Alan ’73 and Terri Spoon believe MIT students will build the future of online education, inventing the tools and technologies of tomorrow.
“We believe that MIT students will be the most creative and liberated innovators of how we teach online,” says Alan. “Students are already deeply immersed in the potential benefits of digital interactive education. They’re not daunted by the risks of trying something new; they’re not bounded by research commitments or conventional methods of instruction.”
That’s why the couple recently established two funds to support student involvement in the development of MITx, the Institute’s approach to the massive open online courses (MOOCs) that are revolutionizing education across the globe. One fund will focus on the MITx Fellows Program, in which students and postdoctoral associates work with MITx leaders to develop course content; the other will help students produce the course videos key to the online experience.
“We thought this gift would be a great way for MIT to get a jump-start on the most innovative possible approaches to effective online education,” says Alan, a general partner emeritus at Polaris Venture Partners and longtime member of the MIT Corporation. He also serves on several MIT committees and on the board of edX, the non-profit organization that offers MITx and other online courses to the world. A former architect and development officer, Terri currently works on photography and volunteer projects, including service as an overseer at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. She earned a BA in human environment and design from Michigan State University.
“In effect, we’re providing start-up funds for students to develop modules of learning,” says Alan, who believes that students will design and program unexpected breakthroughs on how best to teach a concept online. For example, they might conceive novel ways of visualizing ideas that are hard to demonstrate in a textbook or at the front of a lecture hall. “The students will invent dramatic insights. They already are.”
The couple is also passionate about another student initiative that they founded at MIT, the Community Catalyst Leadership Program, which helps undergraduates become better leaders by matching them with alumni mentors.
“We think MIT students can and should be among the very best leaders in the world,” Alan says, adding that hundreds of MIT students already have completed the program. “They come in with dazzling enthusiasm, and they come out shining even brighter.”