Greatest Hits of the Humanities, Part I: Anthropology and History

Painted portrait of a man in dress military clothing, holding some papers in one hand.

Général François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, a leader in the Haitian Revolution who helped to overthrow the institution of slavery and turn Haiti into an independent state. Learn more in 21H.001 How to Stage a Revolution (This image is public domain. Source: NYPL Digital Gallery.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Most OCW fans are familiar with our list of most visited courses.  We update this list every month, but the courses on it typically don’t change very much. Given MIT’s reputation as a premiere engineering institution, it should come as no surprise that the list is dominated by Mathematics and Computer Science courses. Introductory courses are especially well-represented.

This led us to wonder: What are the most visited OCW courses in MIT departments not included in this list? In a series of posts, we’ll present the top five most visited courses in Humanities departments, starting here with Anthropology and History.

 


Photo of four young children in Halloween costumes.

Children show off their costumes during a Halloween Parade in Tokyo. In 21A.01 How Culture Works, students complete an ethnographic study on Halloween. (Image courtesy of Buz Carter on flickr. License CC BY-NC-SA.)

Anthropology

  • 21A.00 Introduction to Anthropology taught by Professor Graham Jones
    “…anthropology…seeks to understand how culture both shapes societies…and affects the way institutions work…This course will provide a framework for analyzing diverse facets of human experience such as gender, ethnicity, language, politics, economics, and art.”
  • 21A.211 Magic, Witchcraft, and the Spirit World taught by Professor James Howe
    “This class is concerned with the boundaries between everyday life and another order of reality, the world of spirits, powers, and mystical dangers, and with what happens when those barriers ease or break apart.”
  • 21A.265 Food and Culture taught by Professor Heather Paxon
    “…in eating, humans incorporate into our very bodies the products of nature transformed into culture. This course explores connections between what we eat and who we are through cross-cultural study of how personal identities and social groups are formed via food production, preparation, and consumption.”
  • 21A.01 How Culture Works taught by Professor Manduhai Buyandelger
    “This course explores the diverse meanings, uses, and abuses of the concept of culture using historical materials and contemporary examples from around the globe. The word ‘culture’ is used liberally to indicate practices, symbols and representations ranging from a piece of clothing to elusive claims concerning the environment.”
  • 21A.219 Law and Society taught by Professor Susan S. Silbey
    “This course examines the central features of law as a social institution and as a feature of popular culture. We will explore the nature of law as a set of social systems, central actors in the systems, legal reasoning, and the relationship of the legal form and reasoning to social change…We will explore the range of experiences of law for its ministers (lawyers, judges, law enforcement agents and administrators) as well as for its supplicants (citizens, plaintiffs, defendants).” 

See all Anthropology courses on OCW >


Black-and-white photo of the Rome Colosseum in its landscape, highlighting the partially collapsed walls.

The Colosseum. Rome, Italy. (Image courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [reproduction number, LC-USZ62-104882 (b&w film copy neg.)]

History

  • 21H.101 American History to 1865 taught by Professor Pauline Maier
    “This course…examines the colonial heritages of Spanish and British America; the American Revolution and its impact; the establishment and growth of the new nation; and the Civil War, its background, character, and impact.”
  • 21H.001 How to Stage a Revolution taught by Professors Malick Ghachem, Jeffrey S. Ravel, and Craig Wilder
    “This course explores fundamental questions about the causes and nature of revolutions by looking at how people overthrow their rulers and establish new governments…Examines how revolutionaries have attempted to establish their ideals and realize their goals. Asks whether radical upheavals require bloodshed, violence, or even terror.”
  • 21H.301 The Ancient World: Greece taught by Professor William Broadhead
    “This course elaborates the history of Ancient Greece from the Bronze Age to the death of Alexander…includes discussions on Homer, heroism, and the Greek identity; the hoplite revolution and the rise of the city-state; Herodotus, Persia, and the (re)birth of history; Empire, Thucydidean rationalism, and the Peloponnesian War; Platonic constructs; Aristotle, Macedonia, and Hellenism. Emphasis is on use of primary sources in translation.”
  • 21H.302 The Ancient World: Rome taught by Professor William Broadhead
    “This course elaborates the history of Rome from its humble beginnings to the fifth century A.D. The first half of the course 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 of the course covers Virgil to the Vandals; major social, economic, political and religious trends at Rome and in the provinces. Emphasis is placed on the use of primary sources in translation.” 
  • 21H.931 Seminar in Historical Methods taught by Professor Anne McCants
    “We examine how historians conceive of their object of study, how they use primary sources as a basis for their accounts, how they structure the narrative and analytic discussion of their topic, and what are the advantages and drawbacks of their various approaches.”

See all History courses on OCW >

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!

Some Timely Courses for Our Trying Times

Two men standing in a muddy debris-strewn street.

Residents begin to assess the damage after Hurricane Maria hit the island of Dominica in September 2017. (Public domain image by Roosevelt Skerrit on Flickr).

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

We noticed that these courses, published in the past month, seem particularly relevant in light of recent events.

11.027 Global City Scope—Disaster Planning and Post-Disaster Rebuilding and Recovery, taught by Cherie Miot Abbanat.

What’s your town’s disaster mitigation plan? Does it even have one? Does it seem like a viable way of handling an emergency, or is it just a report that sits on a shelf?

Analyzing and evaluating one of these plans is one of your assignments when you take this course.

And what course could be more timely? Recent months have seen so many mind-blowing disasters, one after another—hurricanes of phenomenal destructive power, monster wild fires, crushing mud slides, earthquakes, a bomb cyclone.

The course has four modules: Disaster Mitigation, Preparedness and Planning, Disaster Response, Disaster Recovery and Rebuilding.

21A.429J Environmental Conflict, taught by Professor Christine Walley.

Is there a recent  environmental issue that has not generated conflict? Fracking? The regulation of chemicals and toxins? Offshore oil drilling? The status of natural parks and preserves?

This course provides the theoretical frameworks for thinking about such conflicts, and focuses

…on a number of often contentious issues, including: ideas of “nature” and the politics and practices of nature conservation; the links between toxic pollution and health effects; the complexity of human / non-human relations as seen through the lens of multispecies frameworks; and debates over crucial contemporary issues ranging from climate change to natural gas exploration.

17.269 Race, Ethnicity, and American Politics, taught by Professor Ariel White.

The course description sums it up nicely:

What is “race”? How could we possibly measure it, and does it really matter? What does it mean to say that a policy is discriminatory, and how have social scientists and courts tried to measure racial discrimination? What do Americans think about race in the 21st century, and how do these opinions shape their voting and protest behavior?

After taking this course, students will be able to discuss different ways of imagining race and ethnicity, and their historical underpinnings. They will be able to describe and critique the ways in which racial attitudes are theorized and measured, and think about how these different attitudes are expected to shape political behavior…

Teaching a course on such a sensitive subject requires more than a little thoughtfulness. The course site includes some fascinating Instructor Insights, including “Facilitating Talk about Race and Ethnicity” and “Fostering Intuition about Social Science.”

21H.983 Gender, taught by Professors Lerna Ekmekcioglu and Elizabeth A. Wood.

As much as gender is discussed in the popular media, this course explores some challenging questions that you don’t see posed very often, at least not directly:

How does gender work? How is the body itself sexed and gendered in different times and places? How do gender, race and class work in historical context? Does gender influence state formation and the work of the state? What role does gender play in imperialism and in the welfare state? What is the relationship between gender and war? How does the state regulate the body in the modern world? What are some new directions in the study of gender?

17.480 Understanding Military Operations, taught by Professor Owen Cote.

Right now some 300,000 US military personnel, often using highly sophisticated technology, are deployed in over 150 countries around the world. This course offers the chance to assess the thinking behind deployments like these and how they might change in the future.

The course covers a full range of topics, from military doctrine to tactical mobility. As the course description states:

This seminar will break apart selected past, current, and future sea, air, space, and land battlefields into their constituent parts and look at the interaction in each of those warfare areas between existing military doctrine and weapons, sensors, communications, and information processing technologies. It will specifically seek to explore how technological development…is influenced in each warfare area by military doctrine.

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.

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Joseph Pickett
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MIT OpenCourseWare

 

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