Actively Teaching Active Learning

Image of students

Students in 5.95 engage in “lightning round” discussions.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

When you think about education, it’s easy to feel jaded. After all, waves of education reform have swept over American schools and colleges for decades, and tangible improvements—let alone a sea change—don’t exactly spring to mind.

But new hope has arisen in recent years, and with good reason, because for the first time teaching practices are being aligned with how the mind actually works. Studies are showing that there are certain things that teachers can do to make substantial improvements in student learning.

Action and Interaction

One of the key discoveries is that students learn best when they are actively engaged in their own learning, rather than sitting back passively and just listening (or not) to an instructor. And they learn even better when this active engagement is accompanied by interactive exchanges with other students.

How to put this wisdom into practice is at the center of 5.95 Teaching College-Level Science and Engineering, just published on OCW. As taught in Fall 2015, the course surveys all aspects of teaching a STEM course, including what is known about student learning and cognition, how to design a course and develop learning outcomes, how to design effective assignments and assessments, and even how to grade.

The instructor is Dr. Janet Rankin, the acting Director of MIT’s Teaching and Learning Lab, which has been helping to boost effective educational practices on campus for many years.

Well-Informed Practice  

The centerpiece of the 5.95 course site is a collection of videos that show why Dr. Rankin is such an avid advocate of active learning and how she puts active learning to effective use in her own classes. In other words, she doesn’t just preach. She practices.

Three class videos show how Dr. Rankin combines short lectures with a variety of active learning techniques to bolster student learning and knowledge retention.

In a number of video Instructor Insights, Dr. Rankin explains the virtues of active learning in its various manifestations, and footage from her class shows how the different techniques played out. With experience teaching in a variety of settings, from discussion-based seminars to large lectures, Rankin knows how to adapt the techniques to different situations in order to get the best results and avoid missteps.

 

Many Methods to Success

The techniques often have intriguing names: mud cards, think-pair-share, debate, beach ball, personal response systems, lightning round, jigsaw. And they often produce scenes that would surprise STEM educators accustomed to giving non-interactive lectures. How can serious learning take place with students tossing a beach ball around the classroom?  If each student who catches the ball has to say what they think about a given question, discussion is rapid-fire, participation is high, and the often inhibiting dynamic in which the all-knowing instructor puts students on the spot with pointed questions never comes into play.

In the lightning round, students line up face to face so that each person briefly shares with their counterpart their views on a given question. Then students shift places in the line, and begin again. In this way, students can quickly get a sense of how others in the class think about a topic. They get comfortable talking to one another.  They have fun! And their understanding is broadened and made more sophisticated. Knowledge gets reinforced.

Coming up with productive questions can make a big difference in these activities, and Dr. Rankin offers advice on this as well.

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OCW has another version of 5.95, taught in Spring 2009 by Sanjoy Mahajan, also an advocate of active learning. Now a Professor at Olin College, Mahajan was at the time Associate Director of the Teaching and Learning Lab. The course site has full videos of the class sessions and is also worth a visit.

New Computer Science Courses!

A blue and yellow fractal image.

A fractal generated from the hailstone sequence, as discussed in Lecture 1 of 6.005 Software Construction. (Public domain image from Wikipedia.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

One of the great strengths of OCW as an educational resource is its extensive list of course sites from MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. You might think, with so many courses published from the EECS curriculum, that OCW’s work for this department has reached a plateau.

But OCW continues to climb higher, augmenting and refreshing the course list, and two new publications present superb cases in point.

Learning to Think Like a Programmer

6.0001 Introduction to Computer Science and Programming in Python represents MIT’s evolving approach to this core subject, in which students with little or no programming experience learn how to write small programs that accomplish useful goals. 6.0001 is a six-week module using the Python 3.5 programming language.

Screenshot from video, of woman speaking in front of a chalkboard, holding a laser pointer.

Dr. Ana Bell explains a Python programming example (“robot cheerleaders”) in 6.001 Lecture 3.

The course site, showing the Fall 2016 class, has full video lectures featuring Dr. Ana Bell and Professor Eric Grimson. Slides and code for each lecture are also provided, as are interactive in-class questions with videos showing the answers to those questions. The textbook for the course was written by Professor John Guttag, who is well known to OCW fans for his popular OCW Scholar course, 6.00SC Introduction to Computer Science and Programming. The 6.0001 assignments page has helpful links to the 6.0001 Style Guide and a handy list of programming resources, including the Python Tutor.

Learning to Construct Software

Students who have developed some programming skill might then move on to 6.005 Software Construction, as taught in Spring 2016 by Professor Rob Miller and Dr. Max Goldman. As the instructors say in the syllabus, the course “introduces fundamental principles and techniques of software development, i.e., how to write software that is safe from bugs, easy to understand, and ready for change.”

Image containing some notes and a bubble+lines graph.

“Graphs—what are they good for? Poetry!” A page section from the problem, “Poetic Walks,” in the 6.005 Assignments.

An advocate of active learning, Professor Miller has his MIT students read a carefully structured textbook before coming to class so that most time can be spent doing exercises. The OCW site includes the full set of class readings, along with problems sets and a project, the ABC Music Player.

6.005 uses the Java programming language, for which help is available via the 6.005 Getting Started page and OCW’s popular course on Java, 6.092 Introduction to Programming in Java.

The Commons rejoices: 375,000 new images from the Met

Photo of ceramic statue of a person, smilling with arms upraised.

This Smiling Figure from the Remojadas region of Veracruz is a hollow ceramic sculpture representing an individual celebrating with music and dance. (License CC 0, from the Metropolitan Museum.)

It’s a great day for art and the Commons!

Today, the Metropolitan Museum of Art unveiled a new Open Access policy for 375,000 images from their permanent collection – spanning 5,000 years of history, from antiquities to photography, and including images otherwise unavailable to view within the museum itself. These images (and their metadata) are provided under the public domain Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license.

Begin to explore the bounty by visiting their Collection page, and selecting the “Public Domain Artworks” filter in the left-hand column.

Learn more about the program, including their partnerships with Artstor, Wikimedia Foundation, Digital Public Library of America, ITHAKA, and Creative Commons, in this Facebook Live video of the announcement.

We look forward to these great artworks enlivening our course home pages, social media posts, and within our course materials. From all of us at MIT OpenCourseWare, and on behalf of our millions of learners around the globe, thank you Met and all those who made this gift possible.

Making Sense of Immigration

Photo of protesters gathered in a public square, featuring a sign reading "No Ban, No Wall."

Thousands gathered in Boston on January 29, 2017, to protest President Trump’s executive order banning immigration and travel from 7 predominantly Muslim countries. (Photo courtesy of John Hilliard on Flickr, License CC BY.)

The shockwaves emanating from Washington DC in recent weeks may seem unprecedented, at least in recent US politics. But look back in time, and consider the history of other countries and regions; you’ll find plenty of lessons to ground your understanding of, and responses to, these current events. Look to OCW for some facts and thoughtful perspectives.

Consider immigration: the January 27th US executive order banning travel and immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and plans to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

This handpicked selection of OCW courses on immigration reflects the teaching of many departments within MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (Anthropology, Economics, History, Global Studies and Languages, Comparative Media Studies, Music, Political Science) and the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Each of these OCW sites has an extensive reading list, with many items available online, plus a wide assortment of other materials.

Global Perspectives

21g-076f09-th21G.076 Globalization: the Good, the Bad, and the In-Between examines the paradoxes of contemporary globalization, and the cultural, linguistic, social and political impact of globalization across broad international borders and on specific language communities.

17-523f05-th17.523 Ethnicity and Race in World Politics seeks to answer fundamental questions about racial and ethnic politics. The course site includes complete lecture notes.

 

21a-442jf14-th21A.442 Violence, Human Rights, and Justice examines the problem of mass violence and oppression in the contemporary world (and a driver of immigration), and the concept of human rights as a defense against such abuse.

 

17-582s10-th17.582 Civil War surveys the origins, the variables that affect duration, and ways to settle this primary cause of refugees and mass migrations.

 

Middle Eastern History and Islam

21h-161f15-th21H.161 The Middle East in the 20th Century surveys the history of the Middle East from the end of the 19th century to the present. The OCW site features an extensive list of online readings and videos.

 

21m-289s15-th21M.289 Islam/Media is an introduction to Islam through the lens of media and sound studies. Several samples of student coursework complement a wide-ranging reading and film list.

 

21h-601f06-th21H.601 Islam, the Middle East, and the West offers a general overview of basic themes and issues in Middle Eastern history from the rise of Islam to the present.

 

In the United States

11-947s05-th11.947 Race, Immigration, and Planning is an introduction to the issues of immigrants, planning, and race, identifying the complexities and identities of immigrant populations emerging in the United States.

 

21h-221f06-th21H.221 The Places of Migration in United States History examines the history of the United States as a “nation of immigrants” within a broader global context, from the mid-19th century to the present. The course site includes selected lecture notes.

11-164f15-th11.164 Human Rights: At Home and Abroad includes a consideration of the historically contentious relationship between the West and the Rest in matters of sovereignty and human rights.

 

11-002jf14-th11.002J Making Public Policy treats politics as a struggle among competing advocates trying to persuade others to see the world as they do, structured primarily by institutions and cultural ideas. See the immigration readings for sessions #13-15.

 

21h-319f14-th21H.319 Race, Crime, and Citizenship in American Law examines how citizenship, nationhood, and race/ethnicity relate to US criminal justice, including national security policing and constitutional law at the intersection of ethnicity, religion, and counter-terrorism.

Bring it Home with a Game

cms-615f13-thFinally, a break from all the reading. Experience the challenging life of a refugee with Against All Odds, an online game developed by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. It’s one of the “Serious Games” listed on CMS.615 Games for Social Change.

Recent History Shows Its Relevance

A grey-haired gentleman wearing a fur hat and black overcoat, raises his hand in a wave.

On December 31, 1999, Russian President Boris Yeltsin resigned as head of state, leaving the presidency to then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. (Image by ITAR-TASS, from the website of the President of the Russian Federation.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Back in November, we told you about a novel history course in which MIT students built a printing press out of a single beam of wood following a 16th-century design. The idea was to get students involved in a hands-on project so they could have an insider’s view of a technology that revolutionized the world, while keeping in mind the ways digital technology is reshaping the world today.

21H.343J Making Books: The Renaissance and Today is but the latest of a string of OCW publications from MIT’s Department of History that have deep, one might even say, haunting relevance for the problems we confront today. A glance at any day’s news will make clear the value of setting current events in historical context.

Here is a sampler of recent OCW course sites from History, with brief descriptions from their syllabi. These courses all have detailed reading lists, and most have links to further help, including web resources, original documents, and films:

21H.108J Sexual and Gender Identities, as taught in Spring 2016 by Professor Caley Horan
wgs-110js16-thThis introduction to the history of gender, sex, and sexuality in the United States traces “the expanding and contracting nature of attempts to control, construct, and contain sexual and gender identities, as well as the efforts of those who worked to resist, reject, and reform institutionalized heterosexuality and mainstream configurations of gendered power.”

21H.211 The United States in the Nuclear Age, as taught in Spring 2016 by Professor Caley Horan
21h-211s16-th“The dawn of the nuclear age and the ensuing Cold War fundamentally altered American politics and social life. It also led to a flowering of technological experimentation and rapid innovation in the sciences. Over the course of the term, students will explore how Americans responded to these changes, and how those responses continue to shape life in the US today.”

21H.245J Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society, 1917 to the Present, as taught in Spring 2016 by Professor Elizabeth A. Wood
21h-245js16-th“As Russian President Vladimir Putin once said, ‘Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain.’ But what was the Soviet Union? How did it develop out of Imperial Russia? What happened in the Russian Revolution? What were the various efforts at reform, sometimes moderate (the New Economic Policy), sometimes violent (the purges of the 1930s)? How did the country deal with WWI and WWII? How did it deal with nationalities? What led to the rapid transformation under Gorbachev and the breakup of the USSR in 1991? How has the country continued to evolve under Yeltsin and Putin?”

21H.381J Women and War in the 20th Century, as taught in Fall 2015 by Professor Lerna Ekmekcioglu
21h-381jf15-th“This seminar examines women’s experiences during and after war, revolution, and genocide. The focus of the course is mostly on the 20th century and on North America, Europe and the Middle East.” Topics include War as Daily Life, Perpetrators, Soldiers, Rape as a Weapon, Peace Activism, and 9/11’s Gendered Aftermath.

21H.382 Capitalism in the Age of Revolution, as taught in Fall 2016 by Professor Malick Ghachem
21h-382s16-th“The novel instruments of credit, debt, and investment fashioned during this period proved to be enduring sources of financial innovation, but they also generated a great deal of political conflict, particularly during the revolutionary era itself. We will examine the debates surrounding large-scale financial and trading corporations and consider the eighteenth century as a period of recurring financial crisis in which corporate power came into sustained and direct contact with emerging republican norms.”

Mind and Hand and Ears

Collage of a Pure Data patch, consisting of several labeled boxes connected by lines, overlaying a black-and-white photo of a steam locomotive with steam blowing up out of the whistle.

One of the sound design exercises in 21M.380 challenges students to synthesize a steam train drive-by, with each group working on a different sound related to that problem. (Steam train photo is in the public domain, from Flickr Commons.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

People love sound effects. They have for generations. Just think of the original King Kong’s roar, created for the 1933 film by weaving together lion and tiger roars and playing them backwards. What would the movie be without that signature sound?

Certain sound effects are so iconic they have legs, so to speak. Like that bird whose call tells you the setting is deep in the jungle, no matter the continent. Or the scream of the guy who meets his doom by being attacked or falling from a cliff. That same scream has been used again and again in over 50 years of movies.

And what about those sounds that must be fully imagined? Like those space ships careering across the galaxy? The sound of the engines is so compelling the audience is happy to forget that, in the vacuum of space, sound does not exist. How did that sound get made?

Actually, it was designed. Design is a key part of the MIT “mind and hand” education. The art and science of sound design is the subject of 21M.380 Music and Technology: Sound Design, the latest in a series of courses on sound and technology that OCW has up on its site.

This most recent publication reflects the teaching of Dr. Florian Hollerweger, a sound artist and sound technology researcher in MIT’s Department of Music and Theater Arts.

Teaching with Technology (and Without)

The course site has lecture notes, readings, assignments, and samples of student projects through multiple iterations, so you can see how the projects evolved. MIT students and OCW learners alike benefit from the course’s use of a free open-source program called Pure Data. Dr. Hollerweger’s extensive notes include linked audio samples and working examples of Pure Data code, creating a dynamic learning experience.

Dr. Hollerweger explains the central practice of the course in the Instructor Insights on his This Course at MIT page:

 . . . we take real-world sounds and try to understand how they work. We then recreate them from scratch without using any recordings. Instead we rely on oscillators, noise generators, and filters, which we control through computer programs that students learn to write as part of the course . . . The prospect of engaging with students in the process of aestheticizing everyday sound experiences was a major impetus for teaching the course.

Learning to Listen

Before creating sounds, students must first learn how to listen. Or, as Dr. Hollerweger puts it, “Your main tool for sound design is really your ears.”  The soundwalk assignment is where it all begins. The students

 . . . describe, in as minute detail as possible, their aural experience from a listening excursion that we conduct across the MIT campus together. This assignment teaches them to verbalize their sonic impressions and communicate them to others. It trains students’ ears to attend not only to individual sound sources, but also to flutter echoes, comb filters, and other subtle acoustics effects that are due to the abutting architecture.

In other Instructor Insights, Dr. Hollerweger explains how he uses surveys to get to know his students and to tap their various talents, how he gets them learning actively in groups (he employs only the shortest of lectures), how he teaches the iterative design process, and how he assesses and grades creative projects.

Offering Advice

A lot of the instruction takes place the old-fashioned way—meeting one on one during office hours:

A lot of the support I offer students during the design process occurs during office hours. This is because their projects are so individualized. Every student has to come up with their own idea. When a student gets stuck, we need to get together to identify the key challenges of their design through an open-ended discussion.

[Applause!]

21M.380 is but the latest course in which instruction in the iterative design process is represented on OCW. Some other recent examples are CMS.611J Creating Video Games, 6.811 Principles and Practice of Assistive Technology, and 20.219 Becoming the Next Bill Nye: Writing and Hosting the Educational Show.

You can change the world!

Submit your idea to MIT Solve

Maybe it’s an idea that’s been rattling around your head or maybe you’re about to have an epiphany that can dramatically improve the lives of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people.

Now is your chance to make your idea become a reality.

Solve, an initiative of MIT, has launched three new challenges on its open innovation platform and is seeking submissions which could be pitched at the United Nations on March 7th.

Aimed at developing and implementing solutions to major global issues, the current Solve challenges seek innovative solutions that address: 

  • Refugee Education: How can we improve learning outcomes for refugee and displaced young people under 24? Click here to view the challenge.
  • Carbon Contributions: How can individuals and corporations manage and reduce their carbon contributions? Click here to view the challenge.
  • Chronic Diseases: How can we help people prevent, detect and manage chronic diseases, especially in resources-limited settings? Click here to view the challenge.

Challenges are active and open for applications until January 20, 2017. Anyone with innovative ideas and a passion for finding affordable, far-reaching, and implementable solutions is encouraged to apply.

You can find out more information about MIT Solve at http://solve.mit.edu/