Outside of the program’s core mission of teaching the first-year general institute requirements in an interactive, small-class setting, ESG has a proud history of being the birthplace of a wide variety of educational experiments. Some of these experiments have taken on a life of their own outside of ESG and become part of the MIT mainstream experience. ESG provides a fertile ground for students and staff alike to take part in initiatives that include a successful and diverse seminar series; a one-of-a-kind training program for first-time undergraduate teaching assistants; and a communications initiative that helps students develop and create educational video content at a high level.
ESG Seminar Series
ESG sponsors 5-10 six-unit pass/fail seminars each spring on a variety of innovative subjects not covered in the regular curriculum, including psychology, chemistry, social networking, mathematics, and physics. Many seminars are student-generated; ESG allows upper-class students with a passion for a particular subject to propose a seminar and, with faculty supervision, to develop and teach it. These seminars are open to all MIT students as well as ESG students and are intended to be hands-on and experiential in nature.
ESG TA Training Program
Every year ESG hires approximately 25 undergraduates, most of whom were at ESG for their first year, to work as teaching assistants and graders. ESG supports these first-time TAs by offering ES.200, the ESG Teaching Seminar. This seminar provides guidance and supervision as well as a safe environment for TAs to share their experiences and learn from one another. TAs at ESG are an invaluable resource, not only because of the expertise in a given subject but also for their past experience as first-year students. Having recently been through ESG as a student themselves, they teach with a unique empathy and insight. This peer teaching experience adds a layer of depth to first-year learning and adds value to the program as a whole.
ESG’s newest experiment, the MIT Prison Initiative, allows ESG and other MIT students to broaden their intellectual and educational perspective by taking courses, TAing, or tutoring in prison. For in-prison classes, MIT staff and 10 students travel each week by van to medium- to maximum-security Massachusetts Correctional Institutions in Norfolk and Framingham to engage in discussion and study with 10 inmates, many of whom are incarcerated for life. To date, MIT students have been able to take classes in prison with ESG Philosophy Lecturer Lee Perlman and Justin Steil, an assistant professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning.
Founded in 2016 and housed at ESG, The MIT Prison Initiative will broaden the outreach and opportunity for students to study in prison by organizing course offerings into a cohesive program, thereby ensuring that courses are offered every semester, raising awareness of this opportunity for MIT staff to teach, and institutionalizing the courses by giving them a place and number in the MIT course catalog. Funding support for this initiative includes an MIT Alumni Fund Class grant.
Video Communication Initiative
The past several years have seen a worldwide explosion of educational video content. Given this content’s diversity and range of quality, ESG has set out to teach video communications as a way to better equip students to express their academic goals and passions and create meaningful, targeted educational content that fully exploits the medium’s potential. ESG staff Dave Custer and Graham Ramsay first taught ES.333, Production of Educational Videos, in spring 2014, designed to teach those skills to undergraduates. This subject, developed over three years, took a soup-to-nuts approach to the video production cycle.
Aside from strictly educational video content, ESG is also looking at video as a medium for story telling. ESG has invited experts in the field of film making (including John Copeland, documentary film maker and producer of the celebrated series Babylon 5) to offer workshops on documentary film making to ESG students; a student-driven documentary about ESG is in the works as well.