Mechanical Engineering i2.002

Teaching a core required class to students at any distance

The opportunity:

The Mechanical Engineering undergraduate student is presented with an increasing number of valuable academic opportunities beyond the campus. While the department supports such activities, most required courses are only available on campus.

In parallel, the flexible 2A curriculum, which allows students to pursue specific “tracks” of knowledge and create a customized degree, envisions increased modularization of the mechanical engineering curriculum.

The combined goals of remote student participation and modularized course components sponsored an experiment in delivering a core mechanical engineering class to both residential and off-campus students.

The experiment:

In Spring 2012, 2.002 was offered concurrently to both remote and residential MIT students. Ten percent of the class participated remotely—from Spain, Puerto Rico and California—and these students were held to the same academic standards as residential students. The experiment has just concluded and evaluation by the Teaching and Learning Laboratory is ongoing.

To support the remote students, all lectures, recitations, labs and review sessions were recorded and posted for viewing on the same or next day. Each remote student was provided a scanner for sending in assignments and exams, and an online discussion forum provided a channel for student interaction.

Areas of innovation:

Participating faculty agree that a core mechanical engineering course can indeed be taught successfully online. With the proper support, tools and materials, Mechanical Engineering can offer an entirely online course without any reduction in quality or standards.

Course materials were modularized into an introductory core and four major components (plasticity, viscoelasticity, fracture & fatigue, and rubber). After completing the core module, students should be able to study the remaining components in any order.

Online content played a key role. The accelerated availability of online lecture and lab videos, indexed by topic, enabled remote students to share a similar learning experience to residential students.

Online discussion supported significant levels of class interaction (130 questions solicited 450 responses). It linked residential and remote students in one community, and served as the primary channel for remote students’ questions.

Sustainability considerations:

Two new roles—beyond the traditional course staff—proved essential to the successful delivery of a concurrent residential/remote course:

  • An Online Instructor, who supports and interacts with remote students, providing online office hours and serving as their point of contact.
  • An Educational Technology Coordinator, who manages the delivery of technical services—tools, platforms, and content.
    Two key platforms were essential to providing an integrated learning experience: Piazza (an online discussion platform) and MIT TechTV (for video delivery).

Future directions:

The faculty currently provide most course materials through blackboard-based lectures. Interactivity and remote participation could be improved with more digital course material and restructured class sessions.
The faculty would like to experiment with course modularity, using the core and interchangeable modules.

The Online Instructor role could transition to existing roles within the department and the Educational Technology Coordinator role could be provided by a core MIT service.

This project was supported by the MIT Office of Educational Innovation and Technology and was one of the experiments in course modularity conducted by the MIT Council on Education Technology in 2011-2012 with funding from the Class of ’60.
 
Written by Mark Brown

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