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6.002 (Circuits and Electronics) will be the first course offered via MITx, an online educational initiative announced late last year that has seen widespread praise but also faces questions from some faculty members. MIT has billed MITx as a way to enhance the on-campus education for MIT students and simultaneously offer MIT courses, largely free, to the rest of the world.

Registration for 6.002x — which is essentially the same course material as MIT’s 6.002 but delivered online — opened yesterday at http://mitx.mit.edu. The course will offer a certificate of completion for those who pass it, and though MITx will charge for certification in the future, 6.002x’s will be free since the course is still a prototype.

6.002x will consist of 5–10 minute video lectures, demonstrations, homework assignments, simulated laboratories, and exams — all graded automatically — according to a press release from the MIT News Office. It is being taught by CSAIL Director Anant Agarwal, Christopher J. Terman PhD ’83, Gerald J. Sussman ’68, and Piotr Mitros ’04.

The class begins on March 5 and runs through June 8. Students are expected to spend about 10 hours per week on 6.002x. Enrollment will not be limited, though Agarwal declined to say how popular he expected the course to be in a conference call last Friday.

Agarwal also teaches the on-campus 6.002 course, which is already piloting 15 MIT students on 6.002x. Students in this “experimental” section will complete the entire course online — including lectures, labs, assignments, and exams — and they will receive full credit for 6.002 and a letter grade, according to an email from Terman sent to students preregistered for 6.002.

A discussion forum will allow 6.002x students to ask questions of each other and course staff, though 6.002 students in the experimental section will also have the opportunity to meet with TAs in-person.

One of the keys to the online course are simulated laboratories. While on-campus 6.002 students work directly with circuit boards and components, 6.002x students will run experiments on Javascript-based simulated circuits in their browsers, says Agarwal.

6.002x students must agree to an “honor code,” which says that they will complete exams on their own and not “dishonestly improve my results, or improve or hurt those of others” (see sidebar). Certificates of completion for 6.002x will mention that security was limited to an honor code in this iteration of the course.

“In the future, MITx will work towards more sophisticated forms of checking identity,” said Agarwal.

Faculty response

At a faculty meeting last month, and in the January/February Faculty Newsletter (FNL), faculty response to MITx has generally, but not uniformly, been positive. Provost L. Rafael Reif, for instance, says he expects MITx to free up time for faculty to work one-on-one with students instead of lecturing, but the FNL’s editorial offered a counterpoint: “One senior faculty member speculated that going online, with a global component, will be 1,000 times more work than writing a book. It was not clear if he was using hyperbole.”

The editorial board — Nazli Choucri, Gordon M. Kaufman, Jonathan Alan King, and Patrick Henry Winston ’65 — also said that MITx has the potential to dramatically change education for the better, but faculty will need to more carefully differentiate an on-campus experience from online.

Also in the current FNL, Mechanical Engineering Professor Emeritus Woodie Flowers PhD ’73 wrote that MITx may be driven by misplaced motivations. “As was the case for OCW discussions, holding the for-profit world at bay seems to be one of the unwritten strategic goals of MITx,” he said. “One also hears whispers about getting ahead of other great universities.”