Review: MITx’s Online Circuit Design and Analysis Course

This latest experiment in remote learning is not for a casual audience

3 min read
Anant Agarwal led the first course to be offered under MITs new large-scale free online learning initiative.
Photo: M. Scott Brauer/MIT

MIT’s Anant Agarwal has a thing for chain saws. The professor of electrical engineering and computer science said so himself as he welcomed his vast horde of online students. And it was a horde: More than 150 000 of us from dozens of countries had signed up for MIT’s inaugural MOOC, or massively open online course, which began in early March and ended in June. The course, dubbed 6.002x, was an adaptation of MIT’s undergraduate class in circuit design and analysis and was part of the university’s MITx initiative, which aims to offer anyone with an Internet connection access to a selection of its courses. Participants were lured by some powerful enticements: the prestige of MIT, the opportunity to learn from a renowned professor, and the price—free. Although MIT has made course materials publicly available for over a decade, this is its first online class involving scheduled instruction, supervision, and testing. Only participants who formally signed up for the 6.002x course can earn a credential certifying successful completion; MIT has not announced when the course will be offered again.

In an early recorded lecture, which plays as a YouTube video, Agarwal dons full Blues Brothers regalia to demonstrate noise margins, a chain saw his source of system noise as he bobs to a disco tune, while laughter resounds in the classroom. But any 6.002xers who mistook his professorial charisma for a lack of seriousness, expecting a gentle tiptoe through circuitry basics, were swiftly disillusioned. The curriculum, identical to that of the classroom MIT course, was challenging. Spanning almost the entirety of the 1000-page course textbook, which Agarwal coauthored, each of the 14 weeks of class included 2 to 4 hours of lectures, online exercises interspersed with lecture sequences, a homework problem set, and an online lab, which involved building and testing simulated circuits. Optional video tutorials supplemented the lectures with solved problems and math refreshers. Midterm and final examinations rounded out the busy calendar.

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