At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard

At M.I.T., two introductory courses are still required — classical
mechanics and electromagnetism — but today they meet in high-tech
classrooms, where about 80 students sit at 13 round tables equipped
with networked computers.

Instead of blackboards, the walls are
covered with white boards and huge display screens. Circulating with a
team of teaching assistants, the professor makes brief presentations of
general principles and engages the students as they work out related
concepts in small groups.

Teachers and students conduct
experiments together. The room buzzes. Conferring with tablemates,
calling out questions and jumping up to write formulas on the white
boards are all encouraged.

“There was a long tradition that
what it meant to teach was to give a really well-prepared lecture,”
said Peter Dourmashkin, a senior lecturer in physics at M.I.T. and a
strong proponent of the new method. “It was the students’ job to figure
it out.” —Sara Rimer, New York Times