“Chromium makes em’ralds green / And gives rubies their deep red / Nitrogen makes diamonds yellow / Boron makes them blue instead.” It may not be Keats, but through his collection of poems and songs, MIT Senior Lecturer James D. Livingston, who teaches in the department of materials science and engineering at MIT, has found a way to make complex scientific concepts less intimidating to nonexperts.
In his case, the neophytes are mostly freshmen. Livingston, a former research physicist with General Electric, wanted to make the transition from high school to college less difficult for these students by infusing an element of fun into his physics and chemistry classes and “lower[ing] the scare barrier.”
Mnemonic devices became a tool for Livingston to help his students remember the course material and feel more comfortable with difficult subject matter. Although a song may not be the ticket to explaining why the ERP system has crashed, Livingston’s point—that it’s a good idea to think outside the box when facing a communication barrier—shouldn’t be lost on CIOs. Use humor, tell a story, write a poem, do whatever it takes, he says, to ease the tension and get them ready to listen to what you have to say.