Autumn Changes

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Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?

In her poem, “Messenger”, Mary Oliver asks the question that has informed much of our wondering during these recent commotion-filled weeks. A New England autumn brings us a heightened awareness of the length and quality of life, and an opportunity for thoughtful questioning of the efficacy of our good work. And, just as the leaves shift color in their usual manner, we too are enveloped in changes, some predictable and others unforeseen.

A few days ago, we moved from our two-year temporary quarters into newly renovated space a few hundred feet west. We’re still on Main Street in Kendall Square, but now closer to a classroom portion of campus. We are located in Building E19 with entrances at 50 Ames Street and 400 Main Street. If you are on campus, feel free to stop by and say hello!

Our next campus event will be held this coming Wednesday, November 30, at 4:00 PM when we welcome Professor David Miele for a DUET seminar. Professor Miele is from the Counseling, Developmental, and Educational Psychology Department in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College and will deliver a presentation on “Increasing Student Motivation through Instructional Practices”.

In these newly and deeply uncertain times, we are drawing strength and confidence from the words of our president Rafael Reif who urges us to “[follow] our students’ lead [and] find ways to listen to one another — with sympathy, humility, decency, respect and kindness.” Listening carefully to self, others, world will be a worthy and necessary challenge for many semesters ahead.

Finally, along with all this, we are taking a temporary break from blogging. This was a new experience for many of us. We’re mostly pleased with our progress over the past fifteen posts since August and we have begun to identify ways to improve. We realize, though, that our initial conception of this work as a weekly sprint ought more properly be called ‘a marathon with weekly rest stops’. So, we’re going to regroup and come back to you in the new year, starting out again but a bit wiser and ever hopeful.

Grateful for so much, we wish you and those you love a very Happy Thanksgiving!

(“Autumn: Maine, Pond, Woods” from Janet Rankin / cc by-nc-sa)

The Facilitating Effective Research Program @ MIT

rhinos_1In most science and engineering fields, success in research (in both academe and industry) requires not only advanced domain-specific knowledge and sophisticated experimental and analytical skills, but mentoring and managerial skills as well. Graduate students and post-docs here at MIT (and throughout the US) often have their first professional mentoring experiences when they are given responsibility for the day-to-day supervision of undergraduates in laboratories and/or other research environments. These close working-relationships between graduate students/post-docs and undergraduates can be very rewarding for all parties, but often graduate students and post-docs are given little explicit guidance or advice about planning research tasks, or how best to guide and manage undergraduate students.

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How to measure how well the MBTA (or your instruction) is working

tmap2-croppedAccording to Walk Score, Boston ranks #3 on their list of transit-friendly cities (see the rankings), with its Transit Score falling in the “Excellent Transit” category. If, like me, you rely on the MBTA and routinely watch multiple over-crowded trains go by before managing to squeeze onto one or spend over an hour on a five-mile commute, you might be scratching your head over how Boston could achieve such a high ranking. How exactly did they measure the quality of public transportation? 1 Have the folks at Walk Score ever ridden the T?

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Today is Active Learning Day!

activelearningday-croppedIn an effort to raise awareness of active learning pedagogies, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has declared October 25, 2016, Active Learning Day.

Active learning strategies proactively engage students’ minds on relevant concepts through in-class discussions and activities. By participating in active learning exercises, students receive formative feedback on their comprehension of course concepts in real-time. Knowing which concepts students grasp and which concepts students struggle with allows instructors to adapt their lesson plans and maximize the precious face-to-face time they have with their students.

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Did that go well? … (Collecting midterm feedback from your students)

midterm-feedback-image-croppedWhen you teach, it’s natural to wonder how it’s going. Are the students getting it? Are they interested in the course content? Do they think the examples you are using are as illuminating as you do? If you are teaching this fall, consider collecting feedback from your students about their class experience so far. Now, 6-7 weeks from the beginning of the term, is a good time to solicit feedback. It is far enough into the semester that you’ve given yourself and your students time to adjust, but it is still far enough from the end of the term to give you time to tweak and adjust the course components if needed.

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Assessing Student Learning: Identifying Your Target

archer-and-blimp-33417v-croppedJane Dunphy, a longtime collaborator with the Teaching & Learning Lab and the author of today’s post, directs MIT’s English Language Studies Program and has taught a variety of subjects in professional and cross-cultural communication. She works with colleagues across MIT by developing effective pedagogy for the multicultural classroom and providing support to international TAs and faculty members.

Melissa Barnett, one of TLL’s three Associate Directors for Assessment & Evaluation, clearly relishes the opportunity to discuss all things assessment. During a two-hour workshop tailored specifically for language instructors in Global Studies & Languages (GSL), we explored what we knew, what we didn’t know that we knew, and what we most definitely didn’t know about assessing our teaching and our students’ learning.

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Working Together

Most faculty who do experimental work begin their academic lives leading fairly small lab groups: perhaps two or three graduate students and a post-doc. A group of this size is fairly straightforward to manage and support. At this stage, faculty are often physically present in the lab – working side-by-side with students – and it is relatively easy to know when there are issues with group dynamics, or when a particular member of the group is having difficulty or problems.

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In addition, in these early stages, the lines of communication between the PI and their mentees, as well as those between other group members, are often fairly direct. However, as PIs build successful careers, their research often diversifies, and their lab groups grow. Often the old models for successful mentoring, management, and communication may not be quite so effective, and new, more relevant models may not be quite so obvious.

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