DUET Speaker Series

September 27th DUET Series PosterThis monthly series emphasizes current research on learning, cognitive psychology, educational technology, educational assessment, among other areas in undergraduate education. All members of the MIT community interested in learning more about education are welcome to attend.  DUET’s goal is to provide access to educational research that can support individual and institutional efforts to enhance residential student learning.

If you are interested in joining the mailing list to receive email reminders about DUET and other education talks of potential interest, send an email to leann@mit.edu.

Upcoming Events

Check back soon for Fall 2018 Events



Past Speakers

Gregory M. Walton, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, The Michael Forman University Fellow in Undergraduate Education
Stanford University

Psychologically Wise Strategies to Support Belonging in a Diverse College Community

In this talk, Walton will describe seminal research exploring the factors that shape students’ feelings of belonging in demanding academic environments, factors that can give rise to inequalities, and how interventions that address these issues can promote equity and raise achievement, sometimes over months and years, to benefit both individuals and institutions.

Greg Walton is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Much of his research investigates psychological processes that contribute to major social problems and how “wise” interventions that target these processes can address such problems and help people flourish, even over long periods of time. Dr. Walton focuses on fundamental ways in which people make sense of themselves, other people, and social situations, how meanings people draw can be counterproductive and self-reinforcing (e.g., “People like me don’t belong here”) and how they can be altered to cause lasting benefits to individuals and to society.

Dr. Walton earned his A.B. in Philosophy from Stanford in 2000 and a PhD in Psychology from Yale University in 2005. After graduate school, he worked for a year as a fellow in the Office of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Waterloo before joining the Stanford faculty in 2008.

Katrina LaCurts, Lecturer, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Infusing Active Learning into 6.033 (Computer System Engineering)

In the Spring of 2017, Katrina LaCurts led the 6.033 staff in a successful transformation of the recitation sections to a more active format. Those who have implemented active learning know that it is not always a smooth and straightforward process from the start. In this DUET talk, Katrina will share the experiences of the 6.033 instructional team in adopting and implementing active learning techniques.

LaCurts teaches two large undergraduate systems courses: 6.02 and 6.033. She also does academic advising within the EECS department, occasionally supervise MEng students, and am frequently involved with teaching introductory discrete math to high school students as part of WTP or through MIT BLOSSOMS.

LaCurts received her bachelors in computer science and mathematics from the University of Maryland and her master's and Ph.D. in computer science from MIT CSAIL. Her research revolved around network measurement, and using measurement data to make client applications for cloud computing infrastructures and datacenters network-aware in order to improve performance.

Patrick McGhee, Visiting Scholar, Comparative Media Studies; Author, UK Teaching Fellow, and licensed Cognitive Behavioral


Practical Approaches to Students’ Thinking, Learning and Achievement: Clinical, Empirical and Conceptual Dimensions

What can we learn about the way students experience learning at university, from the way people who are psychologically distressed experience everyday life?   Recent research on students’ learning in higher education has focused on individuals’ differing orientations to learning reflected in paradigms such as ‘learning styles’, ‘mindsets’, and ‘resilience’ seeking to link personality, learning and achievement.  Drawing on his own ongoing research and clinical practice, particularly in the areas of cognitive biases and optimism, Professor McGhee considers the practical implications of different approaches to thinking about how students think.

Professor Patrick McGhee is the author of Thinking Psychologically, and The Academic Quality Handbook. He is a UK National Teaching Fellow and an Assessor for the new UK national university audit system, the Teaching Excellence Framework. Patrick is a licensed Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and an occasional higher education columnist for The Guardian and the BBC.  He is currently a Visiting Scholar at MIT linked to the Department of Comparative Media Studies/Writing.  He is also a Visiting Fellow at Cornell University, School of Human Ecology, and a Visiting Scholar at Yale, at the Center for Teaching and Learning.  He is currently Associate Vice Chancellor at the University of Bolton, Greater Manchester, England.

Elizabeth Nolan, Associate Professor of Chemistry

Tracy Slatyer, Jerrold R. Zacharias Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics


Teaching Practice Conversations with MIT Teaching Award Winners

Join us for an interactive session in which some of MIT's best teachers talk about how to teach well!

Elizabeth Nolan, an associate professor with tenure in the Department of Chemistry, was awarded the 2016 School of Science Teaching Prize for Graduate and Undergraduate Education. The prize is awarded annually to School of Science faculty members who have demonstrated excellence in teaching over the past several years. Winners are chosen from nominations by their students or colleagues. Professor Nolan won the prize for her courses 5.061 (Principles of Bioinorganic Chemistry) and 5.08 (Biological Chemistry II‚ a course that both undergraduate and graduate students take. Her students and co-teachers alike were impressed with her skill in distilling her thorough and detailed knowledge of the subject matter into clear and well-crafted lectures. Several students said that her lectures, which include lively classroom discussions of how to think critically about experimental design, had deep influence over the way they currently think about and do research. Nominators appreciated her infectious passion for biochemistry and her commitment to mentoring students, saying that “she is a role model for the art of successful teaching. She cares about the students and she cares about the science deeply.” (MIT News, Nov. 2016)

Tracy Slatyer, the Jerrold R. Zacharias Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics, won the 2017 Everett Moore Baker Memorial Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. This award is given to faculty members, in recognition of exceptional interest and ability in the instruction of undergraduates. This is the only teaching award in which the nomination and selection of the recipients is done entirely by the students. Slatyer also won the 2017 award for Teaching with Digital Technology for 8.033, Relativity, Fall 15; 8.32, and Quantum Field Theory, Sp' 17.  A member of the Department of Physics and of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science, Slatyer's research is motivated by fundamental mysteries in particle physics, in particular the nature of dark matter. 

Catherine Good, Associate Professor of Psychology, Baruch College of the CUNY


Supporting Student Belonging in Academic Disciplines

T+LL received an MIT MindHandHeart Innovation Fund Grant for “YOU Belong @ MIT,” a three-part awareness and training program developed to increase students’ sense of academic belonging. MindHandHeart is funding the first phase of the project, consisting of this seminar being conducted by Dr. Good, an expert in the field of academic belonging. Information will be posted soon about our associated journal club prior this event.

Dr. Good’s research focuses on the social forces that shape academic achievement, intellectual performance, motivation, and self-image. In particular, her lab focuses not only on how negative stereotypes contribute to females' underachievement and under-representation in math and science fields, but also on methods of helping females overcome vulnerability to the stereotype. She also studies these issues as they relate to minority student achievement. Since much of the work is conducted in local schools, students of Dr. Good’s lab gain experience in designing and conducting studies in both laboratory and applied settings.

David E. Pritchard, Cecil and Ida Greene Professor of Physics and developer of MasteringPhysics.com

Course Reform MIT Style: Student Evaluations vs. Scientific Evidence

(co-sponsored by the Office of Digital Learning)

The evaluation of most course reforms generally rests heavily on teacher and student evaluations about which Prof Pritchard will present a short literature review. In contrast, he’ll present reform MIT style: select objectives, adopt metrics, experiment, and evaluate; recycle for improvement (in education this is called “backward design”). The MIT approach starts with the question of “what should they learn?” which he'll address first. He’ll then describe his flipped classroom designed to teach strategic thinking and other expert traits in introductory physics. Three lines of evidence of success will be presented and one of failure. Time remaining, Prof. Pritchard will compare learning from MasteringPhysics.com and edX.org – both in blended usage in 8.01.

Libby Mahaffy, Assistant Director for Conflict Management, MIT

Julio Oyola, Assistant Director of LGBTQ Services, MIT


Standing Up Instead of Standing By: Being an Active Bystander

The goal of this workshop is to lower the barriers to appropriate bystander action through awareness, knowledge, preparation and practice. Often you, as a bystander, will face some difficult choices. There are usually more options than you may think...and no single 'right' response. We hope that this workshop will help you assess bystander situations you find yourself in and evaluate your options for responding.

Libby Mahaffy heads Conflict Management@MIT in the Division of Student Life at MIT. She is a seasoned conflict management trainer, coach, facilitator, and mediator. She is the creator and lead trainer for MIT’s 3-Tier Conflict Management training, which is a 40-hour training run three times a year. The primary audience is students, both graduate and undergraduate, but other MIT community members round out each cohort. In addition to the 3-Tier trainings, Libby offers a variety of shorter trainings and workshops in the suite of conflict management skills – e.g., Bystander Intervention, Inter-Cultural Communication, Negotiation – as well as serves as the lead trainer and administrator for the REFS program (Resources for Easing Friction and Stress, a peer conflict management program). Libby also provides the undergraduate and graduate student populations with direct conflict management services, such as short- and long-term coaching, mediation, facilitation, and restorative practices. Outside of MIT, she is a Principal with Active Neutrals, a Boston-based conflict management training group, and is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC). With a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan in Spanish and social science, and a master's degree from Tufts University in urban and environmental policy and planning, Libby brings a social and environmental justice perspective to her interpersonal work.

Julio Oyola grew up in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, earning a Bachelor's of Arts in Pyschology from Florida International University and a Master of Arts in Higher Education and Student Affairs from University of San Fransisco, and is the Assistant Director of LGBTQ Services at MIT. In this role, Julio provides program and event management, collaborates with the Office of Multicultrual Programs and other community partners, and helps maintain the Rainbow Lounge space. Julio offers student support, advising, and referrals as needed, while also conducting outreach and education through LGTBQA-specific trainings and workshops on a variety of topics. Julio is committed to supporting MIT students at the intersections of their identities and is always looking to learn how to play another exciting tabletop board or card game! (Pronouns:he/him/his/all)


James Lang, Associate Professor of English, Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College

Small Teaching: From Minor Changes to Major Learning

Research from the learning sciences and from a variety of educational settings suggests that a small number of key principles can improve learning in almost any type of college or university course, from traditional lectures to flipped classrooms.  This interactive talk will introduce some of those principles, offer practical suggestions for how they might foster positive change in higher education teaching and learning, and instructors/participants to consider how these principles might manifest themselves in their current and upcoming courses.

James M. Lang is a Professor of English and the Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College in Worcester, MA.  He is the author of five books, the most recent of whichare Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning (Jossey-Bass, 2016),  Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty (Harvard University Press, 2013), and On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching (Harvard UP, 2008).  Lang writes a monthly column on teaching and learning for The Chronicle of Higher Education; his work has been appearing in the Chronicle since 1999.  His book reviews and public scholarship on higher education have appeared in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and Time.  He edits a new series of books on teaching and learning in higher education for West Virginia University Press; the first title in the series appeared in fall 2016.  He has conducted workshops on teaching for faculty at more than seventy-five colleges or universities in the US and abroad.  In September of 2016 he received a Fulbright Specialist grant to work with three universities in Colombia on the creation of a MOOC on teaching and learning in STEM education.  He has a BA in English and Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame, an MA in English from St. Louis University, and a Ph.D. in English from Northwestern University. 

Dr. David Miele, Buehler Sesquicentennial Assistant Professor, Counseling, Developmental, and Educational Psychology Department
Boston College

Increasing Student Motivation through Instructional Practices

This session will address two types of instructional practices for increasing student motivation. The first type involves fostering students' "growth mindsets"; that is, helping them to think about intelligence and ability as something that can be improved over time with effort. The second type aims to enhance the perceived utility or relevance of course content. We'll review theory and discuss empirical research examining the efficacy of these practices in different learning contexts and for diverse groups of students.

Professor Miele received his Ph.D. in Psychology from Northwestern University, where he worked primarily with Dan Molden and Wendi Gardner. He completed a postdoc with Janet Metcalfe at Columbia University, where he also worked with Tory Higgins.

His primary research interests are in the area of self-regulated learning. His work in this area has focused on cognitive and motivational differences in how people metacognitively assess their own learning and then use these assessments to control their study.


Dr. Calvin Lai, Director of Research, Project Implicit -- Department of Psychology, Harvard University


DATE: WED, October 26, 2016
TIME: 10:30 a.m. -12:00 noon



Mindbugs: The Ordinary Origins of Bias

Conscious experience provides an immediate, compelling, and incomplete account of mental life.  Much of perception, thinking, and action is shaped by mental activity that occurs outside of conscious awareness or conscious control.  Because of that, judgment and action can be unintentionally influenced by factors that we do not recognize, and may not value. 

There will be three parts to the session: (1) demonstrations of perceptual and cognitive illusions illustrating that we don't have complete access to or control over our own minds, (2) examples of how this can translate to social judgment of ourselves and others, and (3) research evidence and implications for diversity and inclusion in teaching.

Humans use a variety of effective strategies for translating the world outside the mind into a mental representation inside the mind.  However, these processes are not direct translations of reality.  Experience is a combination of the immediate input and our expectations and theories of how the world operates derived from previous experience.  These processes are highly efficient, largely unconscious, and prone to surprising, sometimes amusing, ‘errors.’  Research in cognition and perception reveals some of the basic processes that occur outside of awareness to manage interpretation and interaction with reality.

The basic mental processes also impact our perception, judgment, and action as social beings.  We develop expectations, beliefs, and attitudes about social groups.  Some of these expectations are explicit in that we know we have them, we endorse them as being valid, and use them to inform judgment.  Others are implicit in that we do not necessarily know that we have them, nor might we be aware that they are guiding our judgment.  Sometimes, the explicit and implicit beliefs can be in conflict creating a circumstance that one’s intention might be to behave one way, and one’s actions might be different. 

These processes have application in many aspects of social life, but the particular focus of this discussion is on their implications for diversity.  The focus of this discussion is on their implications for diversity and inclusion in teaching.  Implicit expectations influence judgments of self and others, and may play a role in areas including (but not limited to) bias in grading, participation in class discussions, and inclusion in classroom settings. 

Calvin Lai received his PhD in Social Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2015. His research concerns unconscious thoughts which contribute to discrepancies between what people value (e.g., racial equality) and what people end up doing (e.g., racial discrimination). His work employs large-scale comparative methods to find the most effective interventions for combating unconscious biases and their impacts on discrimination. Lai's work has been published in leading journals such as the ScienceJournal of Experimental Psychology: General, and Perspectives on Psychological Science.

W. Craig Carter, Professor, Department of Materials Science & Engineering, MIT
Kyle Keane, Lecturer, Department of Materials Science & Engineering, MIT




Improved Learning and Retention by Augmenting STEM Curriculum with Computational Thinking, Self-Assessment and Student-Created Visualizations

We are teaching materials science and mathematics to sophomores through problem-based learning in the context of their current and future coursework.  The students are required to create, code, and visualize concepts from their discipline.

This is part of a larger project called CodeSeal (http://codeseal.org) .  CodeSeal provides a framework of curated content, authoring tools, LMS, and data collection and analysis. CodeSeal’s goals are to crowd-source computational STEM curriculum and research its effectiveness in different contexts.

Learning is modular. Within each module, a student is presented a scaffolded set of exercises. These exercises culminate in an interactive graphical descript and scientific narrative that each student produces and presonalizes for themselves.  Each scaffold in the process contains a problem that the student must complete before proceeding. After submitting a solution, a student is given access to a step-by-step “expert solution.” These problem/solution cycles can prompt a student to perform a technical task or ask a student to reflect on how to craft a compelling narrative or visualization to communicate a particular concept to others. This is a modern form of “learning-by-doing” and “apprentice-based learning.”

The modules have built-in frequent recall and require the student to reuse concepts they have recently acquired.  Computational thinking is interleaved with core concepts from materials science and mathematics. The modules also employ gamification wherein they can exchange points they have earned by performing related tasks for subsequent hints on problems.

CodeSeal has been used in several different modalities.  A selected set of modules have been used to teach semester long topics at MIT and elsewhere.  We have used CodeSeal to deliver week-long master classes around the world and via web-conferencing.

We are collecting data on how students are approaching problems, including standard interaction data about time-on-task, keystrokes, and button presses. We also record each piece of code a student writes while they prepare their final solution. In addition to a student's final solution, this data provides insight into how much effort went into developing it and how they arrived at it. This data will eventually allow us to create an automated teaching and grading assistant that can help flag students who need immediate intervention, classify students programming style, classify different learning paths, and identify important learning moments within those learning paths.


Dr. Diane H. Soderholm, Senior. Instructional Designer, Department of Mechanical Engineering, MIT
Education Director, AIM Photonics Academy
Education, Director, Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program

Using Instructional Design Models for Course Design

This will be a participatory, interactive session using and comparing two instructional design models to design a course. As we design, we'll discuss topics such as constructive alignment, backwards design, how learning works, value of ID models, among others.

Diane Soderholm received her Ph.D. in Instructional Design, Development and Evaluation from Syracuse University where she also an instructional designer in The Center for Instructional Development. For the past 18 years Dr. Soderholm has collaborated with faculty design, development, implementation and evaluation of courses, seminars, programs, workshops, and other learning experiences in technical, leadership and professional skills areas, with the Center for Innovation in Product Development, AeroAstro, CDIO Initiative in Engineering Education, the Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program, and the MIT-Skoltech Initiative. Prior to MIT, she designed and developed training and education for University of Maryland University College, Coalition for Juvenile Justice, and a variety of Fortune 100 companies through the consulting company Information Mapping.


Benoît ESCRIG, Associate Professor at INP-ENSEEIHT Toulouse

How to Motivate Your Students

In this workshop, Professor Escrig will address the student motivation from the perspective of motivational levers. He will provide teaching tips to activate and sustain student motivation. By the end of the workshop, you will be able to:
1) identify the presence or the absence of motivational levers in teaching activities; and 2) propose teaching activities that activate student motivation.

Benoît ESCRIG received the Eng. degree in Electrical Engineering from IPB-ENSEIRB-MATMECA, Bordeaux, France in 1992, and the M.Sc. degree in Signal Processing from the Institut National Polytechnique Toulouse in 1993. From 1993 to 1997, he worked as a research engineer in High Frequency (HF) modems with Rockwell-Collins France Inc. In December 1997, he received the Ph.D. degree in Signal Processing from the Institut National Polytechnique Toulouse, within the Signal and Communication Group of the IRIT Laboratory. From 1998 to 1999, he was a postdoctoral research associate at the French Space Agency.

From 1999 to 2013, Benoît was an Assitant Professor with IPB-ENSEIRB-MATMECA. Since september 2013, he has been an Associate Professor with INP-ENSEEIHT. As a researcher, he works with the Signal and Communication group of the IRIT Laboratory.

In 2014, Benoît ESCRIG was appointed as a Pedagogical Advisor for the Institut National Polytechnique Toulouse.

Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D., Cognitive Scientist, Memory Expert, & Education Consultant

The Science of Learning: Retrieval as an Effective and Efficient Classroom Strategy

Are our teaching strategies effective? What can we do to improve student learning? Especially for science and engineering learning, how can we turn short-term cramming into long-term learning? How can we encourage flexible knowledge, where students remember basic information and also apply it in complex situations?

Supported by nearly 100 years of research, cognitive scientists have established robust teaching strategies that substantially improve student learning. These strategies reliably improve performance for diverse age groups, subject areas, and education rigor. In addition to an overview of these teaching strategies and research findings from cognitive science, specific approaches for implementation and potential challenges will be addressed.

Pooja K. Agarwal received her Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Washington University in St. Louis, where she conducted basic memory research, as well as applied learning research in classroom settings. For more than 10 years, Agarwal has collaborated with distinguished memory scholar Henry L. Roediger, III (author of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning). Agarwal’s research focuses on the use of retrieval as a teaching tool and also as a study strategy. A growing literature on retrieval practice demonstrates that when emphasis is placed on pulling information “out” (i.e., retrieving information from one’s mind), long-term learning is greatly improved compared to when emphasis is placed on getting information “in” (e.g., cramming or rereading textbook chapters). Agarwal’s dissertation, “Examining the relationship between fact learning and higher order learning via retrieval practice” was one of the initial examinations of the benefits from retrieval practice on complex college-level information.

Agarwal’s work has been published in leading journals, including the Journal of Educational Psychology, the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, and the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. She also served as Guest Editor for a special issue of Educational Psychology Review, entitled “Advances in cognitive psychology relevant to education” (September 2012). In addition to her career as a scientist, Agarwal earned elementary teacher certification and has enjoyed diverse teaching experiences at both K-12 and university levels. Agarwal is a recipient of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, the American Psychological Association (APA) Early Graduate Student Researcher Award, and the Harry S. Truman Scholarship for her commitment to bridging the gaps between research, teaching, and policy.


Dr. Susan Ambrose, Professor of Education and History, and Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education & Experiential Learning, Northeastern University

Educating Students: A Constant Balancing Act

We need to balance intellectual exploration and discovery with professional preparation and practical skills in the education we provide to our students—because of the changing nature of the workplace and the continuing skills gap noted by employers across industries (the very skills that we “believe” are foundational in what we do/teach).  Dr. Ambrose will discuss a variety of the “balances” we need to consider:

  • disciplinary content and intellectual skills
  • intellectual skills and professional skills
  • traditional literacies, competencies, skills and ever evolving literacies, competencies and skills
  • HOW students learn with WHAT students learn
  • engaging learner-centric pedagogy with appropriate technology 

She will also offer suggestions about how we might achieve this, e.g., recognizing our own expert blind spot, promoting and fostering a growth mindset, explicit focus on calling out the skills embedded in the content we teach.

Dr. Ambrose is co-author of four books, most recently How Learning Works: Seven Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching (Jossey-Bass, 2010), which has been widely praised for integrating fundamental research in the cognitive sciences and practical application. She served as Associate Provost for Education, Director of the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence, and a Teaching Professor in the Department of History at Carnegie Mellon before joining Northeastern in August 2012. She is an internationally recognized expert in college-level teaching and learning, and has conducted workshops and seminars for faculty and administrators throughout the United States and around the world. She is credited with building the international reputation of CMU’s Eberly Center as a center that translates research to practice in the design of curricula, courses and educational experiences for both undergraduate and graduate students.