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2021 Teaching with Digital Technology Awards honor MIT educators’ innovation and empathy

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2021 Teaching with Digital Technology Awards honor MIT educators’ innovation and empathy

This June, 23 faculty and instructors from over a dozen departments, labs, and centers across MIT were honored with Teaching with Digital Technology Awards in an online celebration hosted by the Office of Open Learning.
Established in 2016 and co-sponsored by MIT Open Learning and the Office of the Vice Chancellor, these awards were originally intended primarily as a means of recognizing innovative use of digital technologies in the context of MIT’s in-person, on-campus classes. But in the last two award cycles, during which nearly all residential courses have moved online, the awards have come to represent that and much more: the enduring yet ever-evolving spirit of collaboration and mutual support within the MIT community as faculty, students, and staff continue to grapple with the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“One of the things that really struck me during the celebration was how quickly and how often honorees attributed their success to the support they received from both students and colleagues,” says Sheryl Barnes, award founder and director for digital learning in residential education at MIT Open Learning. “It really says a lot about who we are as a community at MIT, and about these instructors — not just as academics, but as human beings.”
This year’s 23 winners were selected from among 230 nominations of 104 unique instructors. They are:Mohamed Abdelhafez – PhysicsSteve Banzaert – Mechanical EngineeringHelena Belio-Apaolaza – Global Studies and LanguagesJoseph Doyle – MIT Sloan School of ManagementKristin Forbes – MIT Sloan School of ManagementLaura Frawley – Brain and Cognitive SciencesMalick Ghachem – HistoryMax Goldman – Electrical Engineering and Computer ScienceSally Haslanger – Philosophy and D-LabCaroline Jones – ArchitectureMiro Kazakoff – MIT Sloan School of ManagementMaria Khotimsky – Global Studies and LanguagesAndrew Lo – MIT Sloan School of ManagementLibby McDonald – D-LabArathi Mehrotra – MIT Sloan School of ManagementAnna Mikusheva – EconomicsJeremy Orloff – MathematicsMichael Short – Nuclear Science and EngineeringJustin Solomon – Electrical Engineering and Computer ScienceJoe Steinmeyer – Electrical Engineering and Computer ScienceNikolaos Trichakis – MIT Sloan School of ManagementAdrien Verdelhan – MIT Sloan School of ManagementSean Willems – MIT Sloan School of Management
“It’s the role of the students that makes this, to me, such a special award,” says Dean for Digital Learning Krishna Rajagopal. “The selection is led by students, based entirely upon nominations received from students.” In their nominations, students describe how an instructor used digital technologies to help improve their learning.
Some of this year’s honorees received praise for creating “a virtual experience that resembled in-person learning,” expertly using technology to lead students’ focus to one topic at a time in a complex online environment. Some classes were handled so well as to beat out in-person experiences: “[My instructor] managed to make my only fully-virtual fall class my (and many others\’) favorite!” raved one student.
Other educators were praised for their flexibility in uncertain circumstances. One student wrote that her teacher was always “extremely receptive to what is and isn\’t working in the class,” and willing to adapt along with students’ needs and concerns.
Many students were moved by their professor’s commitment to their learning in spite of overwhelming challenges. “It was so wholly clear [my professor] cared,” wrote one nominating student. “His willingness to go above and beyond led to an online class experience leagues beyond any other course I have taken at MIT, and I cannot think of someone more deserving of recognition.”
A panel consisting of 15 students, Rajagopal, and Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz selected the awardees, with Rajagopal and Waitz leaving the decision-making almost entirely to the students, who were highly motivated to recognize and reward good teaching today with a view toward incentivizing it for tomorrow.
This student-driven process and their motivations are “major reasons that you should feel really proud to be receiving this award,” Rajagopal told the assembled honorees at the virtual award ceremony, noting that the Teaching with Digital Technology Award has “really served MIT well by giving our students a voice in identifying those instructors who are deserving of this recognition, and in so doing, providing a recognition to our instructors that is really prized.”

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