MIT Festival of Learning 2019

Festival of Learning Keynote: Po-Shen Loh


As an engaging, entertaining, and eloquent introduction to the Festival of Learning, Po-Shen Loh captivated the audience with a fresh perspective on learning, and the role of educator in an increasingly digital world. Dr. Po-Shen Loh studied at Princeton and Caltech and is currently a professor of mathematics at Carnegie Melon University. As coach of the American team for the International Math Olympiads, he led the team to several victories. Importantly, he is the founder of Expii, a personalized online learning platform with algorithmically curated, free and open-access, math and science lessons.

Although Loh touched on a variety of topics, including interaction, leveraging the power of technology, and optimal teacher to student ratios, his emphasis on the definition of ‘educator’ was striking. He compared the ideal educator to an NFL coach, who cheers on their players. In a world where information is readily ‘google-able’ and available to any student, the role of teacher is to encourage their students to pursue their interests.

Later in the talk, Loh circled back to his own research and efforts to leverage student interest; he explained the theory and structure of his platform, Expii. Loh drew from first principles: How to capture the attention of the typical high school student? Loh borrowed the fascinating power of Youtube to curate and personalize, based on voting algorithms and past selections. He argued that the power of choice is fundamental to virtually guiding and supporting students through their academic needs. Expii implements these principles by allowing anyone to answer questions, and inserting voting mechanisms, as well as curated paths through practice problems. Loh pointed out that everyone has their learning preferences, and thus, like Youtube, Expii offers personalized roadmaps to suit each student’s needs.

Lastly, Loh suggested that math should also be promoted in way that appeals to kids’ interests. He addressed the growing gap between students who ‘overachieve’ and get ahead over the summer and students who don’t. To prepare adolescents for a society that increasingly values intellectual ability over manual labor, Loh argued the importance of making all students life-time learners.

I appreciated that Loh did not fail to acknowledge the value and relevance of fields other than the hard math and sciences. Like Loh, I believe in creating open access to foundational levels in these fields, to equip students with a spring-board to enable success in whatever they choose to continue learning.

From the perspective of a student, I am excited to observe and participate in the development of these educational tools that harness the passion of the educator, the open-sourced reservoir of knowledge in our society, and the positive abilities of technology. From this festival, the near-future of learning is clearly in capable and innovative hands. And with the advent of platforms like Expii, you can also participate!

Zoya Fan  Zoya Fan, MIT '19, is majoring in Biology and Global Studies


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