The faculty newsletter on edX

FNL on MIT 2030, edX, & faculty/staff quality of life

Released approximately two weeks ago, the September/October Faculty Newsletter features views on edX from the faculty and highlights from the Faculty/Staff Quality of Life Survey conducted in the spring, in addition to continued coverage of MIT 2030 developments — such as the establishment of the Provost’s Task Force on Community Engagement in 2030 Planning — and graduate student housing difficulties. The Tech recently covered faculty involvement on MIT 2030 at

The future of MITx and edX

This issue of the Faculty Newsletter included thoughts from Literature (Course 21L) Professor Ruth Perry and Emeritus Professor of Mechanical Engineering Woodie C. Flowers PhD ’73 on the future of edX and MITx, and the FNL Editorial Subcommittee wrote that “edX will be a continuing theme in the Faculty Newsletter over this next year.”

Flowers previously wrote about MITx in the January/February 2012 FNL, where he took a critical stance on the direction and motivation of MITx. MITx, wrote Flowers, should not make a mistake like the OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative — which he described as “a large database developing digital rot and becoming increasingly irrelevant.” Flowers emphasized then that MIT’s resources should be put towards developing better “training tools” for education.

Flowers wrote again in the September/October FNL regarding his edX concerns, calling it “a product without a strategy” and warning against just copying existing strategies.

“EdX should not be a me-too copy of Coursera and/or Udacity,” wrote Flowers. “They were first and had momentum before we started.”

Flowers believes MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are a “fad,” and “right now, their purveyors are preoccupied by a race to volume.” MOOCs are just a trimmed substitute for a real course — direct human interaction is necessary in education, while MOOCs are about “telepresence.” In light of these concerns, Flowers urges edX to think about the end game of online education and evaluating how MOOCs could be designed to “help MIT improve our own educational productivity.”

Focusing more specifically on how and whether teaching the humanities could be appropriately executed through online platforms, Perry wrote that online education “sometimes feels like a solution for which we are being asked to develop a problem.” Teaching of humanities, in its current state, “resists standardization,” since it requires knowing students as individual intellectuals with unique backgrounds and tailoring the education accordingly. Communal discussions are imperative, and online groups are “not as fully participatory as face-to-face exchanges in real time.”

It’s more difficult to “translate humanistic thought to online modules,” wrote Perry, adding that some wonder “whether the originators of these X initiatives even thought about even thought about liberal education in the humanities at all, or if it was added as an afterthought.”

She also cited the allocation of teaching and mentoring resources as a huge potential concern for teaching the humanities online.

While edX courses are currently all in science and engineering, other MOOCs have begun to offer courses from other disciplines (Coursera, for example, offers 31 courses in the Humanities and Social Sciences category).

Highlights of the Faculty/Staff Quality of Life Survey

The FNL also featured results from the spring 2012 Faculty/Staff Quality of Life Survey, which was last conducted in 2008. Over 90 percent of respondents indicated they were somewhat or very satisfied with being an employee of MIT, with respondents across all schools showing higher satisfaction than in 2008.

Regarding workload, faculty reported an average of 63 work hours per week (average across all faculty and staff being 49 hours per week). Over 60 percent of faculty indicated their workload was too heavy or much too heavy; for all other groups, this figure was below 40 percent. Similarly, over 50 percent of faculty reported feeling often or very often overwhelmed in the last year, while over 60 percent of all other groups reported being only occasionally overwhelmed or never overwhelmed.

Outside of work, most groups surveyed reported higher satisfaction with their life outside of MIT than with being an MIT employee, except for faculty and postdoctoral researchers who reported lower outside-MIT life satisfaction.

Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80 has “asked staff to see if they could put together that kind of survey for the students, both undergraduate and graduate, with the expectation that we would probably administer it in the spring,” given that there is time for a survey.