Instructor Insights

Offering an Intensive Learning Experience

In this section, Dr. Srivastava and Dr. Greenspun offer their thoughts on the value of formatting 16.687 Private Pilot Ground School as an intensive three-day teaching and learning experience.

A Three-Day Course

TINA SRIVASTAVA: There are pros and cons to the intensive format. When I taught the course in a semester-long format, one advantage was that we had a week between each lecture and the next. We had more time to reflect on the feedback we got from the students and to refine the work, and we started each course with a review of any questions or muddy points, which meant that the students also had a week to think about the course material, reflect on it, and ask questions.

"In the new learning format, the students can focus exclusively on this course for three days. They’re not distracted with other courses or other activity, they’re just focused on living and breathing everything that’s necessary to becoming a pilot."
— Tina Srivastava

But in the new learning format, the students can focus exclusively on this course for three days. They’re not distracted with other courses or other activity, they’re just focused on living and breathing everything that’s necessary to becoming a pilot. And that level of engagement has a different set of advantages.

PHILIP GREENSPUN: Let me add something to that. MIT students are really good at reading books. And the material you need to know to pass the FAA test is material you can self-study successfully. People do that at commercial flight schools: they just go home and read all the FAA books, which are available online in PDF. So you have to ask yourself, what is the purpose of even having lecture halls and a university, when there’s so much available online and when you have a population of people who are great readers, and reading is three times faster than listening in terms of being able to take in information.

That was part of why we decided we could do this course in three days, because we’re not going to try to cover everything and spoon-feed it to people, when they can just read the books. So I ask students to do some reading before taking the course. We hope that the in-person experience will then inspire them to go back to the books afterwards. Whereas the traditional class assumes that people don’t have access to a lot of information outside of the course, or they have to be guided or spoon-fed with problem sets and reading assignments.

I feel that this should be the future of education. I believe the semester format is completely obsolete: you’re depending on students to manage their time, to avoid distractions like socializing with other students, playing Xbox, being on Facebook, and all the other things that people can do nowadays. Company and government-run training programs are typically different. They don’t say we’re going to have people juggle five things at a time, and the people who are really good at managing their time and juggling will do better than the people who aren’t. Instead, everybody will just start when they start and finish when they finish. All military training is basically like that; you don’t have to have a calendar to be a successful graduate of a military training program, you just have to show up at the appointed time and place. I really love that aspect. I don’t want students’ success to depend on how organized they are.

Why In-Person Matters

TINA SRIVASTAVA: To get the most out of the in-person class time, we make the teaching very interactive. We ask the students questions to gauge the pace of their learning, and based on their responses we decide whether or not to go into more depth on a given topic.

Every time we teach the course, it’s a little bit different. For example, last year students were very interested in particular types of aerodynamic features of an aircraft. We spent a fair amount of time on swept wings, for example. That wasn’t a particular interest of students this year; instead, there were a lot of questions about the left-turn tendencies of an aircraft, and we dove into P-factor and gyroscopic precession.

It’s really about what the students are interested in and engaged in. Throughout the three-day class, we also have a number of breaks. And at every single break, we have students coming up and either sharing an experience or asking questions for clarification, and that type of feedback also helps inform how we teach the class and how we connect different elements of the course together.

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