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Report Sets Out To Redefine Future of MIT's Education

The Massachusetts Instute of Technology, a school renowned for its intrepid experimental nature — MIT Media Lab, D-Lab, MITx and OpenCourseware, to name a few experiments — wants to accelerate education innovation and "reimagine" its own future. That will probably mean setting up an initiative focused on educational innovation that analyzes new forms of learning and encourages "bold" pedagogical experiments, extending MIT's educational impact to teachers and students inside and outside its campus and developing new revenue streams as well as new spaces to support learning at MIT.

These were a few of the broad stroke ideas that came out of a final report released by an institute-wide task force that examined the future of MIT education. The 213-page document offers 16 recommendations "for how MIT can continue to transform education for future generations of learners." (The recommendations — the heart of the report — fill 30 pages; the appendices take the remaining 183 pages.) The task force consisted of faculty, students and staff and also sought input from alumni and the broader MIT community.

The first recommendation is that the institute set up an "Initiative for Educational Innovation" to act as a hub or sandbox for the experiments proposed in the rest of the report. Among the areas for experimentation:

  • "Infusing" greater flexibility into undergraduate curriculum;
  • Expanding the use of project-based and blended learning models;
  • Introducing modularity into the curriculum as a replacement for traditional classes; and
  • Studying new approaches to assessing students.

That work could include collaborations with other institutions that have ties to MIT, such as the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

MIT also wants to convert its massive open online course efforts into an "MITx inside" campaign. MITx is the institute's contributions to MOOC provider edX. The task force has proposed that MIT seek partnerships with other colleges and universities to encourage the use of MITx content as a foundation for their blended learning courses. San Jose State University tried this when it used MIT's content from edX to teach an "Introduction to Circuit Analysis" class. In that experiment, according to MIT, the pass rate increased from 55 percent for the students in the traditional classes to 91 percent of students in the blended class.

The task force also recommended that each department look at the development of new edX content in the context of certificate programs. MITx has three "XSeries" certificates, each of which consists of several courses. A Foundations of Computer Science program, for example, has seven modules — each about half the length of a regular MIT course — that earns the student a certificate. Now departments are being advised "to think in terms of XSeries instead of individual courses" for edX and take a modular approach instead of a class approach.

In the long term, the report stated, the "Task Force envisions opportunities for XSeries to develop into something akin to an MITx minor, major or even an MITx or edX degree in recognition of more comprehensive learning."

In the area of revenue, the report suggests seeking out new opportunities for building income. As one example, the task force encouraged MIT's Technology Licensing Office to expand its mission to include "generating revenue for the institute." That would probably encompass investigating new revenue opportunities in technology licensing and venture funding.

The task force also has proposed that the institute establish a working group to explore new student learning areas, such as maker spaces around campus and other common spaces for informal gatherings and meetings.

"While the release of this report represents an important milestone, our work has just begun," wrote President L. Rafael Reif in a letter to the MIT community. "The next challenge: to identify which of the report's recommendations to implement, how and in what order." Over the next two months the task force will solicit community feedback, he added.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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