Recap of the Big Things I did at work in 2013-2014

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Every year, we submit a report that shares the highlights of our unit activities at MIT. Below is a reporting of the major activities that I was involved with for the last fiscal year (running July-June) that I wrote for contribution to that report. You can also look back on reports from 2012-2013 and 2011-2012.

This year represented a transition of our organization from the Office of Educational Innovation and Technology to Strategic Education Initiatives within the MIT Office of Digital Learning.

Office of Educational Innovation and Technology

Embedded Assessment

OEIT is developing a set of tools and infrastructure to enable MIT faculty to embed any assessment (e.g., quiz questions or concept questions for formative feedback) in any web accessible content. As OEIT has been collaborating with MIT faculty it recognized that faculty needs are beginning to revolve around continuous formative feedback especially as MIT faculty “flip” their classrooms and develop more online content to support their subjects. The embedded assessment tools allow instructors and authors to place assessments directly in any content thereby providing a richer learning experience.

Two use cases illustrate the potential of these tools and services: OEIT has been working with Aero/Astro faculty who have developed a comprehensive set of lecture notes. As part of their course redesign efforts, they are switching to a “flipped” classroom model in which they require students to read the lecture notes and complete the embedded assessments before coming to class. These faculty use embedded assessment to gauge student understanding before they meet with students in class, allowing the faculty to tailor the classroom experience to address misunderstandings. Also, consider the case of OpenCourseWare that is a static publication of MIT course materials. OCW could be extended by embedding assessments, using questions and problems that already exist in the course materials, as live assessments directly in course pages. This has the potential to extend the value of OCW and enable self-learners using OCW to better check their mastery of the materials.

The OEIT technical approach differs from current practice used by most learning management systems and other tools because existing tools require either a system that presents both content and assessments together as part of a typically complex and fully integrated system, or a system in which the learner is required to leave the content to take an assessment in a separate quiz system, which breaks the flow of learning. The OEIT approach enables assessment as a service allowing any assessment to be embedded in any web-accessible content, freeing the instructor to design the learning experiences they want.

Modular Course Support


OEIT continued its collaboration with Mechanical Engineering and Professors Pedro Reis and Ken Kamrin to extend the work on i2.002 from the MIT Council on Educational Technology (MITCET) Modularity Experiments first begun in 2011-2012. This year, OEIT developed a prototype video concept browser to link the lecture videos recorded in Spring 2012 with key concepts in mechanics and materials to enable students to find specific video segments. Students are able to easily find the 10-minute segment on a particular concept among a sea of 90-minute videos. OEIT will be further developing the technology and using it in additional classes beginning in Fall 2014.

In addition, OEIT worked with faculty to develop “Virtual Office Hour” videos, in which teaching assistants offer video segments to help students get started on problem sets, just as if they had attended a virtual office hour. This new experiment began to explore how a “traditional” MIT subject might develop technology-enhanced support for fully online or hybrid courses. Work on i2.002 is an example of the collaborative relationship that OEIT develops with the faculty and demonstrates a commitment to a long term experimentation to evolve MIT subjects.


OEIT continued to collaborate with 3.003: Principles of Engineering Practice, providing web support to enable collaboration with a similar course at the University of Tokyo. Students in 3.003 at MIT use the course website to access special lectures by MIT and University of Tokyo faculty. And the course website documents the progress MIT students make on the class project. As the University of Tokyo term begins two months after MIT (April versus February), University of Tokyo students use the website as a sort of class diary to understand the work that MIT students have already completed to help launch their class. The collaboration is capped with a site visit in which MIT students join their University of Tokyo peers in Japan for a joint symposium.


D-Lab is a program of “development through dialog, design, and dissemination,” which creates technologies for underserved populations in developing regions of the world. OEIT collaborated with D-Lab Energy and D-Lab Design to enable real-time participation by D-Lab students located remotely (in Brazil) with the classroom in Cambridge, MA. Most of the infrastructure at MIT that supports video recording and video conferencing assumes a presentation-mode delivery, whether it is in a Level 5 classroom or a departmental conference room. Cameras are typically fixed on the presenter at the front of the room, and it is usually only lecture theaters with fixed seating that have audience cameras. D-Lab needed the ability to conduct a traditional lecture with both whiteboard and projected computer display, along with small group activity with a team distributed between Cambridge and Brazil, in the same physical space at the same time. The D-Lab pedagogy has instructors moving from presentation-mode to collaboration-mode throughout any given class session.

OEIT collaborated with D-Lab to use consumer-level USB video cameras, MIT’s WebEx subscription and a laptop to originate the lecture video feed and also simultaneously use Skype and a separate laptop/iPad. The configuration worked to enable real-time participation by the remote MIT students. Further work is needed to improve the experience, and allow for team members from multiple teams to remotely participate from multiple sites from around the world.

iCampus Prize

OEIT, on behalf of the MIT Council on Education Technology, awarded the grand prize of the 2014 iCampus Student Prize competition to Daryl Neubieser, ’16, and Michael Everett, ’15, for OfCourse, an online tool that provides a centralized place to learn about classes and discover what to take next. The competition also recognized Aidan Bevacqua, ’16, for the development of MIT Locate, a mobile app that provides a location service enabling students to locate each other on campus.

The iCampus Student Prize is an annual competition that recognizes innovative and creative applications of technology that improve living and learning at MIT. The Prize is endowed through the iCampus research collaboration between Microsoft Research and MIT.

Online Teacher Education

OEIT is collaborating with MIT faculty to develop aspects of online teacher education courses that highlight the pedagogies favored and developed by MIT faculty. Over the last few years, OEIT has had discussions with private foundations and governments to help develop an online teacher education program. These discussions have paralleled an interest by MIT faculty to develop such a program for MIT.

OEIT received a grant from the Education Development Center (with U.S. Agency for International Development funding) to prototype aspects of an online teacher education program for Pakistan, based on the teaching techniques and approaches used by MIT faculty. These courses, currently under development, will highlight:

  • Games and simulation-based learning
  • Use of mathlets—applets highlighting mathematical, engineering and physical principles
  • Visualizations for learning
  • Best practices in teaching and learning
  • Digital learning toolkit featuring best practices for online learning

In addition the project is developing tools to enable faculty to design and develop concept maps along with an infrastructure to support the back-end. Participating faculty along with OEIT plan to use these courses and tools after the close of the project to conduct additional online teacher education.

Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT)

OEIT, on behalf of ODL and MIT, is taking the lead in collaborating with community colleges in the development of curricula in areas such as advanced manufacturing and entrepreneurship and in online learning using edX and other MIT/OEIT-developed technologies. The curricula will also reflect MIT’s philosophies to blend online/virtual with hands-on learning.

Along these lines OEIT has begun a collaboration with the Transformation Agenda, a consortium of 15 Massachusetts community colleges that received Round 1 TAACCCT funding. OEIT discussions with the Transformation Agenda have revolved around development of blended courses in advanced manufacturing in collaboration with these community college partners in Massachusetts.

OEIT is currently planning to collaborate with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the TAACCCT Round 4 proposals. This would lead to the development of a software tool that integrates proactive advising linked to labor market information (for jobs outlook) and courses. The community college application of this tool will likely focus on college completion, whereas MIT might use the same tool to better track progress toward flexible degree programs such as Course 2A or 16-ENG. This proposal will also likely focus on advanced manufacturing, non-nursing healthcare, and perhaps information technology.

Strategic Education Initiatives

International Collaborations

Strategic Education Initiatives (SEI) has been involved in the development of four international collaborations:

  • A proposed initiative with Brij Mohan Lall Munjal University (BMU) will be a five-year academic collaboration between MIT and BMU to develop, deliver and support approximately 18 engineering courses. The courses will be delivered in a blended format using MITx for online course delivery combined with hands-on and project-based learning that is the hallmark of a MIT education.
  • SEI collaborated with the Education Development Center, Inc. to propose a five year program to strengthen the competence of skilled workers in the fields of STEM + Accounting and tourism across the Lower Mekong Initiative partner countries and to catalyze increased global competitiveness of firms across the sub-region.
  • SEI is working with collaborators in India to develop an operational plan for a three-year program to be supported by the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust to improve science, mathematics and English preparedness for traditionally underserved students in grades 8-12 in India. This program is intended to ensure students in India are prepared both to go on to further education as well as to enter the workforce with strong career opportunities.
  • SEI developed a concept note for a multi-year collaboration with Al Dabbagh Group Saudi Arabia for an endeavor termed “Virtual Philantropy University.” This collaboration will develop and deliver approximately ten courses using MITx and will provide capacity-building professional development at scale to support philanthropic activity and institutions around the world.

iOS IAP Workshop

OEIT continued a collaboration with Apple to host an annual iOS Workshop during IAP in January. The iOS Workshop introduced MIT students to development of iOS apps.

Learning Sciences and Online Learning Symposium

SEI submitted a proposal to the NSF for a symposium to engage leading researchers and educational practitioners in a discussion on how learning science, in particular Discipline Based Educational Research (DBER) findings, can inform the development of meaningful online learning experiences, particularly for STEM. Participants representing the learning sciences, discipline-based education and online learning will identify and address the opportunities for research and practice of DBER to online learning initiatives. The symposium will address key challenges and opportunities for inquiry in DBER research and practice posed by online learning, particularly for STEM disciplines, leading to a set of recommendations for future design, development and research of online environments informed by DBER.