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An authentic taste of word class education – Introducing MIT’s Bootcamp series

One of the world’s top universities, many independent rankings list the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) among the ten best institutions globally.

With a notoriously low acceptance rate - one that gets even lower for international students - studying at MIT remains but a dream for many talented individuals from around the world.

Now, however, getting an authentic taste of what intellectual life at MIT feels like is possible thanks to the famed university’s new Bootcamp series.

To be sure, MIT’s edX initiative was the first step towards making MIT’s education widely accessible. However, the Bootcamp installments allow for a more direct contact between educators and students that e-learning classes simply cannot provide.

Moreover, as the MIT Beyond Food Bootcamp, which is going to take place in Taiwan between September 10-15, demonstrates, interested individuals no longer have to travel to Boston for this opportunity. Rather, MIT is slowly but surely making the world its campus!

Focus on entrepreneurship

This practical emphasis on entrepreneurship is actually not unusual for MIT, but rooted firmly in its tradition as an institution of learning.

Initially, the school was designed as a response to the rapid industrialization that took place in the American North during the mid-19th century. Modeled after the German polytechnic model and emphasizing the vocational aspect of education, as reflected in its motto mens et manus, the school early on established a name for itself in the fields of engineering and physical sciences, among others.

For instance, the university maintains close ties with businesses through its Industry Liason Program, as well as cooperating with the federal government and military through the renowned Lincoln Lab. Beyond that, MIT also boasts its own on-campus Patent License Office. It has also maintained several high-profile competitions such as the MIT 100K or the MIT Startup Exchange over the last three decades, all of which are encouraging young entrepreneurs to step forward and find success.

Pioneer of open learning

Additionally, the Bootcamp series is part of MIT’s more recent effort to make available publicly its coveted education. For instance, already in 2001 the university brought to life the MIT OpenCourseWare initiative to provide open and freely available classes to a global audience.

In 2012, MIT together with Harvard University invested in the edX platform, thereby establishing a channel for universities to make their curricula available to all. By now, over 70 universities use the platform to publish their courses online.

It is worth noting that the majority of edX’s audience is located abroad rather than in the United States.

In the long run, the school’s push for openness will, as MIT Professor and edX CEO Anant Agarwal predicts, lead to a digital, module- and certificate-based education model that transcends geographic and national borders.

Students will be able to decide for themselves which classes they are interested in. Moreover, rather than forcing anybody to pay, participants can choose between certificate-earning classes or free online auditing.

A semester condensed into a week

Whereas MIT's digital initiative carries a certain degree of distance and passivity, the Bootcamp series brings educators and students together in a direct and intimate manner. According to MIT's Vimala Palaniswamy, the idea grew out of the school’s popular Entrepreneurship 101 class, which in 2014 was expanded to include an extra week of high-intensity teaching and training after the semester.

Out of the success of this prototype, the actual Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp was born in its current form. To take part in the first place, participants must complete an online course beforehand.

Running over 5 days and up to a total of 60 hours, the actual program condenses a year-long course into a single week. True to its roots, the Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp focuses on startup creation and culminates in a pitch demo day, where participants then present their work.

In essence, the course teaches students how to turn their ideas into feasible projects that can be marketed to investors.

Palaniswamy thinks that the experience of participating in the bootcamp truly captures what it felt like when she studied at MIT, including the many sleepless nights and frequent clashes between participants over ideas and methods.

Group work in particular is prone to lead to tensions between members and teams. Palaniswamy points out that initially, groups would only be formed on the second day of the bootcamp. However, with over 120 participants from over 34 different nations, team building from the get-go was a much better approach.

Due to the intensity of the program, which usually starts at seven in the morning and often has participants working until three am, it is unavoidable that tensions are running high.

In fact, oftentimes instructors have to assist in solving problems. At the same time, however, conflict is part of MIT’s basic approach, Palaniswamy ascertains, as long as it is conducive to the project at hand. “Ideas will clash inevitably, otherwise you couldn’t get innovative results,” she says.

Going global – Beyond Food Taiwan

Thanks to the enthusiastic reception, MIT is eager to introduce its Bootcamp model to a global audience. In 2016, MIT already exported the series to South Korea’s capital Seoul, which is home to one of the most vibrant startups scenes in the region and boasts a top notch internet infrastructure.

The fifth installment then took place in Down Under’s innovation center Brisbaine this March.

According to MIT Bootcamp Senior Program Manager, Andrew Ngui, who also participated in the first installment back in 2014, the series is also in great demand for cooperation, as the forthcoming MIT Beyond Food Bootcamp demonstrates.

Taking place between September 10-15 in Taipei, this installment sees the university collaborate with the Taiwanese Haoshi Foundation on food-related issues.

More precisely, the intense five-day course will encourage participants to cooperate and compete over how to improve the current state of food production around the themes of sustainability, transparency, and health.

General applications for the MIT Beyond Food Bootcamp are open until July 1, while those in need of financial support should apply by June 1.