Enrollment is now open in the first course available through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's MITx online learning initiative.
MIT officials Monday announced the first MITx course, 6.002x: Circuits and Electronics, which they termed a prototype for the new initiative. The course will begin March 5 and run through June 8. Those interested in enrolling may do so here. Enrollment in the course, as for all MITx courses, is free.
Modeled after MIT's 6.002 — an introductory course for undergraduate students in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) — 6.002x will help students make the transition from physics to the fields of electrical engineering and computer science. It will be taught by Anant Agarwal, EECS professor and director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL); Chris Terman, CSAIL co-director; EECS Professor Gerald Sussman; and CSAIL Research Scientist Piotr Mitros.
To access the course, registered students will log in at mitx.mit.edu, where they will find a course schedule, an e-textbook for the course, and a discussion board. Each week, students will watch video lectures and demonstrations, work with practice exercises, complete homework assignments, and participate in an online interactive lab specifically designed to replicate its real-world counterpart. Students will also take exams and be able to check their grades as they progress in the course. Overall, students can expect to spend approximately 10 hours each week on the course. The instructors state that students should have completed an AP physics course in electricity and magnetism, should know basic calculus and linear algebra, and possess some knowledge of differential equations to complete the course successfully.
At the end of the course, students who are motivated to do so may earn a credential from MITx signifying that they have mastered the coursework. For 6.002x, the fee for the credential, which will be required once MITx is fully operational, will be waived, and MITx will not require that students be tested in a testing center or otherwise have their identity certified in order to receive this certificate. The components affecting a student's grade and the grade thresholds will be posted on the course Web site when the course comes online.
Further MITx courses are expected to become available in the fall semester.
MITx was officially launched, without information about specific courses, in December, 2011. It expands on the institute's OpenCourseWare initiative, launched in 2002, by offering interactive instruction and the credentialing process rather than just posting course materials online.
In the January/February 2012 MIT faculty newsletter, MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif outlines three motivating factors for launching MITx. First, that MIT "must always use or develop the best teaching and learning tools possible for our students." Not only will enrolled students be learning from MITx, Reif states, but also "once MITx is up and running, it will serve as a laboratory for online learning: MITx will offer new opportunities to study how people learn best online — whether those learners are our on-campus students, university students elsewhere, or non-university learners — and how virtual communities of learners are built."
Second, Reif states that MITx has the potential to shatter barriers to education. By making MITx available online worldwide, it will allow far more than the 10% of MIT applicants whom the institute accepts to access MIT resources. "Many more people have the capacity, motivation, and drive to learn our material than we can admit," Reif says. "At the same time, MIT content and knowledge are vast. They could be used to enrich and augment the education and livelihood of many learners who cannot attend MIT."
Third, according to Reif, MIT has an obligation to help preserve U.S. higher education as a public good by offering a not-for-profit option in online education. "In the United States, we have dedicated public and private assets in enormous amounts to the public good of higher education," he says. "This commitment and dedication might change dramatically if privately financed, for-profit enterprises dominate the education-delivery vehicle of the future. MITx is a competitive alternative to proprietary higher education — and the time to establish it is now." To that end, the MITx platform is also an open-source initiative its administrators envision as a global enabler of online learning and research.
"Creating an open learning infrastructure will enable other communities of developers to contribute to it, thereby making it self-sustaining," Agarwal said at the original MITx announcement. "An open infrastructure will facilitate research on learning technologies and also enable learning content to be easily portable to other educational platforms that will develop. In this way the infrastructure will improve continuously as it is used and adapted."
MITx will also likely pioneer the concept of an online middle ground in course rigor and prestige when compared to an on-campus education. There is no credit at all granted to those who use OpenCourseWare, just as Stanford University's Stanford Engineering Everywhere (SEE) program also avoids lending the university's prestige to any completed coursework, or even open communications channels to instructors. For MITx, MIT is being careful to differentiate between recognition awarded by the institute and its new online channel.
"MIT's residential-based education is the heart of the MIT community, and an MIT degree holds special distinction," according to supporting information in the initial MITx announcement. "As online learning and assessment evolve and improve, online learners who demonstrate mastery of subjects could earn a certificate of completion, but any such credential would not be issued under the name MIT. Rather, MIT plans to create a not-for-profit body within the Institute that will offer certification for online learners of MIT coursework. That body will carry a distinct name to avoid confusion."
MITx link: Video introduction to 6.002x
Gregory Goth is an Oakville, CT-based writer who specializes in science and technology.