STEM Foundation

Interview with Prof Sanjay Sarma

Innovisions 2014: Keynote speaker Professor Sanjay Sarma, director of digital learning, MIT

Prof Sanjay Sarma was appointed MIT's first ever director of digital learning in November 2012. In this exciting role he has been looking at innovative ways of enhancing the educational experience and accelerating learning in students.

At Innovisions 2014, Professor Sarma will be discussing how to make educational models more interactive. We caught up with him for his initial thoughts

You've been director of digital learning at MIT for two years, how has the journey been so far?

I'm lucky that MIT is an early adopter school and things can spread very fast across the campus. We can also draw on the research of a wide variety of departments, exploring everything from cognitive science to new economic and educational models. As a result we’ve found that we can rapidly cycle through innovations and test them, avoiding analysis paralysis. We’re moving at an exciting pace that I had not originally anticipated. It's exhilarating.

What kind of work have you been doing?

We've been conducting a series of scientific research programmes looking at learning components, and this is proving very fertile ground. We've been testing how online learning can enhance the student experience and how elements such as instant feedback can help.

Is online learning effective when it is integrated into campus learning?

Without a doubt. We've put a lot of lectures and information online and are encouraging students to look at it before coming to class. This frees up a lot of time: instead of listening passively in a lecture hall, students can now sit in conference and discuss what they are learning, testing their understanding. Cognitive psychology has shown that this is much more effective than passively trying to stay awake while listening to a lecture.

What benefits are you seeing?

There's a lot more group discussion, and students have more time to do hands-on work. To build things and test them. Students are also more proactive. At the moment, some students are producing videos and learning materials for schoolchildren as part of a pilot program. They have found this empowering. Ultimately we’ll develop this principle, asking them to produce learning materials for higher education.

To what extent can the physical shape of the campus have an impact on how we teach and learn?

There's lots of work going on in this area, and MIT has been making a lot of changes over the past 20 years. Fifteen years ago we tore out our lecture halls in core undergraduate physics, replacing them with a room filled with 8-person conference tables, whereby students sit around and discuss their subject in a more equal way.

We have lots of ideas for the future in how to empower students. For example, should we create maker spaces or even laboratories in dormitories? I think we’ll be discussing how to put facilities inside living spaces for some time to come.

Innovisions 2014  the NEF’s flagship annual conference takes place on 4 December at the Institute of Directors, Pall Mall, London. To hear Professor Sarma’s thoughts on the changing educational landscape, as well as presentations from influential figures from business, education and Government, go to Innovisions 2014

www.thenef.org.uk/innovisions_2014

 

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