Wednesday, January 14, 2009

MIT's Innovations in Teaching Methods

The New York Times has a great piece about some revolutionary work at MIT.

And no, I'm not talking about nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, or quantum mechanics. I'm talking about teaching.

The university has introduced a new approach to its traditional Physics 101. Once upon a time, the course was a stereotypical large lecture, complete with the professor droning on and scribbling equations on the blackboard, while students fell asleep or unobtrusively SMSed their friends.

Today, the course features small classes, peer interaction, and collaborative, interactive learning. And technology, of course - this is, after all, MIT.

"Instead of blackboards, the walls are covered with white boards and huge display screens. Circulating with a team of teaching assistants, the professor makes brief presentations of general principles and engages the students as they work out related concepts in small groups. Teachers and students conduct experiments together. The room buzzes. Conferring with tablemates, calling out questions and jumping up to write formulas on the white boards are all encouraged."

Moreover, the school employs technology to provide the professor with instantaneous feedback. This allows the professor to gauge the level of student comprehension at any point in time - making it clear when students are struggling, and when to move ahead with the material.

The program was initially controversial, but the results speak for themselves. Course attendance is up, and the failure rate has fallen from 10-12% to 4%.

It's easy to think of "innovation" purely in terms of new products or technologies. However, it's equally relevant - and arguably more valuable - in areas like education, which stereotypically isn't at the forefront of creativity and therefore has more to gain from innovative methodologies and approaches.

Do check out the full article - it's well worth a read.

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