Krishna Rajagopal named dean for digital learning

July 26, 2017
Office of Digital Learning

Krishna Rajagopal, the William A.M. Burden Professor of Physics and former chair of the MIT faculty, has been named dean for digital learning, effective Sept. 1. This new position expands leadership roles for faculty within the Office of the Vice President for Open Learning, which recently launched the MIT Integrated Learning Initiative and the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Laboratory.

As dean for digital learning, Rajagopal will lead efforts to empower MIT faculty to use digital technologies to augment and transform how they teach. He is charged with building and strengthening connections between academic departments and the Office of Vice President for Open Learning, to facilitate broad-based engagement and bottom-up change. Rajagopal will catalyze, promote, and disseminate faculty innovations in MIT residential education, and, he will continue to support the sharing of a broad range of MIT knowledge and perspectives with learners around the globe.

Within the Office of the Vice President for Open Learning, Residential Education, MITx, OpenCourseWare, and the Digital Learning Lab will report to Rajagopal under the leadership of Sanjay Sarma, vice president for open learning, who made the announcement today. Rajagopal will work with Sarma and Senior Associate Dean of Digital Learning Isaac Chuang on the office’s strategy and organization. As a member of Academic Council, Rajagopal will provide advice and perspectives to MIT President L. Rafael Reif and the senior administration.

“Krishna combines his stellar research career with a passion for improving teaching and learning and a remarkable ability to integrate diverse points of views into a unifying vision,” Sarma says. “In a time of significant changes in education, I am confident that Krishna will offer great guidance for our open learning initiatives. He will work to maintain and enhance MIT’s position as a leader in providing access to high-quality education around the world, and he will continue to improve teaching at MIT.”

As chair of the MIT faculty, Rajagopal distinguished himself as a strong advocate for the faculty. He was known for his listening skills, inclusive style, and ability to help colleagues and departments optimize and achieve their goals, including those involving the development and launch of new educational pathways for MIT’s students.

Some of his accomplishments as former chair of the faculty include joining with Dennis Freeman, then dean of undergraduate education, to assemble a group of faculty from MIT’s five schools, which conducted an in-depth study of the role of algorithmic reasoning and computational thinking in the context of the education of MIT undergraduates. He was also responsible for the charging of the Faculty Policy Committee Sub-Committee on Sub-Term Subjects and the subsequent implementation of many of its recommendations; building a new faculty governance website; and leading efforts in the creation of MIT’s new Master of Applied Science (MASc) degree, an umbrella degree type introduced in fall 2016 for one-year professional master’s degrees that include a capstone project.

Previously, Rajagopal served as associate head for education in the Department of Physics, where he stewarded the department's undergraduate and graduate educational programs and became known for his dedication to students. In that role, he facilitated and supported new MITx activities that improved the on-campus teaching of freshman physics and junior lab, as well as the first massive open online courses (MOOCs) on intermediate quantum mechanics and advanced quantum field theory.

“I am excited about this new challenge, as I will be helping MIT faculty members take their passions for teaching and learning to new levels in ways that can have long-lasting impact across MIT and around the world,” Rajagopal says. “Our digital learning efforts already reach thousands of students in MIT classrooms and millions of learners around the world. What makes this an exciting time for education is that as these technologies, as well as research on how people learn, evolve, they are transforming how we teach today, and will do so in ways that we cannot yet see and must invent.”

Since joining the MIT faculty in 1997, Rajagopal has produced a significant body of research in theoretical physics focused largely on how quarks — ordinarily confined within protons and neutrons — behave in extraordinary conditions such as the hot quark soup that filled the microseconds-old universe, conditions that provide a test bed for understanding how a complex world emerges from simple underlying laws. His work links nuclear and particle physics, condensed matter physics, astrophysics, and string theory.

Rajagopal is the author of about 100 papers that have been cited more than 16,000 times, and has mentored more than two dozen PhD students and postdocs. He was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society in 2004.  He is a Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow and won the Everett Moore Baker Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2011 and the Buechner Prize for Excellence in Teaching in 1999.

Rajagopal grew up in suburban Toronto; his family moved there from Munich when he was less than 1 year old. Influenced by an outstanding teacher who brought pioneering advances in recombinant DNA and molecular biology into his public high school biology class, Rajagopal arrived at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, planning to major in biology. His freshman physics class rekindled his earlier interest in physics, and he says he much appreciates the formative educational influences that shaped his own experience.

He graduated from Queen’s in 1988 and completed his PhD at Princeton University in 1993. After stints as a junior fellow at Harvard University and a Fairchild Fellow at Caltech he joined the MIT faculty in 1997. Rajagopal has spent one year each at the University of California at Berkeley and at CERN, the physics laboratory outside Geneva, Switzerland. He lives in Arlington, Massachusetts, with his wife and two sons.

This article was republished with permission from the MIT News Office.