Nine-Day Workshops with Lessons to Last You a Lifetime

Collage of four photos showing students working on and showing their electronics systems.

Students in an electronics workshop that features Arduino microcontrollers collaborate to design a prototype. (Image courtesy of Andrew Ringler.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

You’ve got the month of January off from regular classes, and you want to do more than sleep in. It’s a good time to experiment, to do something unusual, maybe create a software project. But what if you don’t really have the background for this sort of thing?

Sign up for a workshop that requires no experience at all!

Two such workshops taught by the same instructor have just appeared on OCW site: Collaborative Design and Creative Expression with Arduino Microcontrollers and Learn to Build Your Own Videogame with the Unity Game Engine and Microsoft Kinect.

In the Arduino workshop, students in small teams create different projects using Arduino microcontrollers, including a hand-motion controlled “car,” dazzling light displays, and a punching glove that measures the intensity of its blows.

In the Videogame workshop, student teams create videogames in which the player moves and controls an object in space by body motions: animals try to escape from a zoo, cubes assemble to build and decorate houses, objects traverse landscapes full of obstacles.

The OCW workshop sites have videos of class activities and student-narrated projects, so you can see what the students did and how they thought about what they made.

Fostering Learner Self-Confidence

What these workshops have in common is an unconventional teaching methodology championed by Kyle Keane and Andrew Ringler, two of the instructors, and shared in their Instructor Insights for the Arduino and the Videogame workshop. Each set of Insights is tailored to the demands of that particular workshop.

The main goal for the workshops is to help students build confidence so they can gain independence from their instructors and learn on their own. To do this, they employ a variety of techniques to shake students out of their accustomed ways of thinking about learning and creativity, so they can move forward and be productive.

Building Productive Teams

To work with a team you first have to get on one, and to do that, it helps to know which people seem best suited as teammates. The workshop employs some techniques used in improv comedy to get people familiar with one another fast. Keane explains:

I use improv warm up exercises (games performers play to get ready for a show) to help participants explore how verbal and nonverbal communication impact their collaborative relationships in the workshop.

He encourages students to explore different possible teams and to not be afraid to move out of one and join another. With little or no experience, students are bound to make impractical suggestions and show a certain degree of ignorance.

Modeling Vulnerability

To help defuse student’s fear of embarrassment, Keane shares his own, and in doing so he models vulnerability, which

…is not a very common post-secondary teaching strategy, but…it’s an important thing to do when building team dynamics, because, let’s face it, opening yourself up to critique is terrifying…So, as instructors…we stand in the front of the classroom and talk about how it feels to be vulnerable. We’re weirdly explicit about it, but we find it extremely effective.

Going hand in hand with this technique is showing (rather than telling) students that it’s OK to ask for help: “It’s better to coach them and to model how to bring in others to solve problems.”

Being Creative, Not Original

In a nine-day workshop, there is hardly time to reinvent the wheel, yet in conceiving a creative project, students often think that’s what they have to do. To defuse this dynamic, Keane reframes the creative process away from being completely original to building on existing ideas and taking them in new directions. So the workshop

…involves students mimicking, step-by-step, projects that have already been built and then deviating from them—to give students permission to build on existing work.

Failing on Purpose

At the same time, to get students comfortable with risk-taking Keane gives them “assignments that ask students to do the impossible (like build a video game in six hours as a team, for example).”

These present opportunities for learning how to work with people having very different skills:

Participants don’t truly understand they need to collaborate with people who bring different skill sets to the work until they fail at a project…[Failure] helps drive home the importance of working in groups of people with diverse interests and abilities.

In Keane’s view, if a project is “designed to fail,” it holds the potential for longer-term success:

If it’s a designed-to-fail project…you pick something that’s kind of kooky that you want to learn, because no one’s going to know that you overstretched your skill set and tried something that was outside of your range. In this workshop, we explicitly allow (and encourage) participants to take these risks.

Moreover, doomed projects

…free participants to do things they might consider ridiculous, crazy, or imaginative. If you know the project is not intended to be successful, why not stretch your perceived boundaries?

Indeed, why not?

Inspire your network with our new “Share Quote” feature

When you read something that’s inspiring, do you want to spread the word?  We hope so!

OCW’s growing collection of Instructor Insights pages is chock full of inspiring ideas for educators, where MIT faculty talk about how they teach. Our brand-new Facebook “Share Quote” tool makes it easy to share your favorite nuggets from these pages.

Simply highlight any text on an Instructor Insights page. When the “Share Quote” bubble pops up, click on it, and a Facebook post window pre-filled with your selected quote will appear. Add optional commentary, click the “Post to Facebook” button, and you’re done!

Who Knows That Healthcare Can Be So Complicated? This Sloan Instructor Does!

A female health worker logs data on a handheld device as two others look on.

Sangath health workers in Goa log patient data. (Courtesy of Frederick Noronha and Sangath on Flickr. License: CC BY-NC.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Healthcare can be mind-boggling in its complexity, but diagnosing and treating patients has become routine business in counties like the US. You feel bad, call up, and go to see someone, and they give you advice and a therapeutic regimen to follow. Unless you’re part of an unlucky minority lacking health insurance, it’s pretty simple from the viewpoint of a patient.

But it’s hardly simple in much of the developing world, where communications are spotty, transport is unreliable, facilities are sparse, appropriate interventions are in short supply, and, perhaps most crucially, trained healthcare providers are relatively few and face overwhelming demand on a daily basis.

Non-governmental organizations—commonly called nonprofits in the US—have stepped in heroically to try to improve this situation and give ordinary people living in impoverished conditions a chance at a healthy life. But these heroes can themselves be overwhelmed. Far too often, they have little opportunity or resources to find, let alone implement, innovations in how healthcare is delivered.

So, you smart MIT Sloan graduate students, what advice can you come up with to help a mission-driven NGO innovate in delivering quality healthcare to those who most need it? To add to the challenge, the focus is on mental health and developmental disabilities—areas where problems are rarely solved with a single treatment.

By the way, you don’t have three years to study and develop your ideas. You have three days.

Ready, set, go!

Working Remotely with an NGO

Such is the academic challenge of 15.ES718 Global Health Innovation: Delivering Targeted Advice to an Organization in the Field.

The course—an intensive workshop, really—is taught by Dr. Anjali Sastry, and the site just published on OCW reflects the 2015 iteration of her teaching. In this instance, the class connected with Sangath, an inspiring NGO that provides mental health services to poor people in India.

The workshop represents a logistical tour de force. Just identifying a partner organization to collaborate with the class, writing a proposal that must convince the NGO’s board, defining researchable topics, and lining up people willing to make themselves available at short notice for the class, is a huge task. But Dr. Sastry has been at this sort of thing for quite a while, and she can be very convincing.

Priming Students to Produce Meaningful Ideas

An introduction to global health issues and to the selected organization sets the stage. After learning about the staff team they will work with, the students explore an array of readings, form groups to tackle specific areas proposed by the partner, and pinpoint key topics. By the day’s end, they have formulated meaningful questions to put to NGO staff in their initial conversations.

To expand their thinking, students select from a roster of expert researchers, entrepreneurs, and clinicians whose work may be relevant to their projects, visiting some in their labs and offices across the MIT campus and elsewhere and calling others to glean their ideas and learn of their innovations.

Drawing on this high-speed networking and their own creativity, the students develop a presentation for the NGO panelists, who weigh this advice and provide feedback based on their very practical experience. Then the students refine their presentations once more and share them with the class. Throughout it all, Dr. Sastry is there, serving as a sounding board and advisor, helping the students shape their work into something valuable.

Representing Process with Resources Galore

This intense process is represented on the OCW course site in multiple ways: class activities, readings and materials (including extensive resources on the Indian healthcare system and healthcare delivery, the status and needs of the Indian population, and Sangath itself), lecture notes, and more. Perhaps most important are the Instructor Insights of Dr. Sastry, which cover learning goals, selecting a partner organization, logistical challenges, motivating students, and providing students with useful feedback so the ideas they develop are actually useful. In keeping with another thread of her work on learning from small failures, Dr. Sastry also shares her reflections on what worked—and what she’d do differently.

If it seems amazing that an instructor can undertake a course like this, further amazement awaits on OCW’s other Anjali Sastry course sites: 15.232 Business Model Innovation: Global Health in Frontier Markets and 15.S07 Global Health Lab.

Notes from the Overground

Illustration from the lecture notes for module 1, session 4, of 5.07 Biological Chemistry 1, showing how penicillin inhibits cell wall biosynthesis in bacteria by inhibiting the enzyme transpeptidase.

Illustration from the lecture notes for module 1, session 4, of 5.07 Biological Chemistry 1, showing how penicillin inhibits cell wall biosynthesis in bacteria by inhibiting the enzyme transpeptidase.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

In the days of high resolution video, lecture notes may not seem like a flashy way to learn, but they represent one of OCW’s most valuable and portable learning resources.  Currently, almost 650 course sites in the OCW collection have complete lecture notes, and many other sites have selected notes. Another 67 courses have full online textbooks.

At their most robust, lecture notes can mimic textbooks, with clearly written prose, crisp mathematical notation, and graphs or illustrations.

A good way to zero in on class notes in a subject that interests you is to visit the Teaching Materials search on the OCW Educator portal. Here you can call up a specific subject area, and find all the courses within it that have lecture notes, complete or selected.

Teaching Materials Search

But see for yourself in this sampler of recently published courses with lecture notes:

This course discusses theoretical concepts and analysis of wave problems in science and engineering. Examples are chosen from elasticity, acoustics, geophysics, hydrodynamics, blood flow, nondestructive evaluation, and other applications.

This course examines the chemical and physical properties of the cell and its building blocks, with special emphasis on the structures of proteins and principles of catalysis.

This course provides students with the basic tools for analyzing experimental data, properly interpreting statistical reports in the literature, and reasoning under uncertain situations. Topics organized around three key theories: Probability, statistical, and the linear model.

This course studies information and contract theory, encompassing decision making under uncertainty, risk sharing, moral hazard, adverse selection, mechanism design, and incomplete contracting.

This course presents a computationally focused introduction to elliptic curves, with applications to number theory and cryptography. It works its way up to some fairly advanced material, including an overview of the proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem.

This is the first semester of a one year graduate course in number theory covering standard topics in algebraic and analytic number theory.

This course is the continuation of 18.785 Number Theory I. It begins with an analysis of the quadratic case of Class Field Theory via Hilbert symbols, in order to give a more hands-on introduction to the ideas of Class Field Theory.

Fly High, Fly Low

Photo of man sitting in an airplane cockpit, wearing a helmet.

Professor Oliver de Weck flies the prize.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Ever hear someone complain about a recent flight on an airliner?

There wasn’t enough legroom to stretch out, the food (if there was any) was only so-so, the movie selection could have been better, it wasn’t easy falling asleep tilted back only slightly in that seat.

What people don’t much complain about is the aircraft itself, which holds 300 people and their luggage, zooms along at 600 miles per hour for thousands of miles up at 35,000 feet, has a pressurized cabin with a comfortable climate, is remarkably quiet, and affords a fairly smooth ride, even in rough weather.

The reason we find ourselves preoccupied with airborne beverage options and not the air-sick bag is the fantastic success of systems engineering in designing aircraft, which now have thousands of requirements, from efficient, powerful engines to sophisticated electronics.

It’s All in the System

Now you can discover for yourself how all this has been made possible by cruising through 16.842 Fundamental of System Engineering, just published on OCW. Taught by Professor Olivier de Weck, whose fascination with aircraft and flight goes back to childhood, the course provides an overview of the entire design process. Professor de Weck takes you along the wings of the V-model, which begins with stakeholder analysis (what the customer wants) and requirements definition through concept generation and selection, and on to validation and lifecycle management. The focus in 16.842 is on aircraft and space craft, but the V-model can be applied to almost any engineered product.

The course site features classroom videos, lecture notes, and assignments.

Competition in a Can

For the central assignment, students are tasked with designing satellites for the CanSat Competition, in which teams from around the world create satellites that must fit in a can, be lofted by a rocket, and be deployed at high altitude. The satellites are then supposed to glide back to earth tracing a circular pattern, collecting data as they go. That’s if everything goes right. It’s a six-week course. No pressure!

Needless to say, teamwork is essential. In his video Instructor Insights, Professor de Weck discusses how he fosters effective teamwork, assesses students both as teams and as individuals, teaches the design process in a SPOC (small private online course) that blends online and in-class learning with students from two different schools, and favors both written and oral exams.

So buckle up for 16.842. OCW has approved you for take-off!

Biochemistry Becomes Us All

Pair of helix structures, showing one with missing H bond.

An illustration from the notes for Session 2 of 5.07SC Biological Chemistry I, describing the hierarchy in protein structure, with hemoglobin as an example. (Figure by O’Reilly Science Art for MIT OpenCourseWare.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Did you know that life, in all its mindboggling diversity, from single-celled bacteria to reptiles, birds, and mammals, is made possible by ten simple chemical reactions?

These reactions, and their interconversions in our primary metabolic pathways, are the focus of 5.07SC Biological Chemistry I, just published on OCW.

It’s amazing, really. The basic reactions, their metabolic pathways, and the vitamins that are modified to make catalysts boosting still more reactions, are conserved across organisms.  “It doesn’t matter whether you study a bacteria or a human, the central metabolism is pretty much the same,” says star researcher Professor JoAnne Stubbe, one of the 5.07SC instructors. “The thing that’s different is the detailed regulation and the complexity of the regulation.”

So if you can understand the basics of biochemistry, you have the keys to understanding the living universe.

And the keys to understanding most diseases, since most diseases involve some sort of dysfunction in the regulation of metabolic reactions.

Co-Teaching with Varied Resources

A recipient of the National Medal of Science, Stubbe has devoted much of her career to elucidating the workings of nucleotide reductases, the enzymes involved in the chemical reactions essential to the biosynthesis of DNA and RNA. Professor Stubbe’s co-instructors are Professor John Essigmann and Dr. Bogdan Fedeles. Essigmann leads a lab that investigates how chemicals in the environment can damage DNA in cells and how cells respond to and sometimes repair the damage. Working in that lab, Fedeles and Essigmann have shown how chronic inflammation in the body can lead to cancer and how the HIV virus can be induced to deactivate itself after invading a cell.

As another of OCW’s Scholar courses, 5.07SC Biological Chemistry I abounds in learning resources. The course is arranged in a linear structure through three modules that reflect the shared teaching of the professors. Stubbe teaches the first part of the course, introducing fundamental reactions in her four Lexicon videos, and detailing further biochemical reactions through seven sessions in her illustrated lecture notes.

Starting in session 8, Professor Essigmann narrates a series of storyboard videos, showing how energy is produced in the cell and how that energy is used to make macromolecules like proteins.

In his own series of videos, Fedeles guides learners through carbonyl chemistry, pyridoxal phosphate (PLP) chemistry, and ten key problems sets distributed throughout the site.

All the learning resources are assembled on a single Resource Index page for convenient reference.

Envisioning Future Pathways for Students

The course site also features a series of video interview clips on its This Course at MIT page (“Meet the Educators” and “Instructor Insights”), in which Professors Stubbe and Essigmann share their reflections about how they teach biochemistry, what turned them on to biochemistry in the first place, what their research focuses on, and where they think biochemical research is headed. Topics include “Using the Vitamin Bottle as a Teaching Tool,” “How Can You Not Think Enzymes Are Cool?,” and “Motivating Students to Study Metabolic Biochemistry with Oncology Applications.”

So take a look at 5.07SC. Like the cell itself, it’s packed with material delivered with lots of energy.

Asia in the Modern World: Images to Flip Over

A painting with a man and a woman standing at the pier with a sail boat in the background, and the man is holding a parasol.

“Eight Views of Yokohama: Sails Returning to the Landing Pier” by Yoshitora, 1861, from Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. (Public domain image.)

OCW has just published an updated version of 21G.027 Asia in the Modern World: Images and Representations. It is an unusual course site, with a unique history, and a remarkable instructor, who has learned new things about teaching even after many years in the classroom.

The course looks at history primarily through images, rather than texts, with a special emphasis on Japan. The instructor is Professor Shigeru Miyagawa, Professor of Linguistics and Kochi-Majiro Professor of Japanese Language and Culture. He also holds a joint project professorship at the University of Tokyo, where he is Director of Online Education.

Professor Miyagawa has devoted much energy in his career to creating a large collection of images, assembled from museums from all over the world, on the Visualizing Cultures website. What’s even more impressive, the images are published under a Creative Commons license, so that people can download them and use them in their own teaching and projects.

Beginning with OCW

Professor Miyagawa describes the course and its history in his video Instructor Insights on his This Course at MIT page.  As a member of OCW’s Faculty Advisory Committee from its inception and as Chair of the Committee from 2010 to 2013, he has long been a leading advocate of open sharing, and in another of his videos, he openly shares the story of how OCW was conceived.

Photo (video screengrab) of Professor Miyagawa speaking while seated at a desk.

In a series of short videos, Professor Miyagawa talks about the creation of OCW and his many insights into teaching.

Weaving Online Resources into a Unique Course

The 21G.027 site is a very unusual one for OCW in that it is really a kind of hub. Its Study Materials page points to pieces of content for each topic on three different websites: Visualizing Japan (1850s-1930s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity (a MOOC Professor Miyagawa helped create on the edX platform), Visualizing Cultures, and Visualizing Postwar Tokyo (another MOOC on edX, which Professor Miyagawa was indirectly involved with as Director of Online Education at the University of Tokyo).

If sending learners to different places to get study materials seems peculiar for OCW, in this case it shouldn’t, because that’s how Professor Miyagawa teaches 21G.027 on the MIT campus.

Flipping over a Flipped Class

When he had prepared materials for the VJx MOOC, he had his students check out the videos before coming to class, just to see what their reaction was. The results were a revelation:

And what I realized right away was that students would come into class, and they would have a lot of knowledge, which was not the case before…I had a whole set of PowerPoints which I had created from years of teaching. I did not show a single PowerPoint. For 70 minutes I just asked them questions, just to see if I can find something that they didn’t know. They knew the whole thing. And I said, gee, this is different.

And without realizing it–I didn’t even know what a flipped class was–I just did a flipped class.

Making All the Difference by Working in Teams

Another epiphany he has had involves the importance of student teamwork. All the students at MIT, he notes, “are academically gifted, and they’re highly motivated.” But a couple of students in each class “stand out after they graduate and go on and do big things.” So, he wondered, what’s different about these students? And the distinguishing feature was that they

…have learned to work with others. That’s it…They have learned to work not only with people they share interests, but also with people that they don’t necessarily share interests. That’s the trick.

It’s easy to work with people who are like you. It’s harder to work with people who are not like you. But when you learn to be able to work across the spectrum of people, then you can basically tap their gifts. That’s what entrepreneurship is actually.

As a result, Professor Miyagawa now puts special focus on developing students’ interpersonal skills.