition. Aero/Astro Professor Olivier de Weck shares how he assessed work students completed as teams, how he conducted online written and oral exams, and how made use of students’ personal reflective memos to understand what they learned in the course.
  • Elizabeth Choe gets into the nitty gritty of how she approached assessment and feedback in the creative context of 20.219 Becoming the Next Bill Nye, a course in which students conceptualized and produced educational videos (no multiple choice tests here!).
  • Takako Aikawa discusses how she used a daily grading system and interview tests to provide students with feedback about their language learning in 21G.503 Japanese III.  (You can view this video in Japanese, too.)
  • In CMS.611 Creating Video Games, students worked in teams to develop games for a real client: The Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Center. Sara Verrilli shares how instructors assessed these projects, emphasizing that students’ processes and project management skills were more important than the final products.
  • Professor Joe Schindall opens up about grading in ESD.051J Engineering Innovation and Design, noting that students’ “passion of engagement” and their willingness to try new things were factors the instructors considered when assessing student learning in this Engineering Systems Division course.
  • Professor Catherine Drennan shares how she uses clicker competitions to engage students and formatively assess learning in 5.111SC Principles of Chemical Science. (Spoiler Alert: Things get heated.)

Want more MIT instructor insights about assessment? Head over to our OCW Educator portal and click “Assessment.” Then filter your results by topic, such as feedback, formative assessment, performance assessment, student self-assessment, and more.

If you find a strategy on our site that helps you solve (or inspires you to think differently about) your assessment puzzle, we want to hear from you! We’ll share some of the trickiest puzzles with the most creative solutions on our Facebook page. Go!

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!

Look What Happened Over the Holidays

Screenshot of OCW homepage, with "For Educators" dropdown menu exposed.

Did you notice? There’s a new tab at the top of the OCW homepage: For Educators!

Under this tab, we’ve collected all OCW and OCW-related resources that are of special interest to educators—and really anyone interested in education.

So please take a look and explore this side of OCW. You’re bound to make new discoveries!

The Year is Ending, but these Teaching Insights are Fresh

By Sarah Hansen, OCW Educator Project Manager

MIT instructors share their teaching approaches in a special section of their OCW courses, called “Instructor Insights.” In these sections, you’ll find instructors discussing topics of interest to education professionals, such as course design, active learning, and engaging learners.

The year may be coming to a close, but we’ve recently published 11 courses with new Instructor Insights—and they are super fresh! Below are a few highlights:

Find something you like? Share directly to Facebook using our “Share Quote” feature.

And if you like these, there’s many others in our collection of all OCW courses with Instructor Insights.