President L. Rafael Reif has released the preliminary report of the Institute-Wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education — a document that, following months of engagement with the MIT community, presents a broad range of views on how MIT could recast itself to meet the educational needs of the coming decades.
With today’s release of this report, the task force has completed the first phase of its work in imagining the possibilities for the future of education at MIT. In the report, the task force describes challenges and opportunities facing the Institute, especially as digital technology becomes further ingrained in the educational experience.
In charging the task force last winter, Reif urged the MIT community to “seize the opportunity to reimagine what we do and how we do it.” In a letter to the MIT community accompanying the release of today’s preliminary report, he expressed confidence that the preliminary report “will inspire deep conversations across our community about the future we want for MIT.”
The task force is co-chaired by Karen Willcox, a professor and associate department head of aeronautics and astronautics; Sanjay Sarma, the Fred Fort Flowers and Daniel Fort Flowers Professor of Mechanical Engineering and MIT’s director of digital learning; and executive vice president and treasurer Israel Ruiz. Each of the three leads a working group that includes faculty, staff, and student representation.
The possibilities that the task force puts forward in beginning this reimagining process encompass four themes: massive scale of adoption, increased potential and demand for modularity, blurring of boundaries, and affordability and access. Inherent in each of these themes is an element of flexibility — flexibility in what defines a class; in how one thinks of an MIT student; and in how, when, and where instructors teach and students learn.
Among the many possibilities presented, the task force notes the potential for leveraging opportunities created by edX to expand global education for MIT students. For example, the task force presents a number of ideas for students to gain real-world experience by teaching or conducting research in one of the more than 1,000 edX communities that have developed worldwide in just the last 16 months.
The task force also notes the potential for unbundling elements of a residential campus experience, and even of individual classes. Its report suggests taking a strategic approach in considering how classes might be reshaped depending on their content and on individual students’ learning objectives.
The task force presents a number of space-related issues that the Institute may need to consider in accommodating future generations of learners. It suggests, for instance, that developing academic villages across campus may enhance interaction both inside and outside of the classroom and laboratory, promoting serendipitous interactions among students and faculty members.
“The rise of digital learning inspires us to imagine more-flexible models for MIT education,” Willcox says, “models that let students customize rich educational experiences on campus and beyond, while staying true to MIT principles and values.”
The report presents the possibility of altering the relationship students have with MIT — both during and after their time living on campus. For example, it examines the possibility of MIT developing stronger relationships with alumni so as to foster ongoing learning and apprenticeship opportunities for current MIT students. Under this scenario, alumni might take classes through MITx long after graduation, and return to campus to collaborate on research projects, or in teaching.
The report also considers ways to respond to the growing cost of higher education. The working group examining a new financial model for education, chaired by Ruiz, has constructed a series of historical data sets related to finances, people, and space at MIT to better understand how MIT’s financial model has changed over time. The working group has evaluated how students finance their education, and developed approaches for modeling the scenarios that will emerge from the task force’s work.
“We have been looking at the value and outcomes of an MIT education,” Ruiz says. “MIT graduates contribute to the world in extraordinary ways, but we are able to admit an increasingly small percentage of students who apply to MIT. We need to find ways to reach a higher fraction of qualified students and to make an MIT education as affordable as possible for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds.”
All of the ideas, both those that seem immediately actionable and those that raise more fundamental questions about an MIT education, are presented simply as possibilities.
“The task force has focused its efforts over the past seven months on stretching the canvas of possibilities and thinking big about where MIT is and where we might be headed,” Sarma says. “Our job now is to assess each of the ideas and devise a blueprint for action.”
With the preliminary report now complete, the task force will shift its focus to three action-oriented steps: First, it will use the abundance of data collected through surveys of faculty, instructors, and students, as well as feedback collected in meetings with academic departments and via the Idea Bank, to evaluate all of the proposed possibilities. Second, the task force will articulate concrete steps to bring the best of those ideas to fruition. Finally, the task force will define an ecosystem in which its recommendations can be analyzed more comprehensively and put into action.
The task force will present a final report of recommendations in about six months. Members of the MIT community who would like to provide input about the preliminary report may write to the task force co-chairs at firstname.lastname@example.org.