Culture Question:

How do the universities like MIT educate their students? What values do they promote most?

(posted: April 29, 2011)

If you want to know about how MIT educates its students one place to find out is from MIT itself. According to the MIT Admissions Office:

"MIT believes passionately in the power of learning-by-doing, the value of working collaboratively and the importance of continually reassessing the effectiveness of our own teaching strategies. Whenever possible, our courses include hands-on engagement with the subject, and students tackle new material in teams. The latest and most effective techniques and learning technologies are transforming the way many subjects are taught at MIT."1

Schools like MIT are regularly looking for ways to improve the way their courses are taught. One method that was developed by Eric Mazur at Harvard in the 1990s is called Peer Instruction. In the method after a short period of lecture introducing a concept the:

  • The instructor presents students with a qualitative (usually multiple choice) question that is carefully constructed to engage student difficulties with fundamental concepts.
  • The students consider the problem on their own and contribute their answers in a way that the fraction of the class giving each answer can be determined and reported.
  • Students then discuss the issue with their neighbors for two minutes and vote again.
  • The issues are resolved with a class discussion and clarifications. 2

This method gets the students actively involved and engaged. In trying to explain what they think to others their own thinking gets clearer. This method also gives the instructor timely feedback about the range of understanding that all of the students in the class have about the concept and therefore the instructor can clear up any confusion before moving to the next concept.

This specific technique may not be in use in every class in schools like MIT, but there is a research showing that this type of approach is more effective than a traditional lecture and whole class discussion approach. (3)

Regarding the values that MIT most promotes, the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics has this to say about their values:

These are the principles and qualities to which we aspire:

  • We are committed to excellence and leadership in our research and teaching
  • We are united by a passion for air and space vehicles, the technologies that enable them, and the missions they fulfill.
  • We are committed to personal and professional development of our students, faculty and staff.
  • We have a deep sense of responsibility to our profession and society, and lead through service at Institute, national, and international levels.
  • We have mutual respect for our colleagues and a strong sense of community. 4


  1. MIT Admissions Office, For Parents, An Introduction to MIT “What is MIT's approach to teaching”, ( intro_to_mit_for_parents/index.shtml), 29-Apr-2011.

  2. Redish, Edward F. The Physics Suite. “Peer Instruction Problems: An Introduction to the Method.” (, 29-Apr-2011.

  3. Crouch, Catherine H. and Eric Mazur. “Peer Instruction: 10 Years of Experience and Results.” ( Am. J. Phys., Vol. 69, No. 9, September 200) ( TEALref/Crouch_Mazur.pdf , 29-Apr-2011.

  4. MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “Our Values”, (, 29-Apr-2011.

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Peer instruction in the classroom; students discussing