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New MITx online physics course combines latest in learning technology with classic videos by Walter Lewin

MOOC pairs cutting edge online assessments with legendary lectures and demonstrations by renowned MIT professor

CAMBRIDGE, MA, May 30, 2013 — Much attention is given to the automated assessments that play a key role in allowing massive open online courses (MOOCs) to scale, and rightly so, as these tools permit hundreds of thousands of learners to receive an unprecedented level of feedback on their work.  A new MIT MOOC starting September 9, 2013, 8.01x Classical Mechanics, combines these cutting edge assessments with lectures that have an unmatched pedigree in digital learning history.

“With this course, we are creating a whole new experience for the millions who have enjoyed my lectures,” remarked Professor Walter Lewin. “Where before they got only the experience of sitting in the classroom and watching, now they can really test how well they understand the concepts. They can communicate with other students and even get occasional help from the course team.”

Throughout the ‘80’s and ‘90s, Professor Lewin’s Classical Mechanics course had been a “can’t miss” experience for thousands of MIT undergraduates, with in-class demonstrations that included Professor Lewin risking death by pendulum and riding a fire extinguisher-powered tricycle across the classroom. Recorded in 1999, Professor Lewin’s lectures were used for one of MIT’s early experiments in digital learning, Physics Interactive Video Tutor (PIVoT).

When MIT announced the MIT OpenCourseWare effort in 2001, the videos were quickly adopted for distribution on that site as well, eventually reaching an audience of millions.  In 2005, the videos were moved onto YouTube, and copies with translated subtitles have appeared on sites such as 163.com (Chinese) and Shamsuna Al-Arabia (Arabic), making Professor Lewin one of the most recognized figures in online education.

Now, Professor Lewin’s classic lectures are being paired with the latest technology in online learning, the scalable assessment tools used for massive open online classes.  While Professor Lewin famously answers all of his fan mail, until now it was impossible for him to provide feedback on work completed by the millions that watched his videos.  The interactive capabilities of the edX platform now provide a rich new experience for learners built around the lectures that includes feedback on assignments.

Students enrolled in the new MOOC will now be presented with lecture questions interspersed in the videos, and complete online problem sets that will be graded automatically.  Responses will be either numerical or formulas, rather than open-ended responses, to support computer grading. The course also includes a forum that will support interaction between the enrolled learners, allowing them to support one another and receive some support from the instructional team.  Students enrolled in the course will have the option of auditing the course or earning a certificate of mastery.

In addition to 8.01x Classical Mechanics, MITx is offering five other new courses on the edX platform this fall.  New courses include 24.00x Introduction to Philosophy: God, Knowledge and Consciousness, 4.605x A Global History of Architecture: Part 1, 3.086x Innovation and Commercialization, 16.101x Introduction to Aerodynamics, and 16.110x Flight Vehicle Aerodynamics.  In addition, MITx will offer courses previously available, including 6.002x Circuits and Electronics.  MITx is also currently offering one summer course, 8.MReV Mechanics ReView, which starts June 1.

About Professor Walter Lewin

A native of The Netherlands, Professor Walter H. G. Lewin received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Delft (1965). In 1966, he came to MIT as a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Physics and was invited to join the faculty as an Assistant Professor later that same year. He was promoted to Associate Professor of Physics in 1968 and to full Professor in 1974. Professor Lewin’s honors and awards include the NASA Award for Exceptional Scientific Achievement (1978), twice recipient of the Alexander von Humboldt Award (1984 and 1991), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1984), MIT’s Science Council Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (1984) and the W. Buechner Teaching Prize of the MIT Department of Physics (1988). In 1997, he was the recipient of a NASA Group Achievement Award for the Discovery of the Bursting Pulsar. In 2003, he received the Everett Moore Baker Memorial Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. In 2011, Professor Lewin’s lifetime contributions to open and online education were honored by the OpenCourseWare Consortium, which awarded him the inaugural Educator Award for OpenCourseWare Excellence.  He is a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences (elected 1993), and a Fellow of the American Physical Society. On April 3, 2012, he was ranked by the Princeton Review among The Best 300 Professors in the US, the only MIT faculty member listed.

About MITx

The MITx program supports MIT’s exploration of teaching approaches enabled by digital technologies, both on the MIT campus and through scalable online courses on the edX platform.  MITx is a constituent organization of MIT’s new Office of Digital Learning, under the leadership of the Director of Digital Learning, Professor Sanjay Sarma.

About edX

EdX is a not-for-profit enterprise composed of 27 leading global institutions, the xConsortium. Founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, edX is focused on transforming online and on-campus learning through groundbreaking methodologies, game-like experiences and cutting-edge research on an open source platform. EdX provides inspirational and transformative knowledge to students of all ages, social status, and income who form worldwide communities of learners. EdX is focused on people, not profit, and is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the USA.

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Steve Carson