As the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education works toward its expected release of a preliminary report this fall, hundreds of members of the MIT community — including more than half of the faculty — have weighed in on the topic.
On Feb. 6, President L. Rafael Reif convened the Task Force, charging its members with reinventing residential education. “To stay true to our educational values, we must seize the opportunity to reimagine what we do and how we do it,” Reif wrote, adding: “We are in the midst of an educational revolution.”
In a spirit of openness, an Idea Bank was launched to encourage faculty, students, staff and alumni to contribute recommendations; 180 ideas were submitted, and individuals from more than 100 countries have visited the Idea Bank. All of the submitted ideas have now been reviewed, and are organized by themes at future.mit.edu.
A survey of the faculty and instructional staff — designed to help the Task Force better understand educational resource needs and how interactions between students and instructors are changing — was launched in August through September. Among all survey recipients, 43 percent responded, including 52 percent of the faculty and 35 percent of instructors.
A second survey, of all MIT undergraduate and graduate students, was recently launched, to better understand how students interact with faculty and what educational technologies they use, and to collect student perspectives about the potential impact of digital learning on coursework, research, and professional and personal development. Once analyzed, the results of both the faculty and student surveys will be made available at future.mit.edu.
A number of face-to-face meetings are taking place to gather input. The Graduate Student Council hosted a coffee hour at Sidney-Pacific in June; about 50 graduate students participated in brainstorming and small-group discussions. The future of MIT education was the focus of last spring’s Administrative Council meeting, and was also the focus of a meeting of the MIT Corporation last week. Finally, discussions are scheduled for 24 academic departments’ faculty meetings, across all five schools; half of these meetings have been held to date.
The Task Force’s three working groups are led by Sanjay Sarma, the Fred Fort Flowers and Daniel Fort Flowers Professor of Mechanical Engineering and MIT’s director of digital learning (working group on Future Global Implications of edX and the Opportunities It Creates); Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz (working group on A New Financial Model for Education); and Karen Willcox, professor of aeronautics and astronautics (working group on MIT Education and Facilities for the Future).
Reif appointed Willcox as the third Task Force co-chair, to work closely with Sarma and Ruiz, following the initial announcement last spring. Over the past six months, these three working groups — each including faculty, students and staff — have begun to envision how MIT can build on its legacy of innovation and reinvent the residential university of the future.
“We can envision several scenarios for reaching learners around the world,” Sarma says. “By combining online curriculum with hands-on project work and brief but intensive on-campus experiences, we may be able to reach people in ways that were previously not possible.”
“The magic of MIT and the values and principles of an MIT education have been key focus areas of working group discussions,’’ Willcox adds. “We want to discover how we can bring the magic of the residential experience into the online and blended learning environments.”
The third working group, focused on evaluating the future strength and sustainability of MIT’s current financial model, has proven to be very timely as President Barack Obama has focused on the affordability of higher education. “Over the past decades, the Institute has successfully financed the many dimensions essential to a great research university, including the specialized facilities necessary to advance research and educate future scientists and engineers,” Ruiz says. “We are building a detailed understanding of how the funding model has evolved, and are beginning to develop a model to help us understand the impact of exciting future scenarios imagined by the working groups together with the MIT community.”
Recognizing the magnitude and importance of the Task Force’s work, Reif appointed two advisory groups — one representing members of the MIT Alumni Association, and a second of MIT Corporation members. The Corporation Advisory Group, chaired by Corporation member Diana Chapman Walsh, hosted four online discussions over the summer, in which 24 Corporation members participated. The Alumni Advisory Group, chaired by John Jarve ’78, SM ’79, president of the MIT Alumni Association, will convene shortly.
Members of the MIT community who have not yet had an opportunity to provide input and wish to do so can email the Task Force co-chairs at firstname.lastname@example.org.