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MIT student blogger Yuliya K. '18

Blended Learning at MIT by Yuliya K. '18

benefits of technology in MIT classrooms

See the original version of this post on the Office of Digital Learning website here

Fourteen years ago, MIT democratized secondary education through OpenCourseWare. Then came edX, a massive online open course (MOOC) provider, created by MIT and Harvard and used by over 70 educational institutions. Now MIT is implementing the latest educational technology in its classrooms. 

Professors and students alike are engaged in an Institute-wide effort to translate traditional course offerings into an online learning platform, MITx. MITx allows educators to develop and share their knowledge, and provides students with essential tools and resources outside the classroom. It is the “21st century equivalent of a textbook.” 

This week, a panel of four MITx Digital Learning Scientists and educators from four different departments shared their experiences implementing blended learning in residential classes at MIT as part of a series of xTalks hosted by the Office of Digital Learning. Here are the highlights of their discussion:

Structure

MITx adapts to meet the needs of different classes, anything from the project-based 3.086 (Innovation and Commercialization) to the problem set/lab-based 3.032 (Mechanical Behavior of Materials). For some courses, the platform is the main source of learning. For others, it allows a blend of lecture and technology-enabled learning. Some tools that professors use within the platform are:

  • Problem-solving and conceptual videos (see MITx videos on the cell cycle and cell cycle terms by blogger Ceri R. ‘16 here)
  • Online problem sets and exams
  • Immediate feedback for online problems
  • Charts and diagrams to connect class topics and provide visual learning aides
  • Interactive learning sequences, consisting of videos, checkpoints, and online tutorials
  • Discussion forum for instructors and learners

Benefits

For professors, blended learning provides an escape from the “classroom clock.” The online resources allow instructors to focus on critical content in the classroom and rely on online components for prerequisites and extensions. It also frees time for simple demonstrations of course content in real life. More complex simulations can be posted online. Project software gives faculty greater insight into students’ thought processes to facilitate mentoring and feedback. Animated concept videos show not only “how a cell thinks, but also how a cell biologist thinks” (from Prof. Adam Martin).

For students, MITx provides an interactive textbook, invaluable for review and enrichment. Immediate feedback on problems encourages collaboration. Since there is no need to debate the answer, learners can spend more time on problem-solving discussion. New tools, such as embedded simulation/visualization software, allow students to easily explore and test the system response and gain a deeper intuitive understanding of complex concepts.

Numbers

Data on the implementation of MITx shows incredible results:

  • In fall 2012, only 10% of the students in the traditional 2.01 (Elements of Structures) received a final score of over 90%. Three years later, 56% of the students in the blended version of the class (same professor and content) scored over 90%. The class ratings went up also.
  • 95% of students in blended Physics courses say that the professors should keep using MITx for their classes.
  • In 7.012 (Introduction to Biology), MITx software registered 3,000 clicks in a given day on its optional review videos, for a 500-person class.
  • The instant feedback tool was rated by 79% of student survey respondents as “extremely helpful” and by 13% as “very helpful.”

These statistics are strikingly similar across departments and courses. The numbers are unprecedented in classroom reform.

Future

The quest to bring MITx to every classroom has just begun, but the movement is growing fast. In the future, the MITx Digital Learning Scientists hope to meet the students’ needs by offering more course options online. For example, 8.S05 (Special Offering of Quantum Mechanics II), usually a fall course, can now also be taken in the spring in an online format. An initiative is underway to compile a content library for every class with student data, problem sets, and other relevant materials. This project (named “LORE” for Learning Objects Repository for Education) was developed by MITx Engineering and is being tested in Physics.

MITx is breaking stereotypes about online learning, improving student performance, and bringing us closer to a seamless integration of technology into the classroom. See the video recording of the xTalk here. Explore other xTalks here (select "archived events").