Tech tools for teaching and learning
April 9, 2019
Peter Chipman, OCW Educator Assistant
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A clicker of the sort used in many MIT classrooms.
A clicker of the sort used in MIT classrooms. Photo: Gina Randall/USAF (public domain).

Technology is the T in MIT, so it’s not surprising that MIT faculty are quick to implement technology in and out of the classroom. Want to find out how MIT instructors use technology to improve the teaching and learning process? The Instructor Insights at many of the course sites published on MIT OpenCourseWare include descriptions of ways faculty members have implemented such tools in recent years.

Promoting active learning in the classroom

One of the most popular forms of active learning is the use of so called “clicker questions” to poll students’ opinions or gauge their knowledge of specific concepts. Unlike asking a question and calling on individual students to answer it, using clicker questions gives an instructor a sense of how well the classroom as a whole understands the concept being discussed. It also allows the instructor to engage students in the material without putting them on the spot.

In many classes, including 5.111SC Principles of Chemical Science, 8.421 Atomic and Optical Physics I, and 18.05 Introduction to Probability and Statistics, the instructors issue dedicated wireless devices as clickers that students use to register their responses; those responses are then aggregated and displayed on a screen. But most students are already coming to class with their own wireless devices–their mobile phones. So in other classes, such as CMS.701 Current Debates in Media, the instructors ask students instead to download an app such as Mentimeter, which enables their phones to act as clickers, avoiding the need for a separate device.

Supporting and assessing student performance outside of class

Outside the classroom, too, digital technology can help students learn while aiding instructors in tracking the pace of learning. In 6.01SC Introduction to Electrical Engineering and Computer Science I, for instance, the instructors set up an online tutor—an environment that can automatically check student-written code. Students feed a piece of code to the online tutor and it checks the functionality of that code by running various test cases.

The instructors for 18.05 Introduction to Probability and Statistics provide their students with an online problem set checker run through the Residential MITx site. By checking their answers as they work through the problems, students can notice and correct their mistakes before submitting their completed problem sets.

The course format for ES.S10 Drugs and the Brain incorporates online quizzes hosted at a website the instructor created for the course; it allows students to receive their grades immediately upon completing the quiz. Along with the quiz grades, the website shows which answers were wrong and why they were wrong.

In 21G.107 Chinese I (Streamlined), students use the web tool Lingt (developed by two MIT students) to record themselves speaking sample words and sentences outside of class; the instructor can then listen to their recordings and offer feedback on their progress. This frees students from having to go to a traditional language lab for pronunciation drills and assessments.

Specialized tools for specific subject matter

Instructors in other fields have found other tools helpful. For example, Annotation Studio, a suite of collaborative web-based annotation tools developed at MIT, has proven especially useful for courses in the humanities, such as 21L.501 The American Novel: Stranger and Stranger and CMS.633 Digital Humanities. Annotation Studio allows an individual, a small group of collaborating students, or even a whole class to produce a marked-up version of a text, with notes, links, and embedded images adding depth and richness to the reader’s experience. In 21L.501, the instructor also developed a project using Locast, an interactive mapmaking application (also created at MIT!), to help students make sense of the vast geographical range of the storyline of Moby-Dick. And in CMS.701 Current Debates in Media, students used software called CMap Tools to create conceptual maps showing relationships between the key ideas in a difficult text they were reading.

To learn more

If you’re interested in finding out more, you can use the OCW Educator Portal to search for Instructor Insights on the topic “Teaching with Technology.” For regular updates on what’s new in MIT OpenCourseWare, subscribe to the OCW newsletter. If you’re an MIT faculty member or instructor looking for ways to integrate technology into your teaching, visit the IS&T Teaching with Technology landing page for tools and resources.