• xTalks: Digital Discourses

The xTalks series provides a forum to facilitate awareness, deep understanding and transference of educational innovations at MIT and elsewhere. We hope to foster a community of educators, researchers, and technologists engaged in developing and supporting effective learning experiences through online learning environments and other digital technologies. To sign up for the xTalks mailing list, click here.

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A New Paradigm in Engineering Education Using Two Disruptive Technologies: Simulations & Online Learning

Rajesh Bhaskaran

Commercial simulation tools enable engineers to solve complex mathematical models that arise in practical applications while also building physical intuition through visualization. This presentation will discuss my edX MOOC that seamlessly integrates the hands-on use of a commercial simulation tool (ANSYS®) with the fundamental math/physics and industry know-how. This has helped thousands of learners around the world to move beyond mere button pushing and start thinking like an expert.

The MOOC draws case studies from five engineering courses at Cornell University and presents a common approach across solid mechanics, fluid dynamics and heat transfer. It also uses a common approach to finite-element analysis and computational fluid dynamics. A unifying framework is employed to keep the discussion coherent while moving across traditional course boundaries. The online lectures step through complex mathematics to get the learner to a point where the tasks in the simulation tool made sense. This is done by using a just-in-time approach that focuses on the big ideas that the tool user needs to know while omitting nitty-gritty details that are automated by the tool. The MOOC uses proven principles from the science of learning to combine two disruptive technologies and create a new paradigm that not only strengthens students’ understanding of fundamental physics and math but also provides them with a practical skill sought by employers.


Dr. Rajesh Bhaskaran leads the Swanson Engineering Simulation Program in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University. This program supports the incorporation of simulation tools into engineering courses to better prepare students for the modern workplace. Dr. Bhaskaran has helped introduce ANSYS® simulation tools into Cornell courses covering fluid dynamics, heat transfer, solid mechanics and numerical analysis. He has led the development of simcafe.org as an online portal for learning and teaching finite-element analysis and computational fluid dynamics simulations. His educational videos have garnered close to 3 million views on YouTube. Over 70,000 people have enrolled in his MOOC on engineering simulations at edx.org. He was selected to take part in National Academy of Engineering's prestigious Frontiers of Engineering Education symposium in 2011. He was the lead organizer of two university-industry workshops on the Integration of Simulation Technology into Engineering Curricula (ISTEC) in 2008 and 2011.

Read MIT student Melissa Cao's reflections on Prof Bhaskaran's xTalk.