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I registered for Edx 2.01x to gain a first-hand understanding of MIT's version of a MOOC. My conclusion at midterm is that this online course is no substitute for the in-person, on-campus learning experience I had when taking 2.01 as an undergraduate. However, the online format is amazingly good at teaching the algebraic manipulations involved in solving predetermined equations. The weakness of the online experience is the lack of the intellectual exchange that leads to a deep, fundamental understanding of the material. The discussion board is no substitute for study groups working on a problem set together around a physical table. The video "recitations" are no substitute for oral Q & A exchange with a grad student TA.

Strengths of the online format are 1) flexibility as to time lectures are watched, 2) the ability to pause a lecture and think about something without missing the next remark. The 2.01x online problem sets have logistical issues, mostly with the automatic grader, but also in the "all or nothing" feedback. A human grader or recitation TA can distinguish between a simple algebra error and a basic misunderstanding of the underlying physics being modeled by the equations, the computer grading does not and just gives a "red X."

Here is my vision for how online courses could add value to an MIT experience. Offer a series of classes for Senior-year high school students that can be used to equalize background so all admitted students can arrive on campus with the minimum "toolkit" for starting the freshman year. Use the freshman year to get students into the MIT culture and get them excited about career possibilities. Things like "star professors" lecturing introductory classes, UROP, freshman seminars, and technology-focused extracurricular activities are a unique and highly important part of what has made made MIT what it has been. Structure degree programs to allow an off-campus semester or full year where the student can gain real-world experience through co-op work, internships, volunteer service, or similar and concurrently take online courses that cover the "basic facts" part of the standard courses for their major. When students return to campus they can bring external experience and basic knowledge to in-person classes, labs, research projects, and seminars that emphasize understanding, critical thinking, and integration of ideas. MIT needs to produce the next generation of educators, entrepreneurs,and innovators, and these skills cannot be learned online.

Education & Facilities, Educational experiences, Massive Open Online Courses, in-person, critical thinking