In this section, Prof. Hazel Sive describes the impact of the MITx course, 7.00x, on the Spring 2013 offering of 7.013.
A version of MIT’s introductory biology courses has been offered multiple times as an MITx course, 7.00x Introduction to Biology—The Secret of Life. This offering is a massive, online, open course; anyone around the world is allowed to take the course online, for free, when it is being offered. 7.00x covers the foundational material that is included in MIT’s introductory biology courses. It’s probably about 60% of what’s covered on campus; each of the introductory biology courses on campus covers additional, specialized material.
As of the Spring 2013 semester, 7.00x hasn’t really impacted my teaching of 7.013. I don’t know if any of my 7.013 students have also used 7.00x resources. In our course, we are teaching them all the fundamental material they need to know, and of course, the structure is different from 7.00x in most ways. There have been ideas about how we might use online education to support or enhance our on-campus students’ educational experiences. For example, 7.00x could potentially be used to help get some students with less biology background up to speed before they come to MIT.
One thing that has been interesting is that in Spring 2013, for the first time, my class of hundreds of students felt very intimate because it really was small compared to 7.00x; our course wasn’t being presented to the world. I had this vision that if you’re taking an MITx course that’s being presented to the world, it’s an open conversation, and the audience is potentially huge, and you have no idea who they are. And for the first time, I felt, “Wow! We’re here, just us. We’re not having a conversation with the world here. This is a special course just for these students.” I think that contrast actually gave our class a feeling of closeness that I hadn’t anticipated.
The future of education is interesting, and it may well have something to do with online education; that jury is out. We’ll see how it all plays out. I’m on a task force to examine the future of education at MIT. I think that over time, we’ll see how online education will impact the courses we teach. It’s not clear at this time.