New courses on vision and hearing

Drawings of human retina and the human ear with a cochlear implant .

The human retina and the human ear with a cochlear implant. (Retina image by MIT OpenCourseWare; ear image courtesy of NIH.)

In this blog, we’ve highlighted how OpenCourseWare and MOOCs can play complementary roles in learning.

For instance, OCW courses can support you with “just-in-time” refreshers on prerequisite knowledge for a MOOC. On the other hand, after a MOOC has piqued your curiosity, OCW courses are great ways to keep learning.

Here’s an example of the latter. Starting on November 18, MITx on edX will be running a 4-week MOOC that introduces the fascinating neuroscience of vision. 9.01.1x Light, Spike, and Sight: The Neuroscience of Vision is “a journey through the eye, retina and brain, revealing how light translates into nerve signals that encode the visual world.” The course is geared toward a general audience, requiring no specific prerequisites. Here’s a video introduction:


To learn more about the neuroscience of vision, and also explore the sense of hearing, check out OCW’s new course 9.04 Sensory Systems. At MIT, this course is a follow-up to introductory neuroscience courses, usually taken in the junior or senior year. It dives deeply into the neural bases of visual and auditory processing for perception and sensorimotor control.

Co-taught by Professors Peter Schiller and Chris Brown, this OCW course has a complete set of lecture videos. Here’s the introductory lecture:

Transitioning to College via a MOOC

Photo of balls scattering on a pool table.

Mechanics plays out on the pool table. (Courtesy of Brian DeMalo on Flickr.)

Coming soon to MITx on edX is a new kind of MOOC—a MOOC to help high school students better prepare for college. Many students who arrive at college find themselves struggling with the courses they must take, as their high school experience has not provided them with the necessary preparation to do well at college. Most current MOOC offerings already reflect the rigor of college instruction, and less well-prepared students struggle to take advantage of these exciting new learning experiences. Instead of jumping forward, they are frustrated from the start.

edX has taken steps to remedy this situation by creating the edX High School Initiative. Its goal is to address the student “readiness gap” and make MOOC learning at the college level easier for those in need of additional preparation. The hope is to “provide a path to life-long continuous education,” edX CEO Anant Agarwal said recently when announcing the Initiative.

edX will start off with 27 new online courses, including Advanced Placement® (AP®)* courses and other high school courses in a wide variety of subject areas.

Among the first offerings is 8.MechCx AP Physics C: Mechanics, which starts on January 8, 2015 and runs for 13 weeks. This is a college-level Introductory Newtonian Mechanics course that covers the topics and learning objectives specified in the syllabus of the College Board for an AP Physics, Mechanics C course. Emphasizing that all mechanics is about how forces change motion, the course covers Kinematics in Two Dimensions, Newton’s Laws, Mechanical Energy, Momentum, Rigid Body Rotation and Dynamics, and Angular Momentum. The goal is to help students learn and practice how experts in physics solve problems that are similar to problems on previous AP Examinations in Mechanics C.

The lead instructor for this course is MIT Professor David Pritchard, a pioneering atomic physicist who has applied his research abilities to the field of online learning for many years. He leads an education research group, Research in Learning, Assessing, and Tutoring Effectively. 8.MechCx is the fifth MOOC that this group has authored and run.

Students interested in taking 8.MechCx can give themselves a head start by checking out OCW’s Highlights for High School, our collection of open educational resources for high school students and teachers. The collection includes resources that are mapped to topics in the AP science curriculum, including physics.

— Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

* Advanced Placement and AP are registered trademarks of the College Board.

The Simple Genius of the Blackboard (Slate)

Slate recently profiled the blackboard (they are Slate, after all…), calling it “the most ingenious teaching device ever invented.”

Although our position in the Office of Digital Learning has us thinking about devices with more pixels and wires, we still appreciate the beauty and utility of the modest chalk and blackboard classroom.

If you’re in the mood to watch an MIT professor expertly wield chalk against slate, here are a few OCW favorites:

Highlights of Calculus by Prof. Gilbert Strang

Quantum Physics I by Prof. Allan Adams

Circuits and Electronics by Prof. Anant Agarwal

These and many others are among our collection of audio and video lectures.

The Sweet Side of Chemistry

Image promoting National Chemistry Week, with lots of candy.

National Chemistry Week is October 19-25, 2014. (Image courtesy of American Chemical Society.)

It’s National Chemistry Week! This yearly event, organized by the American Chemical Society, encourages chemists and chemistry enthusiasts to promote the value of chemistry in everyday life. This year’s theme is “The Sweet Side of Chemistry — Candy.”

Indulge your sweet tooth while learning something new with these two highlights from the OCW collection.

In Kitchen Chemistry, ice cream is both a tasty recipe and a pathway for learning about temperature-driven phase transitions and the colloidal state.  Other foods from scones and coffee to 3-bean chili round out the menu.

And in this video from Chemistry Behind the Magic: Chemical Demonstrations for the Classroom (a resource in OCW’s Highlights for High School), a gummy bear donates its body to science.


These are just two of many great chemistry resources in OCW. Highlights for High School has a particularly rich collection of chemistry content geared toward high school students and teachers, with several engaging video series, highlights from introductory MIT courses, and exam prep resources.

Also, check out these lists of all OCW courses from MIT’s Chemistry department, and all OCW courses on chemistry topics from every MIT department.

Scanning to Stun

Photo of a raw chicken egg on a black background.

Raw egg on a flatbed scanner. (Courtesy of Felice Frankel.)

Flatbed scanners are wonderfully handy things. They allow you to make digitized copies of print documents in seconds. They give old photos a new life as image files. They make sharing these things quick and easy.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could use scanners to make images of 3-D objects as well?

In fact, you can!

Thanks to Felice Frankel and her new OCW video series Making Science and Engineering Pictures, you can learn how to create images of objects that convey a real sense of three dimensions and are stunning in their extraordinary detail.

Felice Frankel is a science photographer and research scientist who works at MIT’s Center for Materials Science and Engineering  and departments of Chemical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. You’ve probably seen her photographs already in National Geographic, Nature, Science, Scientific American, and other journals and magazines, and perhaps in the books she has published.

Felice wants everyone to share in her understanding of how to use a high-resolution flatbed scanner to make finely detailed images—so finely detailed they rival the photographs she takes with an expensive camera.

In a series of four demonstration videos, followed by two how-to videos, Felice shows the tricks of this not-so-well-known trade.  A flatbed scanner has a single unadjustable light source that moves across the scanning plane in a single direction, so there’s no fussing with lighting to vary effects. The image-maker must use other methods to create engaging images.

What methods? Varying the position of the object, applying different backgrounds, directing the light from below or from above, even leaving the scanner cover open—all these things can produce very different artistic effects.

Using these methods, Felice shows how she has created high-resolution images of petri dishes, solar cells, microfluidic displays, watch gears, an agate, even a raw egg—images that can then be zoomed in on to show details at the level of 30 to 50 microns.

The videos in this OCW series are part of a more extensive online course in image-making that Felice plans to produce for MITx in 2015.

But why not get a head start now with this OCW resource!

— Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Dava Newman nominated for NASA post (MIT News)

A woman wearing a form-fitting space suit.

Prof. Newman is known for her research on form-fitting spacesuits that allow for greater mobility than traditional suits. Photograph by Douglas Sonders.

David L. Chandler | MIT News Office
October 17, 2014

The White House has announced the nomination of MIT’s Dava Newman, professor of aeronautics and astronautics and of engineering systems, as NASA’s deputy administrator, the space agency’s No. 2 leadership position. Newman’s appointment will require approval by the U.S. Senate.

Newman’s research has included the development of a radical new spacesuit design that is tighter-fitting and would afford much greater mobility and lighter weight than today’s bulky pressure suits. She has focused on quantifying astronaut performance in space, including computer modeling of the dynamics of human motion in microgravity conditions. Newman has also developed exercise countermeasures, serving as principal investigator for three spaceflight experiments, and specializes in understanding partial-gravity locomotion for future planetary exploration. Her development of patented, wearable compression suits has also led her into research on assistive technologies for people with locomotion impairment.

“It’s very exciting, and an enormous honor,” Newman says of her nomination as NASA’s deputy administrator. “Aerospace engineering, of course, is my passion. Maybe I’ve been training for this my whole life!” Read more on MIT News.

You can learn more about Prof. Newman’s research and teaching in her three courses on OCW:

Magilla Gorilla as philosophical inspiration

A cartoon gorilla.

Magilla Gorilla (c) Hanna-Barbera

The spark that ignites one’s lifelong pursuit…you never know where it will come from.

MIT philosophy professor Stephen Yablo has a rather unusual story, as told in his recent interview with 3AM Magazine.

3:AM: What made you become a philosopher?

Stephen Yablo: Hmmmm. I guess it was Hebrew school. The teacher said that we must never judge God, since we don’t know a thing about him. I was in love at the time with Magilla Gorilla, a cartoon character. He struck me as a higher sort of being. This sounded nutty, I realized, and I kept it to myself. Then on hearing that nothing was known about God, I inferred that in particular it wasn’t known that he was not my loveable ape. I was told on raising this question in class that one thing was known after all; God was not Magilla. This confused me enough to start me down the road to philosophy. Read more >

[As reported in Said and Done, the monthly newsletter of MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.]

You can sample Prof. Yablo’s teaching in these OCW courses.