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Thank you so much to my 15.280 students for nominating me
for this Teaching with Digital Technology award.
We are obviously living at a very important time
for higher education.
And we have collectively, the opportunity
to reinvent how we're delivering that type of content.
And I'm very much looking forward to understanding
how collectively we find new ways of delivering
technological content to our students
to empower them to use them in practice
but also to enhance their educational experience.
The materials that we explore and the sense of community
that we foster provides us with the space and opportunity
to showcase our care for one another.
And so once we had to face the tragedy of COVID-19,
the means to express our care and our joy
for being together changed, but the foundation
remains the same.
My main approach to teaching is really
oversharing in the interest of building community.
I think that there can be no real learning without trust.
And there can be no trust without sharing
our own vulnerabilities.
And it just so happened that the week of the campus closure,
we were discussing the importance of connectedness
to place for human well-being.
So I immediately asked the students
to think about what it feels like when
the place that you feel most connected to
is wrested from you.
Could this help us empathize with the plight
of displaced peoples in the world, for instance?
I wanted the students to be anthropologists studying
this strange, new reality and for that spirit of curiosity
to empower them and to give them strength.
The different life circumstances out
of which we make meaning, what we often call our backgrounds,
a fitting metaphor perhaps for the Zoom era,
has now come ever to the foreground.
Remote teaching was a heartbreak,
though it had its unexpected boons as speaking
with students fixed in equally-sized video boxes made
our discussions more democratic though also made clear because
of the absence of students unable reliably
to connect how far we have to go in building this commons,
a fact highlighting the real danger in which US and world
democracy now find themselves, a peril that
must see us confront racial injustice,
digital division, public health catastrophe,
and the rise of unreason.
We threw away all or most of our plans
in the interest of getting the best learning
experience to our students.
When we first got word that this semester was
going to be online, one of the thoughts
that went through my head was how
is a two-inch high, two-dimensional version of me
possibly going to compete with all
of the other things that are on student's computer screens.
The first time I set up a graph, I actually
walked off screen and then did a little computer trickery.
And it looked like I walked inside
of the graph inside of my slide.
Luckily, MIT has great resources in digital learning,
such as the videotaping rooms and the MITx system.
When the class was moved online, I
decided to use OneNote as my virtual blackboard.
It's quite easy to use.
Writing and drawing on it feel really smooth.
Catsoop is free and open source software.
It's freely available online.
And over the past several semesters,
we've seen a pretty steady increase
in the number of subjects using it at MIT.
And sometimes, these are subjects
that are very different from the ones that I teach.
And so it's been extra neat to see the things
that they're doing with the software and the ways
that they're extending it.
As well as reproducing all of the key features
of in-person lectures and office hours as much as possible,
the other guiding principle of flexibility
meant making the course content as accessible
as possible in as many formats as possible.
This is a very hands-on class.
We set the foundation by going through the calculations
that an astronomer will make in order
to determine what exposure time they should use when
at the telescope.
The students were able to do this
for the target of their choice and then submit
this as a request to the Elliot 24-inch telescope
at Wallace Observatory.
Although they weren't there for the actual experiments,
by watching the videos and then talking with me
and listening to my presentations in the lab times
and then meeting with us individually
about their spectra, they were able to back this
up and talk about their peptide to each other and us.
A one-on-one Zoom conference is very productive
and has the advantage that the student can record the session
so that if we talk and say something,
and they forget what we said, they
can go back and look at it again,
which is not what happens in person when they're
meeting with us in the lab.
So I have to admit that when I got the email about winning
a Digital Technology Teaching Award,
I thought it was a joke or a scam
because I am famously clueless with technology.
I have to get my students to set it up
if I need a class e-list or a Google Doc or what have you.
We also use technology to travel virtually
when we couldn't do it in real life,
for example, by walking city streets in Google View mode,
visiting museum rooms, browsing restaurant menus.
For some sections of the course, I flipped the classroom.
What this means is that I recorded
lectures, narrated some slides and sent those out in advance.
And then during the synchronous remote class time period
on Zoom, we use that time to have more discussions,
mini cases, work out problems.
And we also discussed the real-time changes
that were happening in the US tax code in response
to the pandemic.
Virtual class discussions just tend
to stall at unexpected moments.
And when that happened, what helped for me
was to use breakout rooms.
Learning objectives can be achieved
in many different ways.
We might be used to achieving a learning
objective in a particular way that's
been done for many years.
I think the transition to online teaching
has made us take a step back and acknowledge that perhaps there
are multiple ways to get at that objective.
I designed a variety of games anywhere from bingo
to Battleship.
Some ideas worked better than others,
but students embraced these experiments
with incredible flexibility and good humor.
I've been asked what did we do to create
appealing and thought-provoking lectures?
Here are some tips.
1, lectures are stories.
2, design for the media.
We're used to seeing videos with cuts every 2.5 seconds.
Keep it moving.
And 3, it's OK to have fun.
Lots of the activities in my classes
are role-play simulations or scenarios
that put students in specific contexts
that mimic real-world or professional practice contexts.
Ask them to use what they've been reading and talking about,
and then give each other feedback.
And then we often video what they're
doing so they can see how they're presenting themselves
to other people in other people's eyes.
I really appreciated and enjoyed the discussions via Zoom.
The students were really willing to engage and ask questions.
And I felt we could create not quite, but almost a classroom
We've learned in this digital teaching environment
to bring Socratic dialogue, which
allows students to be the agents who educate each other and us,
the instructors.
It's been a very powerful way of teaching students
how to discover for themselves.
I can't thank you enough for this.
I'll never forget our class.
I'll never forget the spring of 2020.
And I look forward to see you all on campus again.