How to Speak: Watch the Lecture on Effective Communication That Became an MIT Tradition for Over 40 Years

In his legendary MIT lecture “How to Speak,” professor Patrick Winston opens with a story about seeing Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton at a Celebrity Ski Weekend. It was immediately clear to him that he was the better skier, but not because he had more innate athletic ability than an Olympic gold medalist, but because he had more knowledge and practice. These, Winston says, are the key qualities we need to become better communicators. Inherent talent helps, he says, but “notice that the T is very small. What really matters is what you know.”

What some of us know about communicating effectively could fill a greeting card, but it’s hardly our fault, says Winston. Schools that send students into the world without the ability to speak and write well are as criminally liable as officers who send soldiers into battle without weapons. For over 40 years, Winston has been trying to remedy the situation with his “How to Speak” lecture, offered every January,” notes MIT, “usually to overflow crowds.” It became “so popular, in fact, that the annual talk had to be limited to the first 300 participants.”




Now it’s available online, in both video and transcript form, in the talk’s final form from 2018 (it evolved quite a bit over the decades). Professor Winston passed away last year, but his wisdom lives on. Rather than present us with a dry theory of rhetoric and composition, the onetime director of the MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory offers “a few heuristic rules” distilled from “praxis in communication approaches that incorporate Neurolinguistics, Linguistics, Paleoanthropology, Cognitive Science and Computer Science,” writes Minnie Kasyoka.

Winston’s research on “creating machines with the same thought patterns as humans” led him to the following conclusions about effective speaking and writing—observations that have borne themselves out in the careers of thousands of public speakers, job seekers, and professionals of every kind. Many of his heuristics contradict decades of folk opinion on public speaking, as well as contemporary technological trends. For one thing, he says, avoid opening with a joke.

People still settling into their seats will be too distracted to pay attention and you won’t get the laugh. Instead, open with an analogy or a story, like his Mary Lou Retton gambit, then tell people, directly, what they’re going to get from your talk. Then tell them again. And again. “It’s a good idea to cycle on the subject,” says Winston. “Go around it. Go round it again. Go round it again.” It’s not that we should assume our audience is unintelligent, but rather that “at any given moment, about 20%” of them “will be fogged out no matter what the lecture is.” It’s just how the human mind works, shifting attention all over the place.

Like all great works on effective communication, Winston’s talk illustrates his methods as it explains them: he fills the lecture with memorable images—like “building a fence” around his idea to distinguish it from other similar ideas. He continues to use interesting little stories to make things concrete, like an anecdote about a Serbian nun who was offended by him putting his hands behind his back. This is offered in service of his lengthy defense of the blackboard, contra PowerPoint, as the ultimate visual aid. “Now, you have something to do with your hands.”

The talk is relaxed, humorous, and informative, and not a step-by-step method. As Winston says, you can dip in and out of the copious advice he presents, taking rules you think might work best for your particular style of communication and your communication needs. We should all, he emphasizes, hone our own way of speaking and writing. But, “while he never explicitly stresses the ultimate need for rhetorical devices,” Kasyoka points out, he demonstrates that they are imperative.

Professor Winston masterfully uses persuasive techniques to hammer on this point. For example, the use of anadiplosis, that is the repetition of a clause in a sentence for emphasis, is very manifest in this snippet from his talk: “Your careers will be determined largely by how well you speak, by how well you write, and by the quality of your ideas… in that order.” 

How do we learn to use rhetoric as effectively as Winston? We listen to and read effective rhetoric like his. Do so in the video lecture at the top and on the “How to Speak” course page, which has transcripts for download and additional resources for further study.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

MIT Presents a Free Course on the COVID-19 Pandemic, Featuring Anthony Fauci & Other Experts

Most of us use the terms “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” to refer to the pandemic that has gone around the world this year. We do know, or can figure out, that the former term refers to a virus and the latter to the disease caused by that virus. But do we know the full name “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2,” or “SARS-CoV-2” for short? We will if we take the online course “COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and the Pandemic,” which MIT is making available to the general public free online. We’ll also learn what makes both the virus and the disease different from other viruses and diseases, what we can do to avoid infection, and how close we are to an effective treatment.

All this is laid out in the course’s first lecture by Bruce Walker, director of the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT and Harvard. Walker introduces himself by telling us how he graduated from medical school when HIV was at its height in America, timing that placed him well for a career focused on deadly viral diseases.




The course’s complete lineup of guest lecturers, all of them listed on its syllabus, includes many other high-profile figures in the field of epidemiology, immunology, vaccine development, and related fields: Harvard’s Michael Mina, Yale’s Akiko Iwasaki, the Broad Institute’s Eric Lander, and — perhaps you’ve heard of him — the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ Anthony Fauci (find his session below).

“COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and the Pandemic” began last Tuesday, and its lectures, which you’ll find uploaded to this Youtube playlist, will continue weekly until December 8th. Even if you have no background in medicine, biology, or science of any kind, don’t be intimidated: as leading professors Richard Young and Facundo Batista emphasize, this course is meant as an introductory overview.

And as Bruce Walker’s first lecture demonstrates, it’s not just open to the general public but geared toward the understanding and concerns of the general public as well. Taking it may not reassure you that an end to the pandemic lies just around the corner, but it will give you clearer and more coherent ways to think about what’s going on. The virus and disease involved are still incompletely understood, after all — but thanks to these and other researchers around the world, getting better understood every day.

“COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and the Pandemic” will be added to our list, 1,500 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

via Kottke

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

This Is What an 1869 MIT Entrance Exam Looks Like: Could You Have Passed the Test?

The late 19th Century was the time of Charles Darwin and James Clerk Maxwell, of Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. It was a golden age of science and technology. So you might wonder how hard it was to get into one of the top technical universities in that era.

The answer, according to this video? Not very hard.

At least that was the case in 1869 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT,  as the young Australian science and math teacher Toby Hendy explains on her excellent YouTube channel, Tibees. MIT was brand new and desperate for tuition revenue in 1869, so the object of the test wasn’t to whittle a massive field of applicants down to a manageable size. It was simply to make sure that incoming students could handle the work.




MIT opened in 1865, just after the end of the Civil War. The idea was to create a European-style polytechnic university to meet the demands of an increasingly industrial economy. The original campus was in Boston, across the Charles River from its current location in Cambridge. Only 15 students signed up in 1865. Tuition was $100 for the whole year. There was no formal entrance test. According to an article from the school’s Archives and Special Collections,

The “conditions for admission” section of MIT’s catalogue for 1865-66 indicates that candidates for admission as first year students must be at least sixteen years old and must give satisfactory evidence “by examination or otherwise” of a competent training in arithmetic, geometry, English grammar, geography, and the “rudiments of French.” Rapid and legible handwriting was also stressed as being “particularly important.” By 1869 the handwriting requirement and French had been dropped, but algebra had been added and students needed to pass a qualifying exam in the required subject areas. An ancillary effect was to protect unqualified students from disappointment and professors from wasting their time.

A couple of years earlier, in 1867, the MIT Executive Committee reported that faculty members had felt it necessary to ask parents of “some incompetent and inattentive students to withdraw them from the school, wishing to spare them the mortification of an examination which it was certain they could not pass.”

Nowadays, the students who make it into MIT have average SAT and ACT scores in the 99th percentile. Of 21,312 first-year applicants hoping to join the Class of 2023, only 1,427 made it. That’s an admission rate of 6.7 percent. What a difference 150 years can make!

To take the 1869 entrance examination in English, Algebra, Geometry and Arithmetic, and to see the correct answers, visit this cached article from the MIT website.

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MIT Researchers 3D Print a Bridge Imagined by Leonardo da Vinci in 1502— and Prove That It Actually Works

Photo by Gretchen Ertl, via MIT News

Unfortunate though it may be for the dreamers of the world, we’re all judged not by what we imagine, but what we actually do. This goes double for those specifically tasked with creating things in the physical environment, from engineers and architects to inventors and artists. Leonardo da Vinci, the original “Renaissance man,” was an engineer, architect, inventor, artist, and more besides, and five centuries after his death we continue to admire him for not just the works of art and technology he realized during his lifetime, but also the ones that never made it off his drawing board (or out of his notebooks). And as we continue to discover, many of the latter weren’t just flights of fancy, but genuine innovations grounded in reality.

Take the bridge Leonardo proposed to Sultan Bayezid II, who in 1502 had “sent out the Renaissance equivalent of a government RFP (request for proposals), seeking a design for a bridge to connect Istanbul with its neighbor city Galata,” writes MIT News’ David L. Chandler. Writing to the sultan, Leonardo describes his design as “a masonry bridge as high as a building, and even tall ships will be able to sail under it.”




At the time, such bridges required the support of piers all along their spans, which prevented large ships from passing underneath. But Leonardo’s design would do the job with only “a single enormous arch.” About ten times longer than the typical bridge of the early 16th century, it took a page from the bridges of ancient Rome, designed as it was to “stand on its own under the force of gravity, without any fasteners or mortar to hold the stone together.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Alas, Leonardo, who had better luck with Italian patrons, didn’t win this particular commission. His bridge design must at least have impressed the sultan with its sheer ambition, but would it have held up? A team at MIT consisting of graduate Karly Bast, professor John Ochsendorf, and undergraduate Michelle Xie recently put it to the test, scrutinizing the material Leonardo left behind, replicating the geological conditions of the proposed site, and building a 1:500 scale model out of 126 3D-printed blocks. Not only could the model bear weight using only the strength of its own geometry, the design also came with other features, such as stabilizing abutments (which Chandler compares to the legs of “a standing subway rider widening her stance to balance in a swaying car”) to keep the bridge upright in that earthquake-prone area of modern-day Turkey.

That particular location didn’t get a bridge until 1845, when Valide Sultan ordered the construction of the first, wooden, Galata Bridge. It stood for 18 years until its replacement by another wooden bridge, part of an infrastructure-building push before Napoleon III’s visit to Istanbul. The third Galata Bridge, completed in 1875 from a design by a British engineering firm, floated on pontoons. The fourth was a German-designed floating bridge in use from 1912 until a fire damaged it in 1992. Only the fifth and current Galata Bridge, with its tram tracks above, its pedestrianized deck full of shops and market spaces below, and it drawbridge section in the middle, was built by a Turkish company. In all its iterations, the Galata Bridge has become one of Istanbul’s cultural reference points and major attractions as well — not that having been designed by Leonardo would have hurt its image any.

via MIT News/Popular Mechanics

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Free Course from MIT Teaches You How to Speak Italian & Cook Italian Food All at Once

At MIT, Dr. Paola Rebusco usually teaches physics to freshmen. But, on behalf of the MIT Experimental Study Group, Rebusco has devised an appealing course — Speak Italian with Your Mouth Full — where she combines teaching two things many people love: learning to speak Italian and cooking Italian food. The course summary reads:

The participants in this seminar will dive into learning basic conversational Italian, Italian culture, and the Mediterranean diet. Each class is based on the preparation of a delicious dish and on the bite-sized acquisition of parts of the Italian language and culture. A good diet is not based on recipes only, it is also rooted in healthy habits and in culture. At the end of the seminar the participants will be able to cook some healthy and tasty recipes and to understand and speak basic Italian.

As Rebusco explains in a short video, this course has the advantage of making the language lessons a little less abstract. It gives students a chance to apply what they’ve learned (new vocabulary words, pronunciations, etc.) in a fun, practical context.




Above, we start you off with the first language lesson in the seminar. It begins where all basic courses start — with how to say your name. Below, you can watch the class learn to cook fresh pasta. Along the way, the course also teaches students how to make espressorisottohomemade pizzabruschetta, and biscotti. Lectures for the course can be found on the MIT web site, YouTube and iTunesSpeak Italian with Your Mouth Full also appears in our collection of Free Foreign Language Lessons and 1200 Free Courses Online. Buon Appetito!

Ingredients & Cooking Instruction:

Food Preparation

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site way back in 2012.

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Tattoos Can Now Start Monitoring Your Medical Conditions: Harvard and MIT Researchers Innovate at the Intersection of Art & Medicine

Once reserved for rebels and outliers, tattoos have gone mainstream in the United States. According to recent surveys, 21% of all Americans now have at least one tattoo. And, among the 18-29 demographic, the number rises to 40%. If that number sounds high, just wait until tattoos go from being aesthetic statements to biomedical devices.

At Harvard and MIT, researchers have developed “smart tattoo ink” that can monitor changes in biological and health conditions, measuring, for example, when the blood sugar of a diabetic rises too high, or the hydration of an athlete falls too low. Pairing biosensitive inks with traditional tattoo designs, these smart tattoos could conceivably provide real-time feedback on a range of medical conditions. And also raise a number of ethical questions: what happens when your health information gets essentially worn on your sleeve, available for all to see?

To learn more about smart tattoos, watch the Harvard video above, and read the corresponding article in the Harvard Gazette.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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MIT’s New Master’s Program Admits Students Without College and High School Degrees … and Helps Solve the World’s Most Pressing Problems


One of the central problems of inequality is that it perpetuates itself by nature. The inherent social capital of those born in certain places and classes grants access to even more social capital. Questions of merit can seem marginal when the credentials required by elite institutions prove inaccessible to most people. In an admirable effort to break this cycle globally, MIT is now admitting students to a graduate program in economics, without GRE scores, without letters of recommendation, and without a college degree. 

Instead students begin with something called a “MicroMasters” program, which is like “a method used in medicine… randomized control trials,” reports WBUR. This entryway removes many of the usual barriers to access by allowing students to first “take rigorous courses online for credit, and if they perform well on exams, to apply for a master’s degree program on campus”—a degree in data, economics and development policy (DEDP), which focuses on methods for reducing global inequality.

 

 

Enrollment in the online MicroMasters courses began in February of last year (the next round starts on February 6, 2018), and the DEDP master’s program will start in 2019. “The world of development policy has become more and more evidence-based over the past 10-15 years,” explains MIT professor of economics Ben Olken, who co-created the program with economics professors Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee. “Development practitioners need to understand not just development issues, but how to analyze them rigorously using data. This program is designed to help fill that gap.”

Duflo, co-founder of MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), explains the innovation of MicroMasters’ radically open admissions. (For anyone with access to the internet, that is, still a huge barrier for millions worldwide): “Anybody could do that. At this point, you don’t need to have gone to college. For that matter, you don’t need to have gone to high school.” Students who are accepted after their initial online course work will move into a “blended” program that combines their prior work with a semester on MIT’s campus.

MicroMasters courses are priced on a sliding scale (from $100 to $1,000), according to what students can afford, and costs are nowhere near what traditional students pay—after having already paid, or taken loans, for a four-year degree, various testing regimens, admissions costs, living expenses, etc. The current program might feasibly be scaled up to include other fields in the future. Thus far, over 8,000 students in the world have enrolled in the MicroMasters program. “In total,” Duflo says, “there are 182 countries represented,” including ten percent from China, a large group from India, and “even some from the U.S.”

Students enrolled in these courses design their own evaluations of initiatives around the globe that address disparities in healthcare, education, and other areas. Co-designed by the Poverty Action Lab and the Department of Economics, MicroMasters asks students to “grapple with some of the world’s most pressing problems,” including the problem of access to higher education. You can view the requirements and enroll at the MITx MicroMasters’ site. Read frequently asked questions and learn about the instructors here. And here, listen to WBUR’s short segment on this fascinating educational experiment.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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