In June of this year, 23 lecturers and lecturers from over a dozen departments, laboratories and centers at MIT received the Teaching with Digital Technology Award as part of an online celebration by the Office of Open Learning.
These awards were launched in 2016 and are jointly sponsored by MIT Open Learning and the Office of the Vice Chancellor. Originally, these awards were primarily intended to honor the innovative use of digital technologies in the context of MIT’s personal courses on campus. But in the last two award cycles, with nearly all face-to-face courses going online, the awards represent that and much more: the enduring and evolving spirit of collaboration and mutual support within the MIT community as faculty, students, and staff sit down continue to grapple with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“One of the things that really impressed me during the celebration was how quickly and how often the awardees attributed their success to the support of students and colleagues,” said Sheryl Barnes, award founder and director of digital learning in home education at MIT Open learning. “It really says a lot about who we are as a community at MIT and about these professors – not just as academics, but as people.”
This year’s 23 winners were selected from 230 nominations from 104 unique instructors. You are:
- Mohamed Abdelhafez – Physics
- Steve Banzaert – mechanical engineering
- Helena Belio-Apaolaza – Global Studies and Languages
- Joseph Doyle – MIT Sloan School of Management
- Kristin Forbes – MIT Sloan School of Management
- Laura Frawley – Brain and Cognitive Science
- Malick Ghachem – story
- Max Goldman – Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
- Sally Haslanger – Philosophy and D-Lab
- Caroline Jones – architecture
- Miro Kazakoff – MIT Sloan School of Management
- Maria Khotimsky – Global Studies and Languages
- Andrew Lo – MIT Sloan School of Management
- Libby McDonald – D-Lab
- Arathi Mehrotra – MIT Sloan School of Management
- Anna Mikusheva – Economics
- Jeremy Orloff – Mathematics
- Michael Short – Nuclear Science and Technology
- Justin Solomon – Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
- Joe Steinmeyer – Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
- Nikolaos Trichakis – MIT Sloan School of Management
- Adrien Verdelhan – MIT Sloan School of Management
- Sean Willems – MIT Sloan School of Management
“It is the role of the students that makes this award such a special one for me,” says Dean of Digital Learning Krishna Rajagopal. “The selection is led by students based solely on student nominations.” In their nominations, students describe how a teacher used digital technology to improve their learning.
Some of this year’s winners received praise for “creating a virtual experience similar to on-site learning” by skillfully using technology to keep students focused on one topic at a time in a complex online environment . Some courses were handled so well that personal experience was exceeded: “[My instructor] managed to make my only completely virtual fall class my (and many others) favorite! ”enthused one student.
Other educators have been praised for their flexibility in unsafe situations. One student wrote that her teacher was always “extremely receptive to what works and what doesn’t in the class” and ready to adapt to the needs and concerns of the students.
Many students were moved by their professor’s commitment to their learning despite the overwhelming challenges. “It was so very clear [my professor] supervised ”, wrote a nominating student. “His willingness to go above and beyond resulted in an online class experience that surpasses any other course I’ve taken at MIT, and I can’t think of anyone who deserves more credit.”
A jury consisting of 15 students, Rajagopal and Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz selected the winners, with Rajagopal and Waitz leaving the decision almost exclusively to the students, who were highly motivated to recognize and reward good teaching today in order to create incentives for tomorrow.
This student-driven process and their motivations are “the main reasons you should be really proud to receive this award,” Rajagopal told the assembled winners at the virtual award ceremony, noting that the Teaching with Digital Technology Award was “really good for MIT Has rendered services “. by giving our students a voice to identify the instructors who deserve this recognition and thereby giving our instructors recognition that is genuinely valued. “
MIT teaching with Digital Technology Award 2021 winner
For the 2021 award winners, maintaining the well-being of students and the integrity of their learning has always been a priority, despite exceptional circumstances. During a group reflection on the teaching experiences of the past academic year, philosophy professor Sally Haslanger pointed out the challenge of addressing all areas of the expanded MIT motto in a virtual ad hoc setting: “The mind is easy, but how do you? [fulfill] the hand and heart part? “
Some instructors brought a sense of playfulness to their classes that made online discussions livelier and more memorable: MIT Sloan’s Andrew Lo, taking inspiration from the game show hosts, greeted incorrect answers with a buzzer and each correct answer with a bell. Others, feeling the loss of immediacy in face-to-face class discussions, focused on building engagement in online spaces. Senior Lecturer in Global Languages Maria Khotimsky has turned away from the lecture format and turned to more frequent small-group discussions, a technique she wants to keep after teaching resumes on campus. “I think I spent the whole year looking for new tools that would encourage collaboration and communication,” says Khomitsky, who was also awarded the 2020 award.
Others found that teaching experience during a pandemic forced them to reassess their teaching priorities to focus on teaching that really matters: “Whatever you think isn’t necessary, it probably isn’t,” he says Mathematics professor Jeremy Orloff, notes that streamlining study materials is an approach he would like to maintain in future iterations of his courses.
Many cited the opportunity to experiment with new technologies and techniques as an unexpected, fortunate consequence of last year’s restrictions. Others attributed the success of their teaching experiments to their students and cited their perseverance and willingness to try new things. Helena Belio-Apaolaza, Lecturer in Global Languages, went even further and was surprised that she was nominated for the Teaching with Digital Technology Award for having learned so much about new technologies from her students over the past year.
For Waitz, this year’s awards are a clear sign that the community will return to campus stronger than ever as soon as personal lessons resume in the fall. As the pandemic progressed, he says, “We saw a lot more empathy in both directions than we normally have between students and teachers. We need to look into each other’s homes and lives as we have not in the past. It has personalized us all in new ways, which will ultimately lead to stronger relationships and, I hope, more fulfilling educational experiences. “