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Two alumni/ae funds support projects showing educational innovation

Eight faculty projects aimed at improving undergraduate education and teaching have won funding from the special alumni/ae funds of two MIT classes.

The Class of '51 Fund for Excellence in Education and the Class of '55 Fund for Excellence in Teaching were created at each class' respective 40th reunion to support educational innovation by MIT faculty. Programs funded this year are:

A Training Tool for International TAs. Dr. Jane Dunphy has received support to create a videotape that will help international TAs analyze different aspects of teaching that contribute to a dynamic, interactive class where students are fully engaged in discussion and problem-solving.

History at the Bench: Reading and Writing about Modern Europe. Professors Anne McCants and Harriet Ritvo of history will design a European history core subject that will introduce undergraduates to source materials, allowing them to "practice" history rather than simply consume the scholarship of historians. In their project title, the instructors deliberately borrowed an engineering metaphor to emphasize the practice of skills and methods -- including persuasive writing -- rather than mastery of a narrative tradition.

New Teaching Technologies in Introduction to Aerospace Engineering and Design. Professor Dava Newman of aeronautics and astronautics has received an award to support her curriculum developments using new technologies and design in a freshman subject, 16.00. She intends to refine the Web-based course materials for 16.00, assess the "learning value" of using new technologies in education, and create an interactive electronic text and CD-ROM materials based on this curriculum.

Computerized Demonstrations of Electromagnetic Fields. Professor Markus Zahn of electrical engineering and computer science has received support to use Maxwell software to prepare computerized visuals and movies of dynamic electromagnetic phenomena to be used as classroom demonstrations, homework assignments and assigned design problems. The use and experience of this computer software by students in 6.013 (Electromagnetic Fields and Energy) will teach them to use practical tools and expose them to real-world problems.

Making Things Move. Professor Steven Leeb, also of EECS, will use his award to partially fund a piece of equipment that will be used in four subjects. He intends to offer EECS students, from freshmen through first-year graduate students, the chance to touch and work with substantial (greater than one horsepower) rotating electric machines for servomechanisms, drives and generating systems in the context of modern design problems.

Team-Building Skills in Chemical Engineering Projects Lab. Professor Clark Colton of chemical engineering has received support to develop a curriculum in team-building and team-management skills that will be an integral part of 10.26. The curriculum will focus on the characteristics that lead to successful team performance and on tools and techniques that students can use with their own 10.26 lab teams and later in their professional careers.

The MIT Architectonic Research Collaboratory. Professor Chris H. Luebkeman of architecture will use his funding to continue work on an "ARCSpace" -- the design and development of a virtual environment that will support undergraduate teaching, learning and research about the "science of architecture." He envisions the ARCSpace as the premier virtual "collaboratory" for architecture students, not only at MIT but from around the world, to "meet" and collaborate in both educational and research venues. The initial work on the collaboratory will be in the context of topics relating to load-bearing structure.

5.30: Chemistry Techniques Laboratory for Freshmen. Professors Timothy Swager and Rick Danheiser of chemistry have received funding to develop an innovative, techniques-oriented freshman chemistry laboratory subject to be offered during IAP. Its aim is twofold: to provide undergraduates with an opportunity for hands-on experience in their freshman year, and to help first-year students obtain undergraduate research positions in chemistry labs.

"As a faculty member, it's wonderful to be reminded of the high value that alumni and alumnae place on the quality of classroom instruction," said Professor McCants. "Funds such as those made available by the generosity of the Classes of '51 and '55 are vital to sustaining innovation in the curriculum. For that we are deeply appreciative."

"Students who come to MIT are doers," said Professor Swager. "They want to jump in and participate in discovery and invention. These alumni/ae funds will make a very important impact on the lives of freshmen."

The selection committee included Deans Kip Hodges and Rosalind Williams, the deans of the five MIT Schools, and the Class of 1951 and 1955 class officers. Faculty members interested in finding out about the availability of funding for the next cycle of proposals (slated to begin in March 1998) are encouraged to contact Dean Peggy Enders at <>.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 5, 1997.

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