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Series examines science/engineering education

A new semester-long series on the changes taking place in science and engineering education will focus attention on new educational initiatives at MIT, throughout the United States and internationally.

The series, titled "On the Cutting Edge: Innovations in Science and Engineering Education," is co-sponsored by the Teaching and Learning Laboratory (TLL), along with the School of Engineering, the Center for Advanced Educational Services, the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Office of Academic Computing.

"There are exciting innovations taking place in curricular design, teaching methods, and technology-enabled learning in science and engineering education," said Lori Breslow, TLL director. "We want to give members of the MIT community an opportunity to learn about this work, both to enhance the educational initiatives currently going on at the Institute and to foster new ones."

The series will bring educational experts from the US and abroad to MIT, as well as highlight new experiments in teaching and learning being undertaken by MIT faculty. "We know there are pockets of educational innovation in all the schools at MIT," said Kip Hodges, dean for undergraduate curriculum and one of the sponsors of the series. "We need to have the means to learn about what other people are doing, so we can capitalize on each other's advances."

The series began with a presentation by Dr. Charles Kerns, associate director of Stanford's Learning Lab, on February 16. Dr. Kerns was brought to MIT by the Office of Academic Computing as the first of two speakers to address the issue of educational assessment.

On Friday, March 5, Dr. Steven Ehrmann from the American Association of Higher Education will appear also under the auspices of Academic Computing. The appearance of Dr. Kerns and Dr. Ehrmann point to the fact that assessment is playing a larger and larger role in the process of improving higher education. The Stanford Learning Lab and Dr. Ehrmann's Flashlight Project are two organizations pioneering ways to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching and learning.

One of the highlights of the "Cutting Edge" series will be a three-day visit on March 3-5 by Diana Laurillard, pro-vice-chancellor and professor of education at the Open University in the England. Dr. Lauillard is also the author of Rethinking University Teaching, a seminal book in furthering understanding of technology-enabled education.

Dr. Laurillard will appear today as part of the Technology and Culture Forum to discuss the future of higher education with a panel of MIT faculty and students. She will present a talk entitled "Using Technology to Foster the Key Skills of Science and Engineering" as part of the "Cutting Edge" series tomorrow (Thursday, March 4) in Rm 9-057 from 2-4pm.

"Dr. Laurillard did a teleconference with us in September, and we were all invigorated by her ideas," said Richard Larson, director of the Center for Advanced Educational Services, which is co-sponsoring Dr. Laurillard's visit. "She is a creative researcher and administrator who delves into how college students learn and how technology can support that learning."

Two other speakers from outside MIT will appear as part of the series. Karl Smith, professor of civil engineering at the University of Minnesota, will speak on April 1, hosted by the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. "Professor Smith is one of the leading authorities on collaborative learning," said Professor Edward Crawley, department head. "His research has helped educators to realize just how valuable that pedagogical method is."

Edward Redish, professor of physics at the University of Maryland, is an expert in learning in the sciences. He will talk on "Using the Culture of Science to Learn How to Teach Science" on May 4.

These speakers will be joined by three MIT faculty who will describe unique educational experiments with which they are involved. Professor Larson discussed the "Physics Interactive Video Project" (PIVOT) on February 25; Professor Crawley will talk about recent innovations in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics in a presentation entitled "Building Systems and Building Knowledge" on March 15; and Professor David Mindell will describe a collaboration between STS and EECS that has resulted in the course "The Structure of Engineering Revolutions." He will speak in April on a date to be announced.

All speakers from outside MIT will appear in Rm 9-057 from 2-4pm. MIT faculty members will speak in the Kaufman Classroom for Instruction in Teaching (Rm 9-151) from noon-1pm.

The full schedule for the "On the Cutting Edge" series can be found on the Teaching and Learning Lab web page. For more information, contact the TLL at x3-3780 or

A version of this article appeared in the March 3, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 21).

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