How to keep education happening when students and instructors can’t meet in person

By Peter Chipman, OCW Digital Publication Specialist and OCW Educator Assistant

These days, university professors worldwide are scrambling to begin teaching their classes online rather than in person. At the most basic level, some courses can be taught online using just streaming video (whether live or pre-recorded) and familiar, readily available technology such as email and group chat apps. But if you’re looking to step up your online teaching, you may find inspiration in reading about what tools MIT’s faculty have been adopting in recent years.

For an extensive list of OCW Instructor Insights pages in which instructors discuss their implementation of online teaching technology, simply visit the Educator Portal on the OCW website. Click on the “Instructor Insights” tab, and then scroll down the “Topics” menu to find and click on the topic “Teaching with Technology.” Here’s a sampling of the dozens of Instructor Insights pages you’ll find in that list:

Offering a Small Private Online Course

Professor Olivier de Weck taught 16.842 Fundamentals of Systems Engineering as a SPOC (that is, a small private online course), rather than a MOOC (a massive open online course). In his Instructor Insights video, he discusses how he collaborated with a university in Europe to overcome the challenge of hosting discussions among students located in widely different time zones.

Online Tutoring

Professor Dennis Freeman describes how he and his colleagues used an online tutoring environment in 6.01 Introduction to Electrical Engineering and Computer Science I to promote student self-assessment. He describes the tool they developed to help students make sure the code they were writing was performing as intended, and he explains how that tool could be generalized to serve other online tutoring functions in other courses.

Web-Based Problem Sets

Professors Wolfgang Ketterle muses on the advantages and challenges of using web-based problem sets in teaching 8.421 Atomic and Optical Physics I. Though he still sees value in traditional on-paper homework problems, he recognizes that for instructors who are tasked with teaching completely online, it’s “extremely encouraging to know that even very complicated questions can be transformed into web-based problems.”

Collaborative Text Annotation

Dr. Kurt Fendt and his teaching assistant Andrew Kelleher Stuhl use a tool called  Annotation Studio with students in CMS.633 Digital Humanities. Annotation Studio enables groups to annotate a text collaboratively, to highlight and comment on passages in the text, and to respond to one another’s comments. The tool, developed by Dr. Fendt’s digital humanities lab, was still in development at the time the course was first taught; the students were thus able to offer feedback that helped shape the evolution of the software.

Automated Answer Checking

Dr. Jeremy Orloff and Dr. Jonathan Bloom, the instructors for 18.05 Introduction to Probability and Statistics, believe that the best time for students to be made aware of their mistakes is when they’re still working on the assigned problems, rather than after the fact. In their Instructor Insights, they explain their decision to provide their students with an online tool that allows them to check their answers to problem sets before submitting them.

Onward and Upward with OCW Educator

We hope that the insights discussed above will inspire you to experiment with new tools and techniques in your own online teaching–and that you’ll return to the OCW Educator Portal in the future for insights on other aspects of teaching, whether that teaching is happening online or in a traditional classroom!