On Thursday night, four MIT faculty members were named MacVicar Faculty Fellows in recognition of their contributions to undergraduate education. They each receive $100,000 for educational activities and research.
The four professors come from a variety of fields: Literature Professor Diana Henderson; Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor Daniel Jackson PhD ’92 and Associate Professor Vladimir Bulovic; and Science, Technology, and Society Professor David Jones.
The MacVicar Day event this year will be a faculty panel discussion entitled “New Directions in General Education” from 2:00–3:30 p.m. today in 9-057. MacVicar Day is annual celebration of undergraduate education and educational innovation associated with the MacVicar Fellows Program.
Students and faculty members are able to nominate professors who must then be endorsed by their department heads. According to Leann Dobranski, assistant director of the Teaching and Learning Lab, the MacVicar Advisory Committee this year was chaired by the Dean of Undergraduate Education Daniel E. Hastings PhD ’80, and also included two current MacVicar Fellows, two non-MacVicar Fellow faculty members, and two undergraduate students selected by the Undergraduate Association Nominations Committee. The Advisory Committee submits their recommendations to Provost L. Rafael Reif who makes the final decision.
Hastings said that in evaluating this year’s candidates, “as always we look for excellence in teaching as evidenced by the innovation and care in the classes as well as the student comments.”
Bulovic said that receiving the award was a humbling experience because he was being recognized both by his colleagues and, most importantly, his students. Jackson said, “What’s wonderful about [the Fellowship] is that it funds innovations in education, and it gives you an opportunity to talk to other people who are excited about teaching at the Institute.”
When explaining the methods that they thought made them effective teachers, all of the professors stressed that engaging students in a conversation was crucial. Bulovic said that learning happens best when the teacher can respond to matters that are on students’ minds. “If I’m answering what they’re passionate about, that’s what they’ll remember,” he said.
Having a conversation in a large lecture-style class can be difficult. In order to explain material clearly, Jackson said, “I try and make the assumption, whenever I am preparing for class, that all of my students are very clever and totally ignorant.”
The winners also agreed on the importance of sharing compelling and relevant examples that make class ideas more personal for students. Jones talked about directing his Disease and Society In America (STS.005) students to take walks through the neighborhoods of Boston while trying to find reasons for the disparities in the health data from each. Bulovic commented on the current MIT curriculum saying, “The remarkable thing about MIT is that we have a curriculum that makes all of our students technically savvy.”
In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Henderson also serves as the dean for curriculum and faculty. “It’s important for students to understand different approaches to knowledge,” she said.
Jones said that he fully supported the 2008 change from double degrees to double majors which reduced the number of units required because “it allows engineers to more easily do serious work in STS.”
In addition to the certificate that the new Fellows were awarded last night, they will also receive $10,000 per year through the next 10 years for curriculum development and improvement of teaching methods.
MacVicar Day and the MacVicar Fellowships are named after Dean for Undergraduate Education Margaret MacVicar, who died in 1991. MacVicar founded MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) and had a strong influence on MIT’s undergraduate program.
Jones already has some plans for his money. He would like to “hire people to create better visualizations” of health data, an endeavor which he says could have a big impact on students in his classes. Henderson hopes to develop more cross-disciplinary subjects like the class she is currently co-teaching with Professor of Theater Arts Janet Sonenberg, Learning from the Past: Drama, Science, Performance (21L.016).