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Posts Tagged ‘mit

I like watching videos where experts either explain difficult concepts to learners of different ages or just to kids. The video below is one of the latter.


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Explaining to an adult how to create bioluminescent plants from firefly DNA is challenging, much less kids. The two content experts from MIT were not quite comfortable teaching kids and their attempts illuminate some concepts about how students learn and what an effective teacher looks like.

When one content expert tried simplifying the concept of transferring bioluminescence, she ran into some trouble.

Expert: “…we just ask them to give us some chemicals”.
One child: “Do you tell them?”

Expert: “We just borrow the light from the fireflies…”
Another child: “Do you mean like real borrow or do you just keep it?”

The expert was visibly stunned by the kids’ questions and their teacher intervened with timely and appropriate answers.

An effective teacher is not just knowledgeable in content, she should also be a child and learning expert. As information mushrooms and knowledge needs to be constantly negotiated and updated, being the latter type of expert is critical.

The other expert got the kids to participate in a hands-on activity where they simulated bioluminescence by mixing chemicals in small vials. Instead of hearing about bioluminescence, they tried and saw for themselves.

This is not about appealing to different “learning styles” — which is a myth anyway — but to teach and reinforce with multiple methods and modes. That said, kids generally learn best by what stems from natural curiosity, i.e., experiencing and asking.

The teacher as a child and learning expert asked a critical question at the end of the experiment: “What do you think this could help solve?” She did not provide answers to her learners, but got them to generate answers that required them to think actively about what they just experienced.


Video source

The Make School is the brainchild of an MIT dropout, Jeremy Rossmann. He was concerned with the debt that students are burdened with after college/university and how universities get rich whether or not their students got jobs to pay off their debts.

The Make School has no tuition fees for students unless and until the graduates get a job after leaving. This provides motivation for instructors of this school to work towards the success of their students. As a result of this move, there are no artificial assessments like grades and exams, just actual job placement and relevance.

The word “innovative” is as overused as “awesome”. The approach of the Make School is truly innovative and it would be awesome to see it sustain this drive.


This New York Times article highlights an important concept: Pedagogy before technology.

The physics department at MIT decided to do away with traditional lectures. Why? Attendance was low and failure rates were high.

Instead, they replaced the lectures with “smaller classes that emphasize(d) hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning” and the attendance has gone up while the failure rate has dropped by more than 50%.

The press or the layman might focus on the fact that the new settings have networked computers and interactive white boards. But all these are pointless if they ignore the change in pedagogy: The increase in hands-on and minds-on activities, the increased number of instructors for group work, the use of cognitive apprenticeship, etc.

The students actually petitioned against the changes initially. Change is always difficult to adjust to and engaged learning requires effort. But I am sure that they think differently now.

I think that this press article highlights some important lessons. When attempting to integrate technology 1) address a need, 2) don’t fall into the “cool tool” trap, and 3) be persistent and convince your stakeholders.

Don’t use technology for its own sake or because you have a requirement to fulfil. You will waste everyone’s time and create a bad impression about how technology might be used in education. Technology should be integrated so that it supports or otherwise enables learning (not necessarily teaching).

Think of the instructional strategies, learner needs and abilities, and curricular requirements amongst others things before the technology. The “bells and whistles” of technology will not ensure learning, but it can enable it if paired with suitable pedagogies.

The integration of technology should not be an isolated event. Technology integration should be consistent, persistent, logical and meaningful. Students, parents, and even colleagues might not be convinced that such technology-mediated pedagogies will work, but know that integrating technology and changing mindsets takes time. Keep at it and communicate your plans and efforts at critical moments.


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