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With an educational ‘revolution’ afoot, Task Force on the Future of MIT Education to convene

Idea Bank to solicit community input.
Photo: Dominick Reuter

The Institute-Wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education — charting a course, as President L. Rafael Reif puts it, toward making the Institute’s teaching “more accessible, affordable and effective” — will have its opening meetings tomorrow, Wednesday, April 3.

Reif announced the creation of the Task Force earlier this year, with the request that it work to “reinvent the residential campus model and perhaps redefine education altogether.”

“Education is in the midst of a revolution, and through MITx and edX, MIT has taken a position on the front lines,” Reif says. “In that context, the Task Force will help MIT understand how we might reinvent our model of hands-on, residential education to make it more accessible, affordable and effective. This is no small challenge — and I am very grateful to the members of the Task Force for taking this on.”

The members of the Task Force, in three working groups, were chosen from across MIT. Reif has asked the Task Force — co-chaired by Professor Sanjay Sarma, director of digital learning, and Israel Ruiz, executive vice president and treasurer — to complete a preliminary report in approximately six months, and a final report in roughly one year.

“There are several convergent factors at play in higher education today — from new technology to pressures of affordability to humanity’s need for global accessibility,” says Sarma, who is the Fred Fort Flowers and Daniel Fort Flowers Professor of Mechanical Engineering. “We are excited to work on how MIT can be better and do better by its students and the world in this environment.”

“President Reif has challenged us to rethink the fundamentals of MIT’s educational and economic model,” Ruiz says. “We will use this opportunity to understand how we can continue to offer an excellent and distinctive residential experience and improve access for our students and learners across the world using online technologies and within a new financial context. It is an incredibly exciting challenge that we are looking forward to tackling.”

Reif will open tomorrow’s private meeting by spending an hour with members of all three working groups, before the subgroups break into individual working meetings. At those sessions, schedules of ongoing meetings will be set for each of the Task Force’s three working groups, on MIT Education and Facilities for the Future; the Future Global Implications of edX and the Opportunities It Creates; and a New Financial Model for Education.

Community engagement

To highlight the importance of community engagement to the success of the Task Force, a new Idea Bank has been created to solicit ideas from members of the MIT community. As in the past, this Idea Bank will welcome original suggestions as well as responses and scoring of those suggestions.

Join the conversation
The Idea Bank has been updated with categories to guide and organize community input on the future of MIT education. The Task Force website will feature tweets from the Task Force’s Twitter account, @FutureMIT, and from elsewhere using the hashtag #futureMITed; it will also highlight topics that are trending on social media.

Members of the MIT community are encouraged to send confidential suggestions to the Task Force via email: Finally, the Task Force has established a Yammer group called “Future of MIT Education.”

In addition to the online and social-media engagement, Sarma and Ruiz also plan to host a number of informal gatherings so that the MIT community can fully engage in the conversations.

‘Disruptive changes’ for academia

In February, Reif wrote in his charge to the Task Force that American higher education is experiencing “disruptive changes” related to affordability. At the same time, he observed, advances in online teaching are making it possible to offer effective instruction to millions of learners at comparatively low cost.

Reif noted that MIT has taken a leading role in democratizing access to university-level instruction through its involvement in edX and MITx. But, he added, for MIT — an institution whose hands-on, team-focused education depends on human contact — the rise of online learning poses both a challenge and an opportunity.

Reif also said at the time that he hopes the Task Force will define MIT’s path and point the way toward a financially sustainable model for American higher education.

Reif’s charge asks that the Task Force sketch an “ecosystem” for ongoing research and innovation in education; evaluate the sustainability of MIT’s financial model and propose alternatives; and describe the work necessary to alter MIT’s approach. He has also asked the group to recommend experiments to explore the future of MIT education both on campus — incorporating the best features of online learning while maximizing the value of in-person instruction — and beyond campus, for learners around the world who are eager to benefit from MIT’s educational content.

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