Teaching With Digital Technology Award winners recognized for their innovations

In its fifth year, the Teaching with Digital Technology Awards are student-nominated awards for instructors who have effectively used digital technology to improve teaching and learning at MIT. The goal is to recognize instructors for their innovations and to give the MIT community the opportunity to learn from their practices. The awards are co-sponsored by Open Learning and the Office of the Vice Chancellor.

2020 Awards

As a result of the pandemic and in honor of the dedication of MIT faculty to the challenges of remote education, a second call for student nominations was made expressly for excellence in remote teaching. 

From the original call, 157 nominations were submitted for 98 unique instructors. From the remote call, 330 nominations were submitted for 163 unique instructors, with many instructors nominated for both awards. In total, 487 student nominations were submitted for 232 unique instructors.
This year's 31 winners, selected from the aggregate of nominations, are:

Steve Banzaert- Mechanical Engineering
Kara Blackburn - Sloan School of Management
Amanda Bosh - Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences
Devin Michelle Bunten - Urban Studies and Planning
Semyon Dyatlov - Mathematics
Vivek Farias - Sloan School of Management
Malick Ghachem - History
Mara Gubar - Literature
Michelle Hanlon - Sloan School of Management
Adam Hartz - Computer Science
Stefan Helmreich - Anthropology
Barbara Hughey - Mechanical Engineering
Pei-Ken Hung - Mathematics
Alexandre Jacquillat - Sloan School of Management
Graham Jones - Anthropology
Miro Kazakoff - Sloan School of Management
Jonathan Kelner - Mathematics
Wolfgang Ketterle - Physics
Maria Khotimsky- Global Languages
James Magarian - Gordon Engineering Leadership Program
Karthish Manthiram - Chemical Engineering
Isadora Nicholas - Global Languages
Phiala Shanahan - Physics
Ben Shields - Sloan School of Management
Joe Steinmeyer - Electrical Engineering
Lawrence Susskind - Urban Studies and Planning
Clair Travis - Chemistry
Rodrigo Verdi - Sloan School of Management
Bruno Verdini - Urban Studies and Planning
David Wallace - Mechanical Engineering
Jacob White - Electrical Engineering
Innovation, agility, and caring
The original nomination period ended in mid-March, just as faculty and staff began the extraordinary process of moving all campus activity online. As MIT’s faculty and instructors began teaching in ways that none had planned for, all relying upon digital technology, the awards committee felt it only right to ask MIT’s students a second time whether they wished to recognize someone for outstanding teaching with digital technology.

As everyone, teachers and students alike, were scrambling to achieve a fraction of their learning goals during the pandemic, it was far from clear how MIT’s students would respond. The response was in fact both remarkable and heartening: while the original call garnered 157 nominations for 98 unique individuals, the call for nominations during the period when all teaching was remote garnered a total of 330 nominations for 163 instructors and faculty, including 29 who were nominated in both calls. With more than double the number of nominations as in a typical year, it seems clear that students were extraordinarily motivated to recognize their teachers’ ingenuity and dedication in 2020.

“We’ve read some remarkable testimonials from nominating students, speaking to their instructors’ flexibility, creativity, and compassion in this time of crisis,” says Sheryl Barnes, Director of Digital Learning in Residential Education at Open Learning. “That combination of mind, hand, and heart is what makes MIT such a special place. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to celebrate our faculty’s dedication to keeping their students learning and growing, even under duress.”

Among the faculty honored, engineering professor Jacob White, recognized for his Feedback System Design (6.302) course, exemplified this dedication. White made sure that his 140 students received hardware lab kits before they evacuated campus in March, and went to great lengths to make the online version of his course accessible and easy for his students to navigate. One of White’s nominators noted that the professor had been “working around the clock to be available to students.”

Other faculty were bent on providing their students with the hands-on learning opportunities they’d anticipated, Covid-19 notwithstanding. Although Amanda Bosh’s course, 12.409, Hands-On Astronomy, seemed vulnerable to collapse in the transition to an online format, the EAPS lecturer was determined not to let her students be shortchanged. “Dr. Bosh and her team transformed a hands-on astronomy class that usually features visits to an observatory and rooftop telescope viewing sessions into an enjoyable virtual experience,” one of her nominators reports. “I submitted commands to have a telescope at Wallace Observatory virtually photograph a distant galaxy!”

Still others gave new meaning to the term “agility,” adapting their courses to the specific rhythms of life during the pandemic. Anthropology professors Graham Jones and Stefan Helmreich, who taught their 21A.157 Meaning of Life course (always popular and now more important than ever) this past spring, incorporated the cultural, ethical, and political considerations of the crisis into the class: they altered the syllabus to include discussions of new common behaviors such as social distancing, and changed the final assignment to an analysis of the pandemic.

The honorees’ work offers a unique view into the possibilities of digital education, both as a planned curricular element and as an effective alternative to in-person instruction. But it also reveals a community defined by resilience, ingenuity, creative problem-solving, and most importantly, care for one another and a passionate dedication to teaching and learning. In short: it reveals the MIT community at its best.

Says Rajagopal, “Hearing from these award winners as we did today is always one of my favorite occasions of the year. We are celebrating the creativity and ingenuity of MIT’s best and most dedicated teachers; ‘Teaching With’ in the name of the award is more important than ‘Digital Technology.’ Great teachers find and create new ways to shape great learning experiences for their students by hook or by crook, including via new technologies deployed by choice or necessity. It is so gratifying to hear from MIT’s students that so many of MIT’s teachers were able to find within themselves the wellsprings of energy and creativity to pull this off, with agility and aplomb, during the first weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic. Their deep commitment to MIT’s students is worthy of celebration.”