MIT Announces Spate of Digital Education Initiatives

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In an announcement made by MIT President L. Rafael Reif, Massachusetts Institute of Technology is expected to expand research programs that explore online and digital education at all levels, from pre-K through higher education, as the result of a 2014 institute-wide task force focused on the future of education.

“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,” Reif said in his letter.

Expected to be included in the initiative are the MIT Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili, pronounced “mightily”), the pK-12 Action Group, an initiative geared toward the improvement of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning from pre-K through the 12th grade, as well as a program looking to improve upon faculty support within residential education and a program meant to improve continuing education programs offered by the school, reports Joshua Bolkan for The Journal.

The MIT pK-12 Action Group was created in an effort to offer help to existing K-12 programs at the school to increase their reach and impact.  In addition, it will create new research meant to change the way in which students learn, and increase the understanding of how learning takes place.

MITili will be led by Professor John Gabrieli from Brain and Cognitive Sciences in an effort to expand the school’s global online efforts. The initiative will use science to better understand how people learn, which will benefit not only students on campus, but also teacher training and those around the world learning through digital platforms.

“MITili will combine research in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, economics, engineering, public policy and other fields to investigate what methods and approaches to education work best for different people and subjects,” according to a news release. “The effort will also examine how to improve the educational experience within MIT and in the world at large, at all levels of teaching.”

The MITx Digital Learning Lab was also announced.  A team made up of 16 MIT lecturers and postdoctoral researchers who have been trained in digital learning and acting as digital learning ambassadors within their departments, the group will collaborate with other faculty members interested in including digital content within their curriculum.  The team will be expected to become liaisons to aid in the translation of MITili research into practical insights that will help to create more effective teaching methods.

The school has created a new position to oversee the initiatives, the Vice President of Open Learning. Professor Sanjay Sarma, dean of digital learning, will fill the position and will report directly to Reif.

Sarma will be expected to aid in the growth of the science of learning and to help to enrich education at the school through a partnership with Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart, the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education, and the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education. Sarma will also offer support for the program through independent funding sources.  He will also be expected to continue his duties overseeing the Office of Digital Learning.