MITx Course Review Part 4: Post Midterm

MITx 6.002x Half Time

MITx is up to week 8 now, (with the week 9 material available) meaning we have just crossed the half way point. More importantly, we have just dealt with the course midterm; And since it was instantly graded I already know I received a 96% on the exam. Woo! This seems like a perfect time to update the progress of the course, and go over the exam procedure presented by MITx.

For the other parts of my review you can see:

  • Part 1: Introducing MITx's take on open education, and a look at the course ware platform
  • Part 2: Exploring 6.002x Circuit design, examining the content delivery tools
  • Part 3: A Students perspective after the first few weeks of class
  • Part 5: Surviving the Final, Closing thoughts, Future of open education

The Mid Term

Now I should start off by stating that because this is the prototype class, the exam is being handled a little differently then it would when MITx is fully released. For one thing, the exams for this course are free. The other difference is that normally the exams will be proctored.

The idea is that for the mid term and final, they want to make sure the person sitting in front of the computer taking the exam is the same person who's name is going to appear on the certificate. If people could just pay someone to log into their account and do it for them, the validity and reputation of the degree would be worthless. So future classes will probably require you to find a place which proctors exams to verify your identity and then enter a special code for you to do the exam while you are there.

The fee required to take the exam is probably intended to discourage people from simply taking the exam over and over again until they pass, although under their current model where classes occur over a specific 14 week schedule makes me wonder if that would still be relevant.

For this class though, I got to take the exam open notes in the comfort of my own home. While we do have access to all of our notes and previous work for the class, we are not aloud to discus the specific questions on the exam with any other students on the site (or anyone else for that matter) until the exam period is over. Now lets get to the exam introduction...

Exam Study Material

A few weeks before the midterm they released a study packet (both with and without answers) and gave us this announcement talking about the format of the exam:

  • The exam will be released in the courseware section on Wednesday, April 25th. It will be closed at the end of Sunday, April 29th. See the chart below for release and close times in selected time zones. The exam will consist of two elements in sequence: a cover sheet and the exam itself. Once you click past the cover sheet and open the exam, you will have twenty-four hours to complete it. Please be careful to keep track of your own time, as we have no mechanism to warn you when your time is about to expire.
    release close
    10:00pm GMT April 25th 12:00pm GMT April 30th
    5:00pm EST April 25th 7:00am EST April 30th
    2:00pm PST April 25th 4:00am PST April 30th
    3:30am IST April 26th 5:30pm IST April 30th
  • The format of the exam will be very similar to the homeworks, with one exception: you will have a limited number of opportunities to check your answers. You will only be able to check your answers three times before you will no longer be able change your response.

Basically the exam will be released in the same format as the homework was, with the one exception being that we have a limited number of submissions for each answer. I know in homeworks in the past I have made liberal use of the unlimited submissions to test methods or make sure I have earlier parts of the question right before moving on, so the limited submissions make it a little nerve wracking.

In fact, as an aside, I'm pretty sure that if I was allowed 4 submissions instead of 3, I would have gotten 100% on the exam. I didn't figure out the right method of solving the problem until my third attempt, at which point I made a stupid fat finger mistake in which I left out a value of my answer. Live and learn.

One thing I did notice while studying for the exam, is that the practice questions they had taken from previous on campus exams appeared to be much more difficult. This may simply be an issue of how they present the question, or that the online exam was intentionally more concise and polished... but I'll elaborate more on that later.

Amongst the various study material we had at our disposal, one of the really interesting things were the resources created by other students themselves. MITx even made a point of updating their front page to highlight some of these notes and tools other students had made which included flash cards, summary reviews, and so on. The class wiki has also been flushed out a lot since the course first started and support for it improved.

One particularly good source that was made public was a brief summary of all of the lectures up until week 6 which is the content the exam is covering. The material only makes sense to support what we have already learned from the course, but if your curious to see it you can check the link here. It is a very clean and precise summary of the class so far.

After a week of going over past home works, exercises, and summaries I was eager to take the exam when it was made first available.

Taking the Exam

The exam was released as a section in our courseware system, right between the week 6 and week 7 lectures. Clicking on it gave you an introduction page prefacing the exam, and warning that your 24 hour time limit would start when you first open the exam.

Personally, I started the exam at about 5:30pm and completed it at 10pm, but I had also stopped for an hour to go eat dinner and walk the dog.

The exam itself had 5 problems, each of which had multiple parts to it. As it is still before the final exam due date i can not speak as to the content of the questions, but for the most part it was a lot easier and shorter then I had thought it would be. It was also very similar to our homeworks in which there were a few relatively straight forward problems, and then one extremely tricky one requiring you to use existing known methods to solve something you may not have seen yet.

In one case, I got 4 out of the 6 parts of a problem correct when I submitted it, so I had to go back to those two parts I missed and try to figure out my error. When my second submission did not correct the error, I was a bit nervous in that I only had one try left, so I let the problem go for a bit to work on the others. (Eventually I got them right on my final submission, which I was not at all confident about at the time of clicking.)

In theory I could have slept on it as long as I finished before 5:30pm the next day. I was a little bit eager to get it out of the way first though. Besides, in my effort to keep a week ahead of the class material I still have readings and lectures to do this week which I haven't started yet. So I was happy to be able to put it out of mine, and am quite pleased by my performance.

Overall the exam was a lot shorter and a lot easier then I was expecting. A lot of the studying and review notes that were created actually didn't help all that much, but then there was also one extremely tricky question that required going through my notes quite a bit. It was also only on the first six weeks of class. The final for the class should be a bit longer (counts for 40% of our grade, the mid term only counts for 30%) and will cover all 14 weeks of the course.

Guinea Pigs

Reading on the MITx forums, I found out that there has been an MIT on campus group of students they have been using to test the content of this class. As it turns out, they only had a 2 hour pencils down time limit to complete the exam which is interesting to note. They did point out that the content and questions of our exams were exactly the same, but it still feels like we have had it significantly easier. I will be interested to see the time limit they put on the proctored exams once MITx is fully released.

That same guinea pigs class at MIT have also apparently caught a lot of errors or discrepancies in the course content before it has reached the MITx web students, so it sounds like they have been making good use out of their trail blazers.

State of the course: Post Midterm Review

They have definitely continued to tweak the system and how they deliver the content to students as time goes on. The exercise and after due date home work solutions have been condensed into sections for the individual weeks on the front page, which is nice. Other small details around the site have been enhanced or polished as well.

I do have some critique about how the course material is being dealt with though.

First, a lot of times in our weeks lectures/homework they will introduce a concept we haven't learned about yet and force us to work though it, only to fully explain the following week. For example this could result in you not being able to complete week 6 homework easily until after you have received the week 7 lectures. This is kind of fine in that the home work for week 6 isn't due until after week 7 anyway, but there is a definite feeling of disconnect between the teacher and student in this case.

The only reason I have made it through some of these is because of the community on the discussion forums which is quite frankly remarkable. Not only are there a number of people willing to help or who are working through similar problems as you, its always fun to see people doing it in completely different languages as well.

But the fact that there is this reliance on the community to make sense on some of this work, shows that some of the concepts are simply not being explained clearly enough. Many responses to tough home work problems include the phrase "the lecture really didn't explain this at all, but a source follower circuit actually behaves in this way".

That's another thing I have noticed. While the course goes though teaching the math and methods to analysis circuits; they fairly often gloss over or completely omit how some of the more interesting circuits can be used. You are expected to discover this using the analysis methods, but the class never at any point reinforces how these could be used for practical work. From what I have seen in some other outside material, this is different then how they teach this course or these circuits elsewhere.

The second thing I have to critique about the class is that with as hard as some of the work has been, the grading has been incredibly easy. The infinite submissions with the home work and labs make it fairly easy to get 100% on all of those, though they only account for 30% of your grade. The exam, which I was expecting to be more difficult, was made much easier because of its format, generous time limit, and the fact that it was open note.

Part of the issue is probably that the input for the homework and exams are fairly restrictive. For instance in the practice exam packet, you are asked more to draw out your circuits or graphs. The questions are a bit more abstract and require you to work through the problem before you can come to an answer. Since you can't really show your work on the course ware work though, and only have a text box to enter in your answers, the input and solutions for the graded problem are a lot more simple.

The other issue is that by comparison to some other instructional material on the web, it seems like the those sources involve a lot more complexity and teach the material at a lot higher level then what I am seeing in this class. Considering this course is from MIT... I was expecting a little more.

But then maybe that is just a difference in teaching philosophy. Maybe they have an intended level of audience they are targeting with their course material. Maybe this class is a lot more polished and focused to make it more comprehend-able then other classes. Or maybe the fact that I'm doing so well in my grades is because they have done such a great job of teaching me.

On the other hand when I've tried to read some of the information about circuits we have used in class on the web, I find they are talking about a lot of concepts or vectors I don't understand or that they simply haven't bothered to introduce in this class.

Tune in next time

The last part of my review for this class should occur after the final verdict is in (both for this course and my grade). By then I should be able to give another review of the exam process, as well as an overall summary of how MITx has grown since its initial launch. Even now, there are already a lot of questions in my mind about the future for the site; such as 'how will they handle programing or psychology classes?', 'what cost will be associated with certification?', or 'just how big of a course library do they plan to create?'.

For now, with the mid term behind me I'll have the time to get caught up with my other projects... Just after I finish this weeks lectures.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *