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In the winter of 2016, in response to findings made by the Task Force on Graduate Student Professional Development, the MIT Office of Graduate Education (OGE) embarked on a mission to find the best way(s) to connect the entirety of the MIT graduate student population with high-quality professional development resources in communication, as a first area of focus within the defined set of professional skills.

The resulting project was called Gradcommx. Over the course of 2.5 years, Gradcommx tested pedagogical approaches using modern media such as comic books, podcasts, live micro-workshops, and even an online game. In the final year of the project the Teaching & Learning Lab teamed up with Applied Curiosity Educational Research to evaluate the efficacy of these approaches.

Pedagogy

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Gradcommx was designed to address broadly transferable skills rather than discipline-specific training. As outlined in the TFPRO report (Final Report of the Task Force on Graduate Student Professional Development), the onus of Gradcommx will hold that ”simplicity is a virtue” in regards to the design of the curriculum (2013, p. 4). This sentiment is outlined further in the TFPRO report:

“We considered whether to include the discipline-specific training, knowledge, and skill development that lie at the heart of every MIT graduate program. Should the skillset include a section for technical skills and domain knowledge? We decided to exclude that category, as in many ways it is already the core of what we do in an MIT education, and its specifics would vary greatly across programs.” (2013, p4)

Gradcommx was designed to be a primer, or potential jumping-off point for further in-depth inquiry into discipline-specific training in any of MIT’s five schools. This baseline of communications professional development for graduate students was designed to be built upon and modified by each of the schools at their discretion.

The graduate student body at MIT is diverse and communication norms vary widely by discipline. The resources available on gradx.mit.edu are not designed to address those varying norms, but to serve as a professional development primer for non-specific external audiences.

Instructional Design Principles

For all Gradcommx Elements

Simple In Concept, Complex In Practice

Some of the exercise prompts may seem simple, but in practice these assignments will reveal lead to deeper understanding and an expanded communication toolkit.

Customizable To Student Needs

The delivery of professional development within Gradcommx is adaptable to student needs. Design solutions include the possibility to complete a two week workshop around a regular class schedule, or to read an educational comic during the morning commute.

Connected To Resources

Gradcommx features gateways to services and resources on and off MIT campus to further each student’s professional communication goals.

Connected To Experts

Gradcommx features multimedia, as outlined in the next section, designed to help students understand essential communications learnings created specifically from interviews with top MIT faculty.

Differentiated Instruction

Each element of Gradcommx is constructed to be learned in multiple ways in order to increase the likelihood of comprehension from students.

Media Design

Because this course is designed to serve the ongoing professional development of graduate students at MIT, the design of the multimedia reflects portability, accessibility, and customization. Therefore, the multimedia for this course builds upon itself so that it can be used effectively in multiple contexts for differentiated learning.

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Media Design Principles

Connectability

Each piece of media for the course is designed to make connections with, or flow to, another. This interconnectability allows the learner to experience and gain value from each piece of media, and make connections with any other piece according to their needs and desires at the time.

Portable

Each piece of media was designed to be easily accessed from anywhere that an MIT student would need it. From a content standpoint, this means that for the media to be effectively portable it will be designed to stand alone, independent of other pieces of media.

Differentiated Delivery

Gradcommx purposefully experimented with the delivery of media through the use of traditional learning management systems (MITx/Edx), a-traditional learning management systems using gamified instructional techniques (Mailchimp Automations & tabletop dice), podcasts, digital comics, print comics, and hybrid workshops.

Accessibility

Each piece of media is designed to be easily consumed in more than one style: the comics and Gradcommx: The Game include strong visuals as well as text; the videos are visual, auditory, and subtitled; Gradcommx Live blends in-person exchanges with comics, videos, and written exercises; and the audio podcasts are accompanied by accurate transcripts. This allows accessibility by multiple learning styles as well as a lower barrier to those who may be English language learners. 

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Gradcommx Products

An Illustrated Guide For Presenting Research

Technically Speaking

An Illustrated Guide For Presenting Research
A 6 Session Professional Development Intensive

Live Workshop

A 6 Session Professional Development Intensive
game
A Self-Paced, Online, Game For Individuals & Groups

Gradcommx The Game: Inspace Attacks!

A Self-Paced, Online, Game For Individuals & Groups
22 Episode Podcast Mini-Series

The Great Communicators

22 Episode Podcast Mini-Series

Development Credits

Project Design & Management 

Blanche E Staton, Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education, Office of Graduate Education
Tony Eng, Senior Lecturer, MIT EECS
Heather Konar, Communications Officer, Office of Graduate Education
Patrick Yurick, Instructional Designer, Office of Graduate Education

Project Assessment

MIT Teaching & Learning Lab
Janet Rankin
Anne Marshall

Applied Curiosity Research
Gerad O’Shea, M.A.
Jessica Nguyen, M.ED

John L. Gordon
Richard Li
Remi Mir
Lisette Tellez

All Videos

Executive Produced by Patrick Yurick, Tony Eng, & Heather Konar
Principle Photography by Evan Goldstein of Half Lit Smile
Produced & Edited by Thierry Denis of Helium Films, USA

Produced by Patrick Yurick
Animated by Leeanne Brennan
Comic Art by Patrick Yurick
Principal Photography by Evan Goldstein (Half Lit Smile) & Patrick Yurick
Audio Production by Adam Greenfield & Patrick Yurick

Music

“The People” by Ryan Cullinane
“Folk Psychology” by Nic Bommarito
Licensed Under
Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0
United States License

Vocals & Appearances From:

Ed Boyden
Tony Eng
Yang Shao Horn
Ian Condry
Ted Gibson
Felice Frankel
Michael Walsh
Maha Haji
Tony Eng
Adam Greenfield

“Keeping Audience In Mind When Networking”

Starring Michael Walsh
Filmed on location at the MIT Quantum Photonics Laboratory
Music “D2 Splendid” Licensed Under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License

“Starting Research With Narrative”

Starring Elena Glassman & Tony Eng
Animated by Leanne Brennan
Filmed on Location  at the MIT Ray & Maria Stata Center
Music “The People” by Ryan Cullinane Licensed Under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License

“Giving Context When Discussing Previous Work”

Starring Maha Haji
Filmed on location at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy
Music “Elle Va Au Japon” by Nick Bommarito Licensed Under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License

“Explaining The Technical When Teaching”

Starring Dr. Katrina LaCurts
Music “Apace” by Nick Bommarito Licensed Under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License

“Controlling Focus When Presenting Data”

Starring Tony Eng & Patrick Yurick
Music “Splendid” Licensed Under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License

“Being Concise When Pitching”

Starring Lina Colucci
Featuring footage from Lina Colucci’s TEDx Brussels Talk “Why We Should All Hack Medicine”
Music “Clarinet Trio in D Minor, Op. 3 – Allegro Ma Non Troppo” by Lina Colucci Licensed Under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License

Core Curriculum adapted from work by Tony Eng
Art & Game Mechanics by Patrick Yurick
Game Design by Patrick Yurick & Monika Avello
Executive Produced by Patrick Yurick & Heather Konar
Multiplayer Mode by Kay Flewelling
Multiplayer Mode Assistance by Joe Lasley

Hosted & Produced by Adam Greenfield
Executive Produced by Patrick Yurick & Heather Konar
Associate Produced by Christopher O’Keeffe

Website Design

Designed by Patrick Yurick
Edited by Heather Konar & Christopher O’Keeffe

Further Thanks

MITx & Edx for all their support in the early days of this project
The MIT CommLab
MIT W.R.A.P.