Technology Enabled Transformation in the MIT Learning Experience

Published in MIT Faculty Newsletter May/June 2011 - By Daniel Hastings, Hal Abelson, Vijay Kumar

Last fall, Provost Reif charged the MIT Council on Educational Technology (MITCET) to develop a strategy that would fundamentally enhance the educational experience of students by:

  • Increasing the emphasis on experience-based learning that is hands-on, globally connected, and research-intensive.
  • Integrating living and learning through technology-enabled residence-based education that supports the very best in-person and on-line pedagogy.

Technology Transitions

The Provost’s charge comes at a time of major innovation at MIT, and also a time of significant transitions in information technology. There are currently three major technology shifts that could have enormous implications for higher education:

  • The continuing sophistication and lowering cost of networked communications: Audio and video conferencing in tandem with shared documents, even internationally, have become cost-effective and convenient enough that they are now a regular part of the operation of many firms. There is often no need for specialized equipment. For many purposes, people can participate in remote meetings using laptop computers and ordinary network connections.

  • The shift toward cloud computing infrastructures: Cloud computing is being driven by the economies of scale for data centers and support functions. For education, it is now possible to provide media services and interactive computing at global scale, even at modest cost – sometimes even cost-free with YouTube videos.

  • The shift toward mobility, away from laptop computers and toward smartphones and pads: Many people, including many students, now inhabit a world where they are always connected and where the boundaries between computer-augmented communication and face-to-face meetings have begun to blur


Opportunities for MIT

It’s difficult to predict how these three shifts will play out, even in the short term. But it’s apparent that they could provide opportunities for increased flexibility in MIT’s educational programs: flexibility for students, faculty, departments, and for the Institute as a whole, in a way that contributes to the richness and excellence of our educational programs.

Through educational technology, MIT could:

  • Address the varied abilities (capacity, preparation, interests, motivation) of its students through providing alternative pathways to learning, delivery, and resources including leveraging resources elsewhere.
  • Redefine the model of a semester from being a fixed-time or fixed-content construct to being one in which learning occurs in modules of varying durations with opportunities for varied experiences.
  • Move from teaching content to providing hands-on and research experiences powered by the inquisitive and entrepreneurial nature of MIT students and faculty.
  • Increase the quantity and quality of interaction among all of MIT’s constituents – students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

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