Undergraduates are at the forefront of MIT's latest efforts to share educational technology with China.
On Tuesday, June 13, students will join MIT faculty at the first Asian MIT-iCampus Conference in Beijing, an unprecedented effort to introduce China's top universities to iLabs, MIT's free online remote laboratory initiative.
iLabs allows students and educators anywhere to access MIT equipment to conduct science and engineering experiments.
"Universities can share what would ordinarily be extraordinarily expensive equipment, just using the Internet," said Hal Abelson, co-director of the MIT-Microsoft Research Alliance for Educational Technology and professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT.
Thousands of students in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East have used iLabs in their studies, using such equipment as a heat exchanger (which is important in the chemical engineering curriculum) and a shake table (which engineering students can use to study earthquakes).
At the Beijing conference, the MIT faculty who invented iLabs will demonstrate how the shared online laboratories can be integrated in the classroom, and representatives from the MIT-China Program (one of the eight work and study abroad programs organized by MISTI, the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives) will explain the key role MIT students play in internationalizing iLabs.
A two-day technical workshop will follow for the Chinese universities that want to employ the iLab technology and design their own experiments.
Last summer, a team of undergraduates worked with Chinese students at Tsinghua University in Beijing through MISTI, demonstrating how to set up and access MIT's free online computer science courses, experiments and labs. The team also gathered feedback from the participants about how well the initiative worked within China's educational system.
"It's about introducing people to the technology so they can adopt it and use it themselves," said Scot Frank, a computer science student from Salt Lake City. "There are different teaching methodologies between the two countries but we really learn from each other. It's really collaboration."
MIT students first began working in China's high schools in the mid-1990s to help connect students to the Internet through the China Educational Technology Initiative. In 2004, MISTI used the same classroom model and sent teams of students to introduce OpenCourseWare on the college level in China. Last year four teams of students set up iLabs and iCampus projects at four Chinese universities. This summer, students will work in twice as many schools throughout China.
After the MIT-iCampus conference is over, the MISTI students will stay in China to continue to expand the use of educational technology in dozens of other institutions in China. For the MIT students, it's the ultimate on-the-job learning experience.
"Working internationally teaches you how to communicate with others even with a big difference in culture," said Frank. "It's also getting better at your own learning process since every situation you come into is always going to be different."
iLabs is an initiative of the MIT iCampus program, which is funded by Microsoft Corp. iCampus sponsors faculty innovations in educational technology, helps incubate them through classroom use, and promotes their adoption, evaluation and continued evolution through worldwide multi-institutional cooperation.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 14, 2006 (download PDF).