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MIT Better World

Enrollments are one way to measure the impact of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. But each course is different, sparking interactions and outcomes that go beyond the numbers. This is true not only for the many offerings in STEM fields but for MITx courses within the humanities and social sciences, which can take on exciting new dimensions in the digital realm.

Shaping the Future of Work

Archived courses can be useful to autodidacts, but MOOCs are at their most dynamic when they unfold in real time. A key component of active MOOCs is the online forum, a place for discussion of the material among students, faculty, and teaching assistants. Unfettered by geography, the residential and online learning worlds can augment each other in these forums. For 15.662x Shaping the Future of Work, taught this spring by Tom Kochan, the Geo Maverick Bunker Professor of Management at MIT Sloan, classes from Cornell and Rutgers convened each week in person on their respective campuses with their own professors, working together through the MITx materials for the course. These university students and their professors then joined participants from all over the world in the discussion forums. MBA students from MIT also stepped up as “community TAs” to facilitate discussion around the topics they know best.


The Challenges of Global Poverty

In selecting its first MITx courses to launch on edX, MIT looked to popular subjects on OpenCourseWare (OCW), a now 15-year-old groundbreaking experiment in making MIT educational materials freely accessible to all. One such course was 14.73, taught by Esther Duflo PhD ’99 (Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics) and Abhijit Banerjee (Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics). As 14.73x, it has attracted nearly 70,000 learners. Captain Rajeev Nair of Keerla, India, is one of them. Nair has passed more than two dozen MOOCs, some of which he has accessed while stationed on oil-drilling rigs, and he counts 14.73x among his favorites. Nair runs free math and reading classes for kids in his village. He has said of the MITx course that it “validated my work, as I learned that much of what I was doing in my village were tactics used by NGOs. I will now try out all of the additional successful tactics and models I learned.”


Visualizing Japan

Visualizing Japan’s digital pedigree goes back to an earlier online project published on OCW, “Visualizing Cultures,” a richly contextualized presentation of historical imagery related to modern Japan that was created in 2002 by Shigeru Miyagawa, the Kochi-Majiro Professor of Japanese Language and Culture, and professor of history (now emeritus) John Dower. Some of VJx’s video modules feature Miyagawa and Dower in discussion with professors from Harvard (which co-produced the MOOC) and Duke, while other units contain lectures accompanied by curated groups of images. According to Miyagawa, “MITx helped us to develop a suite of assessments that mimic the way historians handle visual material.” In one activity, learners use a drag-and-drop interface to compare 19th-century Japanese portraits of Commodore Perry against his photographic likeness. Another exercise asks students to submit the word they think best describes a drawing, before displaying a word cloud of thousands of their classmates’ responses. In an unusual reversal, Miyagawa used the VJx materials to create a new on-campus offering of the subject. Now the course has inspired another digital offering, VPx Visualizing the Philippines.