Nine teaching projects get grants from alumni/ae funds


For the fifth year, the income from special alumni/ae funds has been made available to support creative initiatives by faculty members for improving undergraduate education and teaching.

This year, resources from the Class of '72 Fund for Educational Innovation joined the Class of '51 Fund for Excellence in Education and the Class of '55 Fund for Excellence in Teaching in offering money to promote innovation in undergraduate education at MIT.

Awards for 1998-99 have been made to the following projects:

5.302: Introduction to Experimental Chemistry. Lecturer Mart������������������n Zysmilich and Professor Rick L. Danheiser are using their award to support an experimental laboratory subject during IAP for freshmen enrolled in 5.11 or 3.091.

After the resounding success of last year's intensive IAP laboratory course for freshmen (5.301), Dr. Zysmilich and Professor Danheiser have designed 5.302 to give more first-year students an opportunity to witness first-hand the products of experimental chemistry, which students are otherwise left to read about in their textbooks. 5.302 will focus on "fun" experiments that will illustrate to students the wide range of phenomena that can result from even simple chemical experimentation.

Cybertutor: A Reactive Mechanics Tutor for the Internet. Professor of Physics David Pritchard will use his award to support an effort to shift homework for 8.01 from paper to online assignments. The Cybertutor will be able to hone problem sets to each student's skill level, both in terms of academic background and success at solving the specific problems at hand.

The program will also provide more immediate assistance for students while they are working on their homework by allowing them to seek help on specific aspects of the problems on which they are working, and it will provide students with feedback on how they scored in a more timely manner than is possible with paper grading. Lastly, the physics faculty will be able to evaluate the efficacy of each individual problem by examining patterns where students were consistently successful or consistently struggled on problem sets.

Experimental Nonlinear Dynamics: An EAPS-Math Collaboration. Continuing in the spirit of exhibiting real-world physical phenomena to students who are learning about complex theories in the classroom, Professor John Bush of mathematics is collaborating with Professor Daniel Rothman of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences to create laboratory demonstrations for 12.006.

The goal of the demonstrations will be to illustrate the ways that nonlinear dynamics manifest themselves in a variety of real physical systems. Proposed demonstrations include the creation of a forced pendulum, a Malkus waterwheel and a Belouzov-Zhabotinsky reaction, among others.

Development of Internet Hyper-texts in the Basic Sciences: Professor of Biology Vernon Ingram, director of the Experimental Study Group, is using his award to further efforts in maintaining the Biology Hypertext. In addition to updating the current Hypertext, Professor Ingram will work toward creating a Center of Internet Science Teaching. He hopes the Biology Hypertext project will be a step in the direction of establishing such a center.

White House Audiotapes as a Resource for Teaching the American Presidency and American Politics: With the goal of exposing undergraduates to the nuances of research in the social sciences based on primary materials, Professor Daniel Kryder of political science is redesigning curricula for two subjects that will incorporate audiotapes from the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon presidential administrations.

Citing the richness of audiotapes as a source for academic study, Professor Kryder noted that students will learn not only about the subject matter but also about how social scientists report historical events, by comparing prominent secondary sources with their own interpretations of the primary sources.

The Development of a Bilingual Curriculum in Chinese Literature: Assistant Professor Emma Teng of foreign languages and literatures is using her award to develop one subject and adapt another subject to include bilingual curricula and texts. Noting a dearth of bilingual materials in the field of Chinese literature, Professor Teng hopes to create subjects that will appeal to a wide range of MIT undergraduate and graduate students and that might also be applicable to academics at other colleges and universities.

The Initial Design and Implementation of an Online Communication Resource Center: As a first step in creating a new Communication Resource Center, which is being developed in response to the work of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program's Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement, Professor James Paradis (head of the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies) and senior lecturer Edward Barrett, Leslie Perelman (associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs) and Steven Strang (director of the Writing Communications Center) are using their award to design and implement an Online Communications Resource Center (OCRC).

This online resource will primarily serve undergraduates, but will offer resources useful to faculty and other members of the community as well. Services of the OCRC will include access to educational materials for students and faculty, an online scheduling mechanism for appointments at the Communications Resource Center, and a secure online referral facility through which faculty will be able to refer students to the center.

Curtain Going Up! Introductory Multimedia Modules in Theater Arts: Assistant Professors Thomas DeFrantz and Brenda Cotto-Escalera will use their award to support a project geared toward integrating multimedia technology into theater arts at MIT. Acknowledging that undergraduates have limited time to devote to humanities and extracurricular activities, the project they propose will not only enhance undergraduate subjects in theater arts but also provide an online resource for students who are involved in co-curricular and extracurricular performance groups.

The project involves the creation of three multimedia modules that will use video, film, slides and musical excerpts, all of which will be transferred to a digitized slide show format for use online and in the classroom.

Comprehensive Integration of 2.007 with Freshman Physics: Professor Alexander Slocum of mechanical engineering will collaborate with Professors Edmund Bertschinger, Alan Guth and Associate Professor Boleslaw Wyslouch of physics to integrate 2.007 with 8.01 and 8.02.

With the goal of inciting passion for learning and motivation for retaining the information taught in freshman physics, Professor Slocum will work with physics faculty to create an active connection between 2.007 and the material covered in 8.01 and 8.02. In each of the subjects, syllabi will be cross-referenced, thus explicitly helping undergraduates see the ways that knowledge transcends specific disciplines.

Professor Slocum cited the goal of showing students in 8.01 and 8.02 how the material they are studying as freshmen will be applied in their second year, namely by encouraging physics faculty to illustrate the principles of physics through demonstrations using machines created by 2.007 students. TAs will also work across disciplines to help students in freshman-year physics and 2.007 see the connections between the subjects.

Faculty who have received these awards have been clear in their enthusiasm for this special source of curriculum development funds. Professor Slocum noted that "like any system, MIT undergraduate education requires cooperation amongst its various parts to thrive. The alumni fund has enabled me to seek out my counterparts in the physics department and better coordinate physics and design education. Indeed, next year's 2.007 contest will allow students to wind their own magnets and motors to create definite scoring advantages! This would not have been feasible without the Class gift which enabled me to hire two extra TAs."

Professor Rothman said the funds awarded to him and Professor Bush have paid for the development of experimental classroom demonstrations. "Through working together, EAPS and math have made some significant improvements to the School of Science's undergraduate curriculum in nonlinear dynamics," he said. "The alumni funds have provided a vehicle to ensure that these innovations will be a success."

Professor Kryder said the support which the alumni class funds lend to education projects is "unusually helpful and productive for a number of reasons: the difficulty in locating support for such projects generally, the freedom to tailor project goals to the particular needs of our students while at the same time developing widely applicable techniques, and the focus on projects that involve a substantial undergraduate research component. It is a well-conceived program, and I really appreciate it."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 28, 1998.


Topics: Alumni/ae, Awards, honors and fellowships, Education, teaching, academics

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