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Learning from MIT on STEAM Education

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About the Entity

Action Learning has long been an integral part of the curriculum at MIT Sloan School of Management. From its early origins in a 1960s Industrial Dynamics class taught by Professor Ed Roberts, to the launch of Entrepreneurship Lab (E-Lab) in 1992, and through the creation of USA Lab today, the MIT Sloan Action Learning initiative has grown steadily to more than a dozen lab offerings, all of which bring on-the-ground, project-based learning opportunities to students.

In 2010, the Action Learning Office was formally established as part of the MIT Sloan’s commitment to Action Learning. The Office oversees the portfolio of lab offerings and works with faculty, industry practitioners, students and corporations to advance the community of practice.

 

We interviewed Urmi Samadar, Director of Action Learning Office, and Laura Koller, Assistant Director, to distill more insights about the work at MIT Sloan Action Learning Office and its implications for the K-12 space:

 
 

Setting the Vision

 

 

Learning Principles

 

MIT has always understood the symbiotic relationship between thinking and doing. The link between theory and practice—mind and hand—is at the core of the Institute's educational philosophy and at the root of MIT Sloan's Action Learning.

 

When the theory of Action Learning first emerged in the first half of 20th century, it was primarily used as an executive training method in corporations. The methodology soon migrated from the corporate workplace to the academic environment, which fully embraces the key concept of leadership and organizational development through team-based learning.


While project activities vary, the common themes of Action Learning include experiential, reflective, and peer learning, faculty mentoring, real-world problem solving and knowledge transfer. In addition to these themes, MIT Sloan also particularly stresses the importance that the student team’s engagement should have a measurable business and/or social impact. These real-time management challenges bring theory to life.

 
 

Enabling Cross-disciplinary Learning

 

Curriculum & Instruction

 

MIT Sloan offers 13 different Action Learning Lab courses as of 2018. While the specifics of each Action Learning Lab vary, students typically start in a lecture setting, then collaborate in teams of 3-5 with host organizations to solve real strategic business problems by applying theories and practices learned in the classroom. These host organizations may be small startups, non-profits or established corporations in Boston, across the US or around the world. The varied settings challenge students to manage projects in multilingual, multicultural settings with a range of management and business development approaches.

Food for Thought for K-12 Educators:
How can your school engage the local/international community or businesses to be involved with student projects, to make learning authentic, relevant and meaningful?

Action Learning at MIT Sloan adopts a “Think/ Act/ Reflect” model for Action Learning, which is integral in providing students with both theoretical and practical skills to become principled, innovative leaders. During the “Think” stage, students are exposed to a highly analytical tools-based overview of management theories and principles. In the “Act” stage, student teams work with organizations to solve actual problems. It typically involves researching the problem while remotely engaging with the organization, and spending time working on-site. The teams are supported both by a faculty content mentor who provides industry expertise and a process mentor who offers guidance in team dynamics. The “Reflect” process happens throughout the class and during client-related work. Multiple reflection methods are adopted, such as reflective journal writing, team processes, mentor coaching and formal public presentations like a student poster session.

When asked about how these different Action Learning Labs emerge, Urmi (Director of Action Learning Office) explained that their origins come from different roots. Some came out of the geographical expertise that the faculty members have (e.g. Israel Lab), some were developed in affiliation with the research centers at MIT (e.g. Analytics Lab), while some emerged to a group of students’ actively voice their interest.  

 

Although every action learning course has different focuses of either region or industry, the Action Learning Office ensures that they all meet five high-level goals - 1) Real-world learning, 2) Structured problem solving, 3) Teamwork, 4) Reflection, and 5) leadership development. When it comes to the actual curriculum design of each Action Learning Lab, the faculty members are given design autonomy. The Office offers guidance in regards to project sourcing, students selection, team formation and impact evaluation for each Lab.

Food for Thought for K-12 Educators:
When designing project/action learning experiences for students, have you considered the unique interest that the teachers in your school have, the expertise of affiliated higher education institutions, or particular interests of your students?
Food for Thought for K-12 Educators:
Is it possible for the school to set up an Action Learning team to outline the high-level goals and provide overarching support, while offering freedom and flexibility for subject teachers to design their own projects?
Quick Win for K-12 Educators:
Consider downloading the grading rubric and modify it according to the needs of your project.
 
 

Reflecting on the major challenges/learnings that the Action Learning Office has faced, Urmi (Director of Action Learning Office) stressed the importance of establishing a common set of understanding and guidelines of what Action Learning means. Establishing a commonality of language (e.g. “host organization” instead of “clients”) also helps align the mentality/attitude that faculty and students adopt.

Assessment

 

Grading varies depending on faculties but, in general, students are assessed as both an individual and a team. Throughout a course, students are required to submit different kinds of deliverables such as self-reflection, peer team member survey, research report and final presentation. Grading is based on the assessment of each deliverable. Each deliverable is typically graded with 0-7 scale and all are added up at the end of a semester for the final grade. An example of the grading rubric can be accessed HERE.

 

 

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