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Student Insights Inform Fall Instructional Plans

A founding principle of the Terrascope first-year learning community is that students should control their own learning experience. This summer, that philosophy was put into action as never before, when some incoming Terrascope students, before even virtually arriving at MIT, had input into the structure of a class they would take in the fall, by providing feedback to upperclassmen who examined, tested, and evaluated nearly three dozen platforms for online collaboration and learning.

In addition to recommending which applications to use, and how, in Terrascope classes, the team produced  A Field Guide to Online Collaboration Tools. The guide was developed for Terrascope’s instructors, but it will be useful for others at MIT and beyond.

Terrascope classes rely on extraordinary flexibility, so that students can shape their experience as they go along. Students collaborate intensively, reconfigure their groups, brainstorm, disseminate ideas, and communicate within and among teams—all difficult to translate to an online setting.

So the program, with partial support from the Office of Experiential Learning, hired Danielle Allison ’23, Laura Chen ’22, Richard Colwell ’21, Felix Li ’23, Neosha Narayanan ’22 and Sarah Weidman ’21, supervised by Director David McGee and Associate Director & Lecturer Ari Epstein. All have taken Terrascope classes and some have been Undergraduate Teaching Fellows, so they know what parts of the Terrascope experience are most important to students. They broke the tools into categories, developed criteria, tested and ranked tools, and developed recommendations for how to combine them in Terrascope classes.

Finally, they created a model plan and engaged other Terrascopers—including incoming first-year students—to be students in this simulated online classroom. Feedback from this group provided final guidance for the instructional plan recommended to Terrascope, which is being implemented this semester.

— Ari Epstein, Terrascope