MIT has been at the forefront of developing and applying learning technologies in the classroom. Faculty, staff, and students have pioneered technologies that enhance visualization, facilitate knowledge mapping, crowd-source review of assignments, integrate games into learning, conduct experiments via remote laboratories, and advance the digital humanities.

Using digital tools computer screen

Using digital tools

As digital learning technology has moved from the early adopter phase into one of broader experimentation and acceptance, we seek to encourage and enable faculty to use the Residential MITx platform and other digital tools, such as those described below, through knowledge dissemination, training, and support. 

Interactive, online tutors

MIT has deep expertise in building interactive, online tutors. An early milestone was xTutor, the online tutor developed for a version of MIT EECS' iconic course 6.001: Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, by Dr. Chris Terman. Extensive on-campus use of such online tutors, by hundreds of MIT undergraduates each semester, took off with its introduction into the core EECS course, 6.01: Introduction to Electrical Engineering and Computer Science I pioneered by Professors Tomas Lozano-Perez and Leslie Kaelbling.

The 6.01 Tutor is central in allowing a major portion of the course to be flipped, emphasizing in-class problem solving and laboratory exercises, over traditional lectures. Automatic grading is a key feature, as it provides rapid feedback for students, which is augmented by in-classroom one-on-one discussions between students and instructors. In 2011, the original 6.01 Tutor was rewritten from Scheme to Python, by Professors Tomas Lozano-Perez and Isaac Chuang. This became the basis for the core assessment engine in MITx and later, in the edX platform.

Technology-enabled classrooms

MIT Faculty have a tradition of creating classrooms to leverage technology in support of hands on learning. In the late 1990s, Professor John Belcher partnered with co-principal investigators Dr. Peter Dourmashkin and Professor David Lister to develop the technology-enabled active learning (TEAL) classroom. TEAL classrooms contain round tables to facilitate hands-on experiments. A typical TEAL class incorporates lecture, experiments, discussion questions, visualizations, and pencil-and-paper exercises. Now with a history of strong usage, the teaching methods in TEAL classrooms are shown to produce about twice the amount of learning gains compared to traditional instruction.

For more informaton about TEAL, see the TEAL + MITx case study and video.

Mathlets

Building on simulations used at MIT, Professor Haynes Miller created the Interactive Mathematics Project, which encouraged and enabled MIT students to make observations and measurements with “mathlets.” These highly interactive Javascript applets, runnable under any browser, were designed to illustrate mathematical concepts. Students can use these apps to visualize how changing variables affect systems. Learn more about mathlets.

NB PDF annotation tool

NB (nota bene) is a tool that provides a class discussion forum situated in the margins of course materials such as lecture notes or primary readings. Placing the forum in context means that students are directed to read and author relevant discussion threads while they are reading. This increases students engagement with and understanding of their reading materials. The situated discussions also give faculty clear insights about which portions of the material are most interesting or challenging to the students.

For instance, in 6.055 Art of Approximation in Science and Engineering, students read and then commented on the reading by 10:00 pm the night before the lecture, using NB collaborative PDF annotation system. At 10:00, the instructor read the comments, and tailored the following day’s class, preparing interactive questions on the important ideas the students found most confusing. See the course website, including the full annotated text. Read a case study that describe's Profesor Mahajan's use of NB to promote peer-to-peer learning and harvest student comments.

Learn more about NB.

Annotation Studio

Annotation Studio is an open source web application that engages students in close reading and textual interpretation. It integrates a powerful set of tools with an interface that makes using those tools intuitive for undergraduates.

In 21L.501 American Novel: Stranger and Stranger, Dr. Kelley used Annotation studio to record and share notes on passages they read. A second tool, Locast, integrates customizable geographic maps with text, images, video and other media specific to locations. Dr. Kelly populated the map with places mentioned in Moby Dick and asked each student to give a presentation on the location and its significance in the novel, bringing new relevance and insight.

Learn more about Annotation Studio.

Clickers: personal response systems

A wide variety of personal response clickers are used across campus at MIT. These allow students to respond in real-time to questions presented in class, e.g. during lectures.

  • For example, clickers are used in the TEAL courses in the Department of Physics; the instructor gives a brief presentation, then presents a problem for students to work out in small groups. Groups then respond with the clickers, choosing one of a set of options. Often, the correct answer unexpectedly differs from the collective majority answer, eliciting involved discussion in class.

  • Clickers have also been employed creatively by the Drennan Research & Education Laboratory in the Department of Chemistry. This includes a semester-long game in 5.111 Chemistry, with 25-student recitation teams contesting for championship. Chemistry students reporting learning gains due to clicker usage increased from 73 to 86 percent, and the number agreeing they enjoyed clickers rose to 74%. Learn more about Freshman "chemistry clicker" champions.

  • In 7.016 Introductory Biology, in fall 2012, Professor Diviya Sinha used clickers to assess student learning during lectures. Clickers provided information in real-time so that Sinha could address any misconceptions immediately.

Undergraduate contributions to digital tools for the classroom

One of the best ways to learn something thoroughly is to teach it to others. By creating tools and simulations to help others learn, MIT students are cementing their own understanding of concepts, as well as enriching the learning of their classmates.. Through the MIT Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), and with sponsorship from Open Learning, a wide variety of digital learning apps have been created, including:

  • an International Phonetic Alphabet Tool for 24.900 Introduction to Linguistics
  • a simulation of acid-base titrations for 5.111 Principles of Chemical Science
  • a web design analysis and comparison tool, for 6.831 User Interface Design and Implementation
  • a data visualization tool for the works of William Shakespeare, for Eng 112 Composition and Literature

See the extensive list of digital learning apps created by UROPs.

Crowdsourced grading

Digital tools for the classroom also extend beyond just students in the classroom. In 6.005, Software Construction, Professor Rob Miller used a mixture of artificial intelligence and crowd-sourcing to provide faster, cheaper, more robust feedback to students on assignments. First, artificial intelligence is used to divide a programming assignment into discreet chunks and to assign each chunk to multiple reviewers. Reviewers then comment on the code, and on each others’ comments, so that reviewers can develop reputations. Optional replies and discussion enrich the commentary. This system not only reduced the feedback time from weeks to three days, but it also increased review efficiency and provided a richer learning experience for students. Learn how 'Caesar' Conquers Code Review with Crowdsourcing.

Lightboard for lecture video capture

Because it allows the instructor to look at the material as well as make virtual eye contact with the audience, video capture using a Lighboard facilitates more engaging delivery, providing multiple contextual clues that naturally occur in conversational mode. Faculty and instructors are invited to schedule a visit to experiment with the Lighboard. Please contact Jim Cain (elel-consult@mit.edu).

Learn more about Lightboard.

Self-service: voice-over PPTs & screen capture videos

Do you want to record your slides with audio & annotations, like these?

CTL.SC2X - Supply Chain Design
3.032 - Mechanical Behavior of Materials

If so, here’s the equipment we recommend:

Camtasia and Screenflow will record your voice-over as well as whatever visuals are on your computer screen. When finished, you can upload your file to YouTube, and link or embed from there.

Additional Innovations

In addition to the digital tools described above, MIT faculty are using technology to advance and enhance education in the following ways:

  • In 11.124 Introduction to Education Eric Klopfer, Wendy Huang, and their associates, have their students use an online forum to discuss of an assigned article prior to the in-class discussion. The online discussion helps better frame and focus the in-class discussion.
  • Eric Demaine's course 6.849 Geometric Folding Algorithms not only flips the classroom by using lecture videos from previous years, he also videotapes the in-class discussion, thus giving a fuller representation of the development of the learning process.
  • In ES.S71 Experimental Study Group, Noah Riskin uses video blogging with smart phones as a way to journal students' experiences.
  • Anne McCants in 21H.134J History of Medieval Trade uses a pre-class survey to illustrate the diversity of students in her class, sharing the results with her students so they see the broad range of abilities and interests. This sets the stage for a deeper understanding of the role of the teacher, and clarifies student expectations.
  • In 18.783 Elliptical Curves Andrew Sutherland includes a survey at the end of each problem set. The results of these surveys help him clarify points of confusion, respond to the students' needs and backgrounds, fine-tune the material, and improve the course in each iteration.
  • In 8.591J Systems Biology, Jeff Gore requires that students complete readings and respond to short-answer questions using Google Forms™. These pre-class preparations allow him to focus on more interesting topics during the lecture and use class time for active learning.


Learn why faculty use the MITx platform in their class.