MITx launches — new model for post-secondary learning?

December 22, 2011

We get press releases in the e-mail:

MIT launches online learning initiative

MIT launches online learning initiative

MITx‘ will offer courses online and make online learning tools freely available.

December 19, 2011


MIT today announced the launch of an online learning initiative internally called “MITx.” MITx will offer a portfolio of MIT courses through an online interactive learning platform that will:

  • organize and present course material to enable students to learn at their own pace
  • feature interactivity, online laboratories and student-to-student communication
  • allow for the individual assessment of any student’s work and allow students who demonstrate their mastery of subjects to earn a certificate of completion awarded by MITx
  • operate on an open-source, scalable software infrastructure in order to make it continuously improving and readily available to other educational institutions.

MIT expects that this learning platform will enhance the educational experience of its on-campus students, offering them online tools that supplement and enrich their classroom and laboratory experiences. MIT also expects that MITx will eventually host a virtual community of millions of learners around the world.

MIT will couple online learning with research on learning

MIT’s online learning initiative is led by MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif, and its development will be coupled with an MIT-wide research initiative on online teaching and learning under his leadership.

“Students worldwide are increasingly supplementing their classroom education with a variety of online tools,” Reif said. “Many members of the MIT faculty have been experimenting with integrating online tools into the campus education. We will facilitate those efforts, many of which will lead to novel learning technologies that offer the best possible online educational experience to non-residential learners. Both parts of this new initiative are extremely important to the future of high-quality, affordable, accessible education.”

Offering interactive MIT courses online to learners around the world builds upon MIT’s OpenCourseWare, a free online publication of nearly all of MIT’s undergraduate and graduate course materials. Now in its 10th year, OpenCourseWare includes nearly 2,100 MIT courses and has been used by more than 100 million people.

MIT President Susan Hockfield said, “MIT has long believed that anyone in the world with the motivation and ability to engage MIT coursework should have the opportunity to attain the best MIT-based educational experience that Internet technology enables. OpenCourseWare’s great success signals high demand for MIT’s course content and propels us to advance beyond making content available. MIT now aspires to develop new approaches to online teaching.”

OCW will continue to share course materials from across the MIT curriculum, free of charge.

MITx online learning tools to be freely available

MIT will make the MITx open learning software available free of cost, so that others — whether other universities or different educational institutions, such as K-12 school systems — can leverage the same software for their online education offerings.

“Creating an open learning infrastructure will enable other communities of developers to contribute to it, thereby making it self-sustaining,” said Anant Agarwal, an MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). “An open infrastructure will facilitate research on learning technologies and also enable learning content to be easily portable to other educational platforms that will develop. In this way the infrastructure will improve continuously as it is used and adapted.” Agarwal is leading the development of the open platform.

President Hockfield called this “a transformative initiative for MIT and for online learning worldwide. On our residential campus, the heart of MIT, students and faculty are already integrating on-campus and online learning, but the MITx initiative will greatly accelerate that effort. It will also bring new energy to our longstanding effort to educate millions of able learners across the United States and around the world. And in offering an open-source technological platform to other educational institutions everywhere, we hope that teachers and students the world over will together create learning opportunities that break barriers to education everywhere.”

Read frequently asked questions about MITx

Tip of the old scrub brush to James Darrell.

Texas Tribune and Texas State Board of Education

January 5, 2010

Have you found Texas Tribune yet?  It’s a new, on-line newspaper, and generally it’s terrific.

See their collection of stories already about the State Board of Education. The collection can substitute for at least one cup of coffee to get your blood flowing in the morning.

Finding our place in the world

October 2, 2008

The exhibit is gone, but the memory, and the on-line educational features still remain.

Spectacular digital map of Africa, showing current development.  Map copyright by Allan Sluis, courtesy of NAVTEQ and ESRI

Spectacular digital map of Africa, showing current development. Map copyright by Allan Sluis, courtesy of NAVTEQ and ESRI

Geography teachers should explore the on-line version of the Field Museum’s exhibit, “Maps:  Finding Our Place in the World.

This exhibit is by itself an argument for live internet links for students.  Take a few minutes to peruse some fo the interactive features, like the world map that leads to photos of the major exhibit pieces.

We need more material like this, freely available in classrooms.

Also, see especially:

“Network of the Lincoln Bicentennial”

June 10, 2008

You’ve got to love C-SPAN. Commercial television networks spend billions purchasing rights to be the sole broadcaster of sporting events, the Superbowl, the World Series, the NBA championships, the NCAA basketball championships, the Olympics.

What’s a money poor, creativity- and content-rich public affairs cable channel to do? Well, gee, there’s the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth coming up in February 2009 . . .:

Meet C-SPAN, “the network of the Lincoln Bicentennial.”

Note the site, set your video recorders (digital or not — just capture the stuff). C-SPAN plans monthly broadcasts on Lincoln and the times, plus special broadcasts on certain events — November 19, the 145th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, for example.

Of particular value to students and teachers, C-SPAN offers a long menu of links to sites about Lincoln, and to original speeches and documents (DBQ material anyone?).

War with Mexico

House Divided

Lincoln-Douglas Debates

·1st Debate: Transcript | Video

·2nd Debate: Transcript | Video

·3rd Debate: Transcript | Video

·4th Debate: Transcript | Video

·5th Debate: Transcript | Video

·6th Debate: Transcript | Video

·7th Debate: Transcript | Video

Cooper Union Speech

Farewell Address

First Inaugural

Second Inaugural

Gettysburg Address

Last Address

Good on ’em. C-SPAN leads the way again.

Teachers, bookmark that site. Are you out for the summer? U.S. history teachers have a couple of months to mine those resources, watch the broadcasts, and watch and capture the archived videos, to prepare for bell-ringers, warm-ups, and lesson plans.

What will your classes do for the Lincoln Bicentennial? Will that collide with your plans for the Darwin bicentennial?

Debunking the Nigerian scam, with grace and compassion

March 30, 2008

This person should be a diplomat; when I am a fool, I hope someone will puncture my balloon with as much wit, grace and caring.

Oh, yeah — it’s another story about librarians, wouldn’t you know?

Return to normalcy

March 14, 2008

For at least one hour this past week, the Bathtub got more than 11,000 hits. Who could have foreseen that a post about an ancient piece of pseudo-animation would catch the fancy of so many? I gather that the word “animation” played a key role in the enormous popularity of the post.

In two days the Bathtub got more than 100,000 hits; that’s big blog territory, about where WordPress phones and suggests it’s time to move to a paid format. The first day was chiefly driven by Reddit; the second day by Digg. At this point traffic is coming from about five different flagging services.

I wish other, more serious posts would merit such attention. In the real world, People magazine sells a lot more than Time, and a lot more than Natural History, and those magazines throw away an equivalent of the entire press run of The Journal of the Air Pollution Control Association just because of a crease in one page. Content quality bears no correlation to total circulation. But that’s my judgment; who can say that my judgment is better than the crowd’s? Santayana’s Ghost is a more amicable companion, but Galton’s Ghost haunts us, too.

So, some observations:

1. Archaeologists and anthropologists need to flack their finds better. The animated .gif was created in 2004 as best I can determine. I picked up the story from a tiny note in a monthly archaeology newsletter Kris Hirst’s blog at from, which picked the story up from a note on a piece of controversy about the bowl (regarding whether it was the Assyrian Tree of Life depicted or not). The bowl was found, depending on the source, in the 1970s or 1980s (surely someone knows which date would be correct).

In other words, this “news” has been kicking around for a quarter to a third of a century. What other magnificent archaeological finds would people find fascinating, if they only knew about them?

This is a constant problem. News gatekeepers — editors — generally do a good job, but the volume of news means many things people would find intriguing, get overlooked. Some day I’ll write up my experiences as a press secretary, telling how editors would repeatedly reject tips as “not news,” then run the items months later when the item came in through a different source, or a different route. (“She came in through the bathroom window,” the Beatles sang, and every press secretary understands why; the door and the grand staircase were occupied.)

The problem is compounded by the internet and computers. Most people who looked at the post did not start out the day wondering what had happened recently in archaeological digs in Iran. News reader filters for our “interests” may shut out things we really would be interested to see. I called it “animation,” and 100,000 people crowded to see. There’s nothing like an old fashioned newspaper to pique our interest in odd items we were not looking for at all, on pages where we read other stuff we were looking for.

2. We all need to marry the cyber world to the real world. I still know precious little about the artifact in question. Where can I find information on it? I don’t have access to archaeology journals. Without knowing exactly where to look on the internet, we are all at a loss as to where to turn. What museum is this piece in, if any? (If it’s not in a museum, Iran or its owners could auction it off at a pretty good price right now, I’ll bet.) Who were the Italians who found it? Where can we find the papers describing it? What about the 11-minute film mentioned in the press releases — where is that film, how can we see it? Those people who hold this information appear not to be plumbed into the tubes of the internets, or the spigots are turned off. There is an information vacuum here, and good, real information is difficult to find to fill it.

3. Most of us know precious little about the world; the internet is often limited in the help it can offer to cure our ignorance. Several commenters seemed to have some knowledge about Iran’s archaeological heritage. Most of us had never heard of the Burnt City, most of us still couldn’t find it on a map, and most of us don’t know where to go to get the next chunk of fascinating information. The internet is a great institution, but in these matters, it’s still hit or miss for people who really want to know. We’re missing the boat on using computers and the internet as education tools.

Readers: What else have we learned from this experience?

America by Air, the promise of on-line history education

February 14, 2008

Looking for something else I found the Smithsonian Institution’s on-line history of air passenger travel in the U.S., America by Air.

I can easily see a time when a student with a computer terminal gets an assignment to look at some of the activities available at a site like America by Air, with on-line quizzes as the student progresses through the exhibits.

banner from Smithsonian exhibit, America by Air

How far away are we? Two questions: Does your school provide an internet-linked computer for each student? Do you have the software or technical support to give an on-line assignment and track results?

Teaching stays stuck in the 19th century, learning opportunities fly through the 21st.

Addictive quizzes on world geography

January 4, 2008

Well, this is fairly addictive: The Travel IQ Quiz from TravelPod

I’d love to have every kid in the class with a computer to take this thing, or pieces of it, to drill on it, and I’d love the ability to add new stuff to it.

How’d you do? What do you think — are there classroom possibilities here?  (I’ve tried to make the widget work, below . . .)

This Traveler IQ
challenge is brought to you by the Web’s Original Travel Blog

In which we expose Leo Todd’s insults to President Fillmore

December 24, 2007

Dr. Bumsted sends us an alert to a site dedicated to President Franklin Pierce, the Franklin Pierce Pages. A delight to historians, no?

Not necessarily. The page designers chose Pierce, our 14th President, as the most obscure and trivial of the presidents. They claim Pierce as even more trivial and obscure than Millard Fillmore!

How close did we come to having “the Millard Fillmore Pages?” You’ll shudder to find out.

Leo Todd relates the story, here, The Great Franklin Pierce Debate.

The wonders of the intertubes: We can afford to have a set of pages dedicated to our 14th President, Franklin Pierce! Let’s see you do that on broadcast or cable television, or on radio.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Dr. Bumsted.

Founders online, great interactive site

December 12, 2007

Our friends and benefactors at the Bill of Rights Institute put up a great branch of their site, Founders Online. A grant from the Shelby Cullom Davis Foundation made the project possible.

Bill of Rights Institute logo

Check it out:

John Adams | Samuel Adams | Alexander Hamilton | Patrick Henry
Thomas Jefferson | James Madison | GeorgeMason | Gouverneur Morris
James Otis | Thomas Paine | George Washington | John Witherspoon

This page should be a first stop for your students doing biographies on any of these people, and it should be a test review feature for your classes that they can do on the internet at home, or in class if you’re lucky enough to have access in your classroom.

Good on-line sources are still too rare. This is stuff you can trust to be accurate and appropriate for your students. Send a note of thanks to the Bill of Rights Institute, and send your students to the site.

Just in time for Bill of Rights Day, December 15 . . .

Good news for history teachers: NY Times drops fees

September 18, 2007

The New York Times announced it will stop charging for access to much of its archives, from 1987 to the present, and from the paper’s inception through 1922.

Other articles from 1922 to 1987 will be available for a reduced fee, or free.

Access opens to much of the archived material at midnight tonight, September 18, 2007 (probably Eastern Time).

History, economics and science teachers especially now can get news stories of key events that were previously difficult to find and often expensive. Now-free periods of history include the periods covering the Spanish-American War, the entire administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, World War I, the administrations of George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and the current administration, the end of the Cold War, nullification and destruction of the Berlin Wall and reunification of Germany, breakup of the Soviet Union, the first Gulf War, and much more.

Still behind a proprietary shield will be World War II, the Great Depression and the New Deal, the rise of the Cold War, the Korean War, the development of atomic bombs and nuclear reactors, the discovery of the structure of DNA, the trial of John Scopes, the trial of the Rosenbergs, the McCarthy era, and the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

The Times said the policy change makes sense because of links from other internet sources that drive people to the Times’ site. The newspaper can make more money from advertising to those referral clicks than from charging an access fee.

This makes a great deal of high quality information about events in history available to teachers and students. One danger for the light-hearted: It may confuse students about the meaning of “free press.”

History online, from Oxnard HS

September 18, 2007

Complete outline of U.S. history, high school version from Civil War to the present, for on-line use.  Be sure to note the disclaimer!

From Oxnard High School, Oxnard, California.

On-line textbooks: Economics and history

September 16, 2007

Text publishers for Texas generally provide websites to accompany their texts. In several cases the on-line version’s chief virtue is offering the full text on-line, in case students leave their books in their locker. Most of the texts offer a few brilliant on-line sources.

In most cases, features of an on-line text are limited so those school districts that purchase the publisher’s books. Access is restricted by sign-in codes and passwords.  In many cases the on-line books are a bit clunky.

Textbook Revolution is a site that claims to be “taking the bite out of textbooks.”  I hope they don’t mean the intellectual bite.

The site points to textbooks available on-line with no serious restrictions.  There are five history texts, four for U.S. history and one with a focus on world history. Economics is a hotter field, with 14 listings, including one from the Ludwig von Mises Institute which promises links to “dozens” of texts.  Geography doesn’t have its own category, but a search of the site for “geography” turns up seven texts.  The search for “government” is much less successful, turning up a hodge podge that includes chemistry and a rant, “Nudity and Smartfilter.”

See the hopeful little stub on open course-ware, too.  (It features the MIT catalog mentioned here earlier.)

Great idea, good execution for an infant or tyro website.  What on-line texts have you used and found useful?

Build-a-Prairie: Online game for geography, history, biology

September 9, 2007

Build-a-prairie logo from University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota distance learning site has a game students can play to create the ecosystems for a successful prairie.

The prairie is one of North America’s great ecosystems and a vital habitat for many plants and animals. Over 98% of the prairie has been lost in the past 150 years—but some people are trying to bring it back, hectare by hectare. Restoring a prairie is a great challenge, requiring knowledge of biology, ecology, climatology, and even economics.

Are you up for the challenge? If you choose the right plants and animals, you can watch the prairie come to life before your eyes! Let’s begin!

North America’s prairie is divided into the tallgrass ecosystem and shortgrass ecosystem (plus an area in between—the “mixed grass” prairie). Which one do you want to restore?

This game fits neatly into geography curricula for a number of states, and also covers parts of the 7th grade social studies standards for Texas — if your state is covered by the tallgrass or shortgrass prairies as shown on the accompanying map, it’s likely your state standards include students’ learning about prairie ecosystems.

North American tallgrass and shortgrass prairies, U of Minnesota The game is fail-safe; it does not allow incorrect selections. It’s not a sim, really, but a basic introduction to what makes a successful prairie. Students should be able to master the game in 15 minutes.

Though developed way up north in Minnesota, the game and species are close to Texas prairies, too. The emphasis on soil points to some of the key errors made by farmers (encouraged by developers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture) which led to the Dust Bowl; this is a good enrichment exercise for Dust Bowl lesson plans.  These games cover many of the requirements for Boy Scout merit badges, too:  Environmental Science, Wildlife Management, and Soil and Water Conservation, and others.

This game comes out of the Bell Museum at the University of Minnesota; be sure to check out the Watershed game, too.

Watershed Game logo, Bell Museum, University of Minnesota

Update, October 2011:  No, I can’t find the game now, either.  It appears the Bell Museum took the site down, and trusting (and hoping) they wouldn’t do that, I didn’t pirate any of the images, nor especially the game.

Here’s hoping someone will put the thing back on line, somewhere.  If you find it, will you let me know?  I’d like to renew the links.  Several school systems went through this site to get to the game for classroom activities.  It was a good thing.

Update October 30, 2011:  Try the game here.

Slave narratives in Flash animation

August 31, 2007


Graphic for Slave Narratives on-line exhibit

Teachers, take a look at this Flash animation about slavery, from the Museum of African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco. Yes, that beautiful, distinctive narrator voice is Maya Angelou — this is a high quality, high-impact presentation.

This MoAD piece, “Slave Narratives,” gives a glimpse of the potential of on-line learning, and what can be done with computers to supercharge a subject. Here slavery is presented as not only a colonial American problem, but is instead carried on through salvery issues in the 21st century. It’s part of the MoAD “Salon,” a site that world geography, world history and U.S. history teachers need to visit right away.

Cyberspace Nova discusses the site in a quick review of recent great Flash animations:

Imagine how it looked like taking a people freedom, torturing them, killing them and moving them far far away from their home. Tears can follow very easily if you just put one picture on your mind how it looked like. Yet, Slave Narrative put thousands of pictures in front of your eyes if you listen to the stories of slaves who lived to write them and share with people that will live after them. Let’s never forget this, because it’s happening today, like some stories from Slave Narratives tell… I love that this site is done in Flash, it is so powerful, it tells a story that we cannot hear a lot… Narrative part not just only justifies use of Flash, whole interactivity makes it great. 5/5

Opening to Photographs from the African Diaspora exhibit

Also look at this photographic exhibit of from MoAD, featuring more than 2,000 photos of people of African descent and places and things important to them — again, with great flash animation.

Bookmark the home page of the museum while you’re there.

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