Innovation in the lesson MIT News | So Good News


The 2022–23 academic year is underway, and MIT instructors and assistants are back in classrooms and labs. Whenever they supplement their classroom lecture with a video, organize a new learning exercise, or even publish their syllabus to Canvas, Cheryl Barnes hopes that MIT Open Learning’s residential education team will make their job easier.

“Teachers have a lot of demands on their time, but they’re also very committed to their students,” says Barnes, director of digital learning for residential education. “Our job is to help our students make the most of their time to learn.”

In addition to Student Life’s resident education division, MIT Open Learning’s resident education group enhances teaching and learning through the use of digital technologies. By identifying, testing, and implementing promising innovations, residency education aims to facilitate the modification and development of instructional materials for instructors. The team focuses on three main areas.

The science of learning

Designing and refining curricula and courses can be a personal endeavor, but residency education doesn’t want it to be. A trio of teaching professionals—an engineer, a data scientist, and a research scientist—dive deep into peer-reviewed research and data analysis to provide recommendations for instructors.

According to Aaron Kessler, assistant director of learning sciences and instruction, the resident education team is working on multiple issues, including moving the course back from in-person to online. He also assisted instructors in introducing new learning technologies and making it easier for students to understand difficult concepts.

“We help educators provide experiences that allow students to engage deeply with content through inquiry-based approaches,” says Kessler.

Educational technologies

The Residential Education team has staff skilled in educational devices, technology and software such as Canvas and Residential to translate research and data into practice. MITx. The team also oversees a light board studio, where instructors can use a lighted glass board, allowing them to write and explain equations, formulas and concepts.

Over the past two years, Barnes, his team, and MIT’s Information Systems and Technology Department have devoted a lot of time to Canvas. In March 2020, MIT licensed a learning management system for the entire campus, with classes moving online. The resident education team competed to provide one-on-one consultations and create instructional videos and online tutorials to move faculty and faculty courses to Canvas. Normally, a campus-wide migration would take at least three years, Barnes said. As of May 2022, MIT had 2,598 courses on Canvas.

Barnes’ employees remain a key resource for Canvas. They test applications that integrate with Canvas, including those that enable student polls, video discussions, and class surveys, and test resource pages for teachers and teaching assistants.


Another key component of the Home Education Team’s efforts is bringing instructors together so they can exchange ideas, share success stories, and find inspiration. Events such as xTalks, a regular panel discussion held throughout the school year, and the Festival of Learning, an annual celebration of innovation in education, provide these valuable opportunities.

Previous discussions focused on active learning techniques, supplementing lectures with video animations, and using clickers to increase learning achievement. Next year’s Learning Festival is planned after a period of independent events in January. The team collects teaching insights, best practices and success stories on Open Learning’s Residential Digital Innovations page for educators.

A different learning landscape

Emma Teng, TT and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations, works frequently with the Household Education Group. In the 2021 academic year, Teng decided to create a new, born-digital discipline to meet the needs of distance learning. The class studied the Chinese novel Three Kingdoms and its various adaptations, and Ten set several goals for the knowledge and skills students would acquire in the workshop. Teng reached out to the Resident Education Team and the Teaching and Learning Laboratory to help clarify the intended learning outcomes and support development of the assessment.

The class was a success, Teng said, with students engaging and interacting even in a distance learning environment. The students showed their appreciation by nominating him for MIT’s 2022 Digital Learning Award. Teng was among the teachers and educators who received the honor, which recognizes educators who effectively integrate technology into their classes. Achieving a high level of creativity and intellectual freedom would be more difficult without the help of employees, Teng says.

“Residential education is a necessary resource, and it’s hard to imagine MIT without them,” says Teng. “The pandemic has created a valuable conversation about teaching at MIT, and residency training is there to help facilitate that.”

Barnes wants to continue the conversation. This academic year, the resident education team will continue to hold individual events and is ready to explore the ongoing changes the pandemic is having in their profession.

“We’re at a very exciting time,” Barnes says. “We need to regroup and ask ourselves, ‘What is the new normal?’ We have to ask. and ‘What does it mean to advance as an instructor?'”


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