In this section, Dr. Jeremy Kepner discusses teaching a novel course on a new technology. He notes that the course was a way to introduce users to the technology and emphasizes the importance of providing live demonstrations during most class sessions.
Creating a Streamlined Learning Experience
This 8-lecture course was about D4M, a brand new technology we developed at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. D4M enables users, for the first time, to apply ideas from the well-developed field of signal processing to the kinds of data we typically store in databases (such as the data generated by social media). The course was the big reveal of this technology, and an opportunity to provide training to people who wanted to use it.
Like most people at MIT who invent new things, we put years of hard work into the D4M technology. By the time we got to the point of teaching D4M Signal Processing on Databases, we really knew it inside and out. We had already provided some trainings and talks about the technology, and we drew from those materials in developing the course. We had also done a lot of work with people to help them apply the technology to particular problems, and those became examples in the class. We also asked ourselves, “What do people need to know in order to use the technology effectively?” We used that information to inform our work in the course. D4M Signal Processing on Databases became an opportunity to roll up all our previous trainings, talks, and support sessions into one streamlined learning experience.
The Role of Demonstrations
Demonstrations of D4M were a key component of this learning experience. Nearly every class session featured live onscreen examples, with one of the final class sessions being entirely demonstration. I feel these demonstrations, particularly the full-class demonstration toward the end of the course, were the highlight of the work learners and I did together. In fact, I slowly built people up throughout the course, saying, “You’re going to be able to do these great things by the last lecture!” Showing how all the pieces came together in a whole system was just really exciting.