MIT Names Sanjay Sarma First Director of Digital Learning

MIT President Rafael Reif has announced that Professor Sanjay Sarma will be the first to fill the post of Director of Digital Learning, Bostinno.com reports. Sarma brings to his new job more than 15 years of experience designing innovative ways to teach subjects related to mechanical engineering. Sarma’s main role will be to figure out what [...]

MIT President Rafael Reif has announced that Professor Sanjay Sarma will be the first to fill the post of Director of Digital Learning, Bostinno.com reports. Sarma brings to his new job more than 15 years of experience designing innovative ways to teach subjects related to mechanical engineering.

Sarma’s main role will be to figure out what role online learning will play in the university’s future. Among projects to be overseen by Sarma will be MIT’s OpenCourseWare, a revolutionary online education initiative launched by the university in 2002.

When edX was announced earlier this year, former MIT President Susan Hockfield claimed the platform represented “a unique opportunity to improve education on [Harvard and MIT’s] campuses through online learning.” That focus on what online education can do offline has resounded with faculty, as they continue to discover how to most effectively incorporate blended learning into their classrooms. edX has been collecting data on how students learn both in-person and online—data MIT News writes will “profoundly shape Sarma’s work as director of digital education.”

In an email announcing Sarma’s appointment, Reif referred to his job as “experimenter-in-chief,” and that he will be responsible for determining which online education approach will work best in the university’s current academic environment. The fact that MIT is looking to allow massive online open courses to play more of a role in education on its campus is a promising sign for the future of the paradigm. The move is also in stark contrast to those being taken at other schools around the country, which in the past several months seem to be taking a small, corrective step back from MOOCs.

It’s hard to explain why exactly the popular opinion on MOOCs and online learning in general has swung to the negative in the past several months, but at least one person hypothesizes that many who are enmeshed in the higher education system fear its destructive influence and aren’t quite ready for dealing with the potential of online learning to upend the status quo.

As Hockfield said during the edX press conference in May:

Today, in higher education, generally, you can choose to view this era as one of threatening change and unsettling volatility, or you can see it as a moment charged with the most exciting possibilities presented to educators in our lifetimes. [...] Online education is not an enemy of residential education, but rather a profoundly liberating and inspiring ally.

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