Historically thermodynamics had been one of the most
unpopular undergraduate subjects in chemical engineering at MIT.
And so a couple of years ago Professor Chris love and I both together
were asked to rethink how we teach thermodynamics.
So we completely inverted the class. We introduced elements of statistical mechanics,
we decided that the focus should be starting out by developing a
conceptual understanding of entropy.
It's always taught as this esoteric concept.
It's not an esoteric concept!
It's a very well-defined statistical concept
that means something if you take the time to teach it.
And it had gone really well the first semester we taught it.
We got great reviews.
And then we decided to make it even better!
We were spending a lot of time reviewing
mathematical concepts that the students had learned in previous classes
and so Chris Love was really the pioneer bringing MITx
as a residential online learning component to aid what was going on in the classroom.
And we had set it up to just run for the first four weeks of the semester.
Our plan was to stop using that and continue as a as a normal class
but then of course the Coronavirus outbreak happened
and we needed to rethink
how we were gonna deliver instruction in the class.
The big decision was how much of the class to try to continue
to deliver synchronously versus make it an entirely self-paced subject.
Keeping in mind that not all students have the same quality access to internet
we decided to transition our subject to a completely self-paced subject.
This was really possible because we had
already developed the framework of MITx for this class.
We switched to releasing the material in weekly modules.
We would record short lecture videos
short example problems, release a set of notes, and then there would be a problem set.
And then we converted all of our existing lecture and recitation schedule time
to Zoom office hours five days a week, different times of day
trying to capture every student no matter what time zone they're in
and no matter what their personal schedule is.
So it was a large staff. I mean there were five full-time instructors
and we needed it. It took a lot of person power to get everything accomplished.
And the students, it was a challenge for them as well!
Even though self-paced learning provided them with
the flexibility to engage with material, it's not the way they're used to learning
It's not the way they've learned all their life.
In the end, I think it was well received.
One thing that I think we might keep, even when we go back to residential learning,
we had 24-hour take-home exams.
And that just overwhelmingly relieved so much stress that normally surrounds exams.
These are just good kids. Like they're just so genuinely interested in learning
and if you give them the opportunity to to not be obsessed about their grade
they will not be obsessed about their grade and they will want to understand.
The Covid remote learning experience really drove that home for me.
I had forgotten just how dedicated our MIT students are actually to learning.
I think one of the most important things we do as professors
is sharing our passion for the material,
teaching the students why you care about this, why this matters,
and showing them how much it means to us.
And that was one of the hardest things to convey in an online learning setting.
So I think, moving forward
best practices in the future for us are going to be a mix
of self-paced and live sessions.