Opinion

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

8.02x is not nearly as rigorous as 8.02

I am writing this in response to the article by Tea Dorminy, after I read the Letters to the Editor in the March 8 issue. Let me start by saying that I praise edX to the sky even though the real breakthrough was made in 2001 by MIT when OCW was invented. This was comparable to the invention of the printing press around 1450. EdX was a logical consequence of OCW. It was obvious to me as early as 2004 that sooner or later edX-like organizations would pop up.

My 8.02x course is now online (37,700 registered). There are three midterm exams (together 45 percent course credit) and 1 final exam (30 percent course credit). Thus the four exams count for 75 percent of course credit. The exams in 8.02 and 8.02x are equally rigorous. Yet there is a huge difference in the way the exams are taken.

Exams at MIT are proctored. MIT students have to take each of the three midterm exams in 50 minutes, closed book; notes and calculators are not allowed. The final is three hours with the same restrictions.

People on 8.02x get two (maybe three) days for each midterm exam (also for the final exam); two days is about 60 times longer than 50 minutes. In addition, the 8.02x exams are open book, notes are allowed, the students can search the web with their laptops, they can look up the solutions of similar problems in previous problem sets including those on OCW, they can watch the lectures again and they can get help from outsiders. Compare this with the restrictions that were imposed on my 8.02 students. The difference is night and day.

Clearly we have a long way to go before 8.02x is as rigorous as 8.02 and that will also be the case for my 8.01x course, which will go online in September.

Walter Lewin

Department of Physics Professor Emeritus

7 Comments
1
David almost 5 years ago

edX should partner with ProctorU Bhttp://www.proctoru.com/b to proctor real online exams legitimately, and give legitimate time constraints and rules to these exams. If the exams are a joke, then the certification loses it meaning

2
David almost 5 years ago

URL typo: www.proctoru.com

3
Woody almost 5 years ago

Hey, that's a good idea.

4
Mark Polak \'84 almost 5 years ago

As an MIT alum who is currently enrolled in 8.02x and enjoying the experience I think there is more to the story presented in this letter.

There are really two perspectives from which to address the question of rigor. The first perspective (and the one Prof. Lewin addresses) is that of someone who is presented with an edx certificate. It is very clear that the edx certificate is not evidence of the same level of mastery and rigor as would be evidenced by an MIT transcript.

However, an alternative perspective (and I would argue more important one) is that of someone who wants to learn about EM. I would argue that for a motivated student, the level of mastery that they can gain from the edx course is nearly equivalent to that of the on campus course. In fact, level of motivation is probably much more important than which version of the course they choose to take.

5
Twinster almost 5 years ago

I think the final exam for 8.02x should be proctored!

6
Anonymous almost 5 years ago

I am a high school physics teacher and I have used the OCW lectures in the past. I must say that I value the Edx course more, because you are becoming a part of a community and you have a feeling that the professor is following your progress. It is structured and when you meet the deadlines and get high scores, that gives you a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. As for the proctored exams or not, even if they are, 8.02x will never be compatible with the onsite course, since the learning in MIT or elsewhere is not only about passing exams. There is a lab component, projects and who knows what else comes along to complete the learning of this course. I appreciate what you are doing for thousands of us who for varios reasons are excited and wish to learn from Prof. Lewin.

7
David Wexler almost 5 years ago

I think for purposes of most students on MITx, the learning outcome is more important than the "rigor" of the exams. How can that outcome be measured? Perhaps a year later, 8.02 and 8.02x grads might perform similarly in non-time-stressed EM problem-solving. Both will have the background to study synchrotron radiation from quasars. Did the "rigor" ultimately matter - probably only in very selective academic settings? This kind of rigor will correlate with lower mean test scores; personally I learned much by completing the test with the necessary extra time and effort. I wonder if the 8.02er's with their rigorous but low-mean test scores will maintain a lasting interest in physics.

If for some reason, it is deemed that a proctored final deserves an actual MIT certificate, then the test can be offered at MIT for say $5000. So there, you got your 62 on the final - do you have a better education now? For various reasons we are fortunate indeed that MITx is doing it this more humane and motivating way for the world community!