OpenCourseWare at Home
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Professor Karen Willcox has been teaching a required subject in aeronautics and astronautics to juniors since 2001. Willcox told OCW that, in her first year at MIT, she was surprised to find that many of her students were less proficient in math than she expected.
“I really had the impression coming here that all the students would just be fantastic in math,” Willcox explained. “When I realized this was not the case, I started talking to math faculty and I realized that there was a disconnect between the math department and the engineering departments. For example, even though I relied heavily on material from Course 18.03, I had no idea how it was being taught – or for that matter, what was being taught.”
Once Willcox better understood the relationships between her course and related math subjects, she said, she began working with Professor Haynes Miller of the Department of Mathematics to make those connections clear to her students. “The next step was to make these links explicit for the students,” she explained. “So in my first lecture, I’d say, ‘This is what we’re talking about today in aeronautics, and this is directly related to what you learned in this math class.’ And then with the pointer, I could show them the OCW Website, and the lecture, and the problem sets related to what we’re learning.”
Willcox said she has already seen improvements among her students, but in her opinion, the benefits of encouraging students to “flashback” to OCW are only the beginning.
“Down the line, I hope to bring more of the technology into the classroom, so that while I am giving a lecture, I will be able to give them a flashback to something they had seen in a previous course – a visual reminder up on the screen of something from their math class,” she said. “My sense is that this will really enable us to create better linkages, and to fully integrate the learning experience. Our students will have the opportunity to look broadly across their education, and that will have enormous implications for learning.”
MIT junior Aron Walker is an environmental science and chemical engineering major from San Francisco. Though he had never experienced OCW before coming to the Institute, Walker heard about the site from a friend soon after his arrival in Cambridge, and quickly found that it was a valuable resource.
“As far as a practical use,” Walker told the OCW staff in the fall, “MIT students visit OCW to get a sense of what a class is like. Yes, MIT also has course evaluations, which are compiled, quantified, and put online – and people definitely use those. But the evaluations don’t offer much information about the actual content of the class. It’s more, ‘What have my peers thought of this professor?’ The OCW course sites are more detailed because they include the actual course material.”
Students also visit the OCW site to find materials for review purposes, Walker explained. “I think students also use it if they’re taking some class one year, and they want more practice doing things.”
But for Walker, the most valuable aspect of OCW is that the Website calls even more attention to the unique aspects of an MIT education. “For me, the biggest advantage of OpenCourseWare is that it brings into focus the things that you can only find here at MIT, and not on the Web,” he said. “It moves the educational focus back toward the intangibles, rather than just, ‘Here’s a sheet of paper with some problems on it, and I want you to do them.’ There’s a very strong community of ideas here, and a lot of energy in that community. That’s what really sets MIT apart.”
With 1259 courses now available at ocw.mit.edu, OCW continues to evolve as a resource for educators and learners abroad – and more and more, for the unique MIT community of educators and learners, as well.
These case studies, and the data on the back of this newsletter, provide a glimpse into the potentialities of the OCW resource. For more information, I encourage you to contact Jon Paul Potts, OCW communications manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-452-3621.
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