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Letter regarding expansion of learning research and online and digital education

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The following email was sent today to the MIT community by President L. Rafael Reif.

To the members of the MIT community,

Eighteen months ago, the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education challenged us to enact a comprehensive vision, ranging from creating an Institute-wide learning initiative, to enhancing MIT residential education, to expanding our efforts to use online learning to reach learners around the world. At the same time, an increasing number of MIT faculty members are becoming engaged in the science and scholarship of learning, positioning us to accelerate progress in learning how people learn.

Guided by the Task Force recommendations and seizing the new opportunities of integrated learning science, today we announce significant advances in several areas, under a new leadership structure:

  • Integrated Learning Science

Professor John Gabrieli from Brain and Cognitive Sciences will lead the MIT Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili, pronounced "mightily"), a new Institute-wide initiative that will fuel and be fueled by MIT's residential education and our global online efforts. Integrating insights and modes of inquiry from faculty colleagues in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, design, economics and other disciplines, this new venture will apply scientific rigor to understand how people learn best, so we can use those lessons to benefit students here on campus and, through our digital offerings, teacher training and other outreach, learners of all ages around the world.

  • MIT Residential Education

We are pleased to announce formally a group that has been taking shape over the past three years: The MITx Digital Learning Lab. A team rather than a place, the Digital Learning Lab is composed of 16 MIT lecturers and postdoctoral researchers who serve as digital learning ambassadors in their departments. Trained in digital learning tuned to their respective disciplines, these "DLLs" collaborate with interested faculty to build digital content into the curriculum. They will also play a key liaison role, helping to translate MITili research into practical insights for more effective teaching.

  • Reaching Learners Around the World

We are also creating a central hub to support the more than 100 current and developing MIT programs and activities that aim to improve pre-kindergarten through 12th grade (pK-12) learning in STEM. These programs have    sprung up organically over time. Now, through a faculty committee chaired by Professor Angela Belcher, the new MIT pK-12 Action Group will help MIT's existing pK-12 programs magnify their reach and impact; drive new research, design and outreach to transform how students learn; and build our understanding of how learning happens.

  • This year, the Office of Digital Learning worked with Sloan Executive Education, the School of Engineering's Professional Education program, CSAIL and others to bring top digital technologies to online courses, notably the launch of Big Data X, which has more than 10,000 students so far. Today, we formalize that arrangement by creating a Digital Learning Solutions team, a group of staff who collaborate across MIT's departments, labs, and centers to enhance our offerings in continuing education, bringing the best digital strategies from across the Institute to serve the growing needs of corporations, executives and professionals.

A new leadership structure

As the range of these announcements suggests, we aspire to lead the charge in learning science and its application, to fully realize the power of digital learning on campus and to use online technologies to further open MIT education to the world. To fulfill these aspirations, we need to organize some of our efforts in educational innovation and learning research in a new way.

I have therefore asked Sanjay Sarma, currently Dean of Digital Learning, to take on this challenge as Vice President for Open Learning. I am charging Sanjay, in this new role to:

  • Foster and facilitate the growth of the science of learning, and work to disseminate and apply its lessons to serve learners around the world.
  • Partner with the Chancellor to use those lessons to enrich education at MIT, and to support the faculty in advancing digitally enabled educational innovation on campus.
  • Extend the MIT educational experience to the world.

I expect him to organize a team that can guide our community in living up to this vision and to secure independent funding sources to support it. In addition to these new duties, he will continue to oversee the Office of Digital Learning.

Throughout this work, and especially in all matters related to MIT's core educational efforts on campus, such as the Call for Proposals issued today for Reimagining Undergraduate Education at MIT, Sanjay will work in partnership with Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart, Provost Marty Schmidt, and the student and academic deans.

You can read more about all aspects of today's announcement here.

Understanding that faculty especially may want to know more about these activities, Sanjay, John, Angela and dean for undergraduate education Denny Freeman will take questions at a special faculty forum on Friday, February 12 from 11-noon in room 4-270.

Please join me in thanking all those who are stepping up to new responsibilities and leading us to new frontiers. And I hope you will join with us as we help to explore and expand the landscape of education, at MIT and beyond.

L. Rafael Reif

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