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Parents hear how technology is rapidly shaping education

Traditional textbooks will be obsolete in five to 10 years. Traditional architectural drawings may already be.

These were among the observations made by representatives from MIT's five schools in a Family Weekend panel discussion on "Looking to the Future" last Saturday morning. After the session in Rm 10-250, parents were invited to attend lectures on the same topic by 10 faculty members.

Thomas Magnanti, dean of the School of Engineering, noted that web pages provide a single venue for lecture material, readings, slides and simulations, lecture videos, 24-hour chat sessions and tutorials. "Five to 10 years from now, we will no longer have textbooks as we know them," he said.

Technology has broadened planners' horizons by eliminating the limitations imposed by traditional drawing tools, said William Mitchell, dean of the School of Architecture. Digital images are replacing architectural drawings and computer technology makes sophisticated simulations possible. "We no longer have to rely in the traditional way on repetition and mass production," he said.

Robert Birgeneau, dean of the School of Science, predicted that breakthroughs in neuroscience would lead to greater understanding of brain function. He joked with Provost Robert Brown about funding for research, including the search for anti-matter. "We may have to find the anti-provost," Dean Birgeneau said. To which Provost Brown, who moderated the discussion, quipped: "You may get the anti-budget."

Professor Charles Stewart III of political science cited the broad scope of projects in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, among them the Center for International Studies, the Comparative Media Studies Program and the Shakespeare Electronic Archive. "Not only don't we have physics for poets," he said, "but we don't have poetry for physicists."

Professor Donald Lessard, deputy dean of the Sloan School of Management, said the school does two to three times as much research as other business schools, with the web playing a key role. "We're hot because we're MIT," he said.

The lecturers and their topics were:

  • Professor Robert Langer of chemical engineering: "Biomaterials and How They'll Change Our Lives."
  • Professor Michael Hawley of media arts and sciences: "Futurama."
  • Professor Thomas Allen of the Sloan School: "Industry, Government and University Collaboration: Pursuing Major Research Projects."
  • Professor Stephen Meyer of political science: "Science and Politics: The True Price of Preserving Biodiversity."
  • Professor Peter Fisher of physics: "Looking for Antimatter in Cosmic Rays."
  • Professor Takehiko Nagakura of architecture: "Visiting the Unbuilt Monuments."
  • Professor Isabelle deCourtivron of foreign languages and literatures: "Life in (At Least) Two Languages: Expatriates, Immigrants, Borderlands and Bilinguals."
  • Professor Tyler Jacks of biology: "Studying the Genetics of Cancer Predisposition."
  • Professor Chryssostomos Chryssosto-midis of ocean engineering: "Exploring the Secrets of the Sea."
  • Professor Andrew Kadak of nuclear engineering: "An Answer to Global Warming: The Politically Correct Nuclear Engineering Plant."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 20, 1999.

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