Students Nominate MIT Teaching with Digital Technology Awards Recipients

Sheryl Barnes, Director, Digital Learning in Residential Education
September 26
Alice McCarthy | MIT Open Learning

Now in its third year, the MIT Teaching with Digital Technology Awards are student-nominated awards for instructors who effectively used digital technology to improve teaching and learning at MIT. Co-sponsored by the Office of Digital Learning and the Office of the Vice Chancellor, the awards are intended to recognize instructors for their innovations and to give the MIT community the opportunity to learn from their practices.

In June, four faculty members received awards for their work. The winners are:

  • Simona Socrate, senior lecturer in the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering for work in 2.00l (Mechanics and Materials)
  • Michael Yaffe, director of the MIT Center for Precision Cancer Medicine for work in 7.05 (General Biochemistry)
  • Eric Huntley, technical instructor in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning  for work in 11.S941 (Big Data, Visualization, and Society) and 11.205 (Intro to Spatial Analysis)
  • Chris Caplice, executive director of the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics for work in SCM.S92 (Special Subject) and SCM.260 and 15.770 (Logistics Systems)

This year, 99 nominations were received for 58 different faculty and instructors. The Office of the Vice Chancellor sends an annual email to all MIT students, asking them to nominate instructors who use digital technology in innovative ways to improve learning.

“What is exciting about this award is that it is entirely student-driven,” says Krishna Rajagopal, Dean of MIT Open Learning. “This is about digital learning for all MIT students, so the nominators are MIT students – undergrad, masters students, and PhD students.”

“We thank all of the instructors who are pushing us ahead on this frontier”, says Ian Waitz, MIT Vice-Chancellor. “It’s important for us to continue investigating and trying new things which can sometimes be risky. I’m thankful we have so many instructors who are experimenting, developing new digital technologies, and providing stronger educational experiences for our students – both residential at MIT and around the world — all in the service of advancing and improving how our students learn.“

Along with Professors Rajagopal and Waitz, the judging committee consisted of five MIT students. “It was a big job because of the large number of worthy nominees but the students again did an excellent job and Dean Rajagopal and Vice Chancellor Waitz let them drive the decisions,” says Sheryl Barnes, Director of Digital Learning in Residential Education.

In a video produced by MIT Video Productions, profiles of each winner were prepared and presented at the awards ceremony.

Excerpts from winning nominations, edited for clarity and length, appear below.

Chris Caplice:  “What I have found is that the different ways you can deliver content, whether it’s straight lecture, interactive Socratic method, or video, they each have a role. What I do now each week is a 5-15-minute lightboard video which I find to be a very effective way to talk about a quantitative topic qualitatively. We are doing more and more interactive polling which is a great way to get people who are more reticent to participate and to provide instant feedback. We are developing technology now to get more of the Socratic method out…getting more of the interactions. That’s where we are going…to create tools where students can learn on their own and use the class time for that more precious interaction.”

Eric Huntley: “By and large students come into my course with no programming experience. We teach data management and analysis with Python and we teach visualization using Java Script which is a challenge. It is a scary thing to take a bunch of scripting languages that you’re only just learning and make a visualization that is narratively effective. I do tech workshops weekly, walking through the production of a completed graphic. We do all of our work through GitHub, a valuable resource in terms of giving students a sense for how an actual project is deployed and developed.”

Simona Socrate: “Online resources are transformative in the way I think of teaching. Instead of traditional recitations, we have learning sequences by interspersing educational videos and example problems. It makes the process of problem solving a little more active and it is structured to provide immediate feedback. It is a great benefit of online content.”

“Dr. Yaffe loves his students to use PyMol, an online molecular visualization system,  with the goal of having students understand and better visualize the proteins and nucleic acids they are learning about in the class and to use a tool that scientists use in research. Students use PyMol to look at the structures of nucleic acids and proteins first-hand and manipulate them in 3D to get more information than one could in a single picture,” says Mary Ellen Wiltrout, Digital Learning Scientist, Biology

Learn more about the MIT Teaching with Digital Technology Awards. Faculty looking to add digital tools and pedagogies to their teaching should consider Residential MITx, an online learning system used widely by MIT faculty for authoring and distributing course content such as videos, text, assessments, interactive elements, and automatic grading. Individuals can request an individual consultation or visit the MIT Open Learning website for more information.