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MIT’s “IOTx Internet of Things” Online Course: First Impressions

This image was originally posted to Flickr by wilgengebroed at http://flickr.com/photos/82655797@N00/8249565455. It was reviewed on 13 May 2014 by the FlickreviewR robot and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.

MIT has created the Professional Education Digital Programs, to provide online video courses to professionals who are interested in self-paced online learning opportunities.

As they say on their website:

[The program] aims to deliver timely, relevant programs to a global audience of scientists, engineers, technicians, managers, consultants, and others from industry, government, the military, non-profit, and academia.

The moment I heard about the new Internet of Things (IoT) course, called “IOTx Internet of Things: Roadmap to a Connected World”, I signed up. I wanted to hear from academic world experts on this topic which is going to shake up the world we live in, even more than the internet did.

The definition of what is IoT is very broad, but overall it is about how physical objects are connected to each other and to the internet, to sense, analyze, and control the world around us. IoT covers a vast and growing range of products and technologies including smart home products like Nest thermostats, connected cars like the Tesla, wearables like Fitbits and Google Glasses, as well as many uses in the industrial manufacturing and other industries.

The course started on April 12 and these are my early impressions from the first week.

Course Syllabus

The course syllabus is outlined here. It covers several main topics, which are then divided into subtopics. Each subtopic contains a number of easily consumable videos which usually range in length from five to twelve minutes.

The video lengths are well chosen to allow for easy streaming and self pacing. The audience taking this course is presumably not able to give it full attention for long periods of time – it is probably being fitted in after work, perhaps viewed from home, and therefore learning in this manner is prone to frequent interruptions. So, it is convenient to be able to quickly consume a video or two, when there is a free moment.

At the end of a topic there is a dedicated discussion area, and an assessment quiz which is marked to gain a “passing grade” to be awarded a course certificate. There is a progress page that helps you identify how you are tracking relative to the expected pace, and identify any problem areas (based on the assessment quizzes). I find that approach helpful to indicate relative level of understanding as otherwise this would be hard to assess.

Transcripts

Each video contains a full transcript, which scrolls down in sync as the video progresses. I really love this transcript feature. I can easily refresh my understanding of a video I have seen by clicking on the transcript next to it, in order to jump back and forth in the video, or I can do the same by using the fast forward and back buttons, or clicking on the video timeline.

As this is the first offering of the course, there are a few typos in the transcripts which I’m sure will soon be fixed.

One feature that would be nice to have would be to download all PowerPoint and transcript files as a single zip file, rather than have to assemble them individually, video by video (since there are scores of those).

The Professors

Just as with a regular university, the key to the success of an online course is the quality of the professors.

Luckily, the professors are renowned subject matter experts, which becomes clear when listening to them discuss the topic – it is obvious because of the extreme breadth and clarity of what they discuss. I have gained a lot of insights already in a very short space of time.

Sanjay Sarma is the Dean of Digital Learning at MIT and introduces the course, as well as speaking about his firsthand experience developing the RFID protocol.

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, speaks about the Web of Things, (which is the level of applications that operates “above” the Internet of Things, sort of the way mobile applications operate “above” the internet technologies).

Another great professor is David Clark, Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He gives what I feel is a particularly insightful series on the lessons learned from the architecture of the internet – in fact I found his discussion on the design flaws of the internet to be like a kind of therapy, explaining the root of all the pain we have encountered while building websites and applications for the last twenty years πŸ™‚

I’m perhaps a third of the way through the course and I’m hopeful that the other professors will be just as insightful and articulate as these first ones (not that I doubt it).

Discussion Forums

The forum platform doesn’t allow search (it’s apparently part of the edX platform but disabled). The ability to search across discussions would be helpful. [Updated 2016-04-20 at 3 pm EST] Search does work in forums – my error! Khaled Gharaibeh mentioned that if you check the small text box near the “All discussions” filter it works. Also having the ability to quickly view information on who posted (right now it just shows username). So forums are functional but fairly rudimentary.

The teaching assistants (TAs) are very active and helpful in the discussion forums, but it doesn’t appear that the professors themselves are posting. Hopefully at least some of them will participate in the forum discussions at some point.

There are a few other discussions happening via the course’s official LinkedIn and Facebook groups. It is not clear which of those will continue after the course, in case participants want to keep in touch or continue the conversation.

So Far So Good

Since this is an online-only format, regular high-speed internet is vital. I am currently “on the road” and had intermittent internet issues recently, and of course couldn’t watch the videos or participate in the discussions while this was underway. However my internet woes apart, overall I find the course videos to be smooth and the platform very stable.

The course costs about $500 USD, which due to the unfortunate Canadian to US dollar exchange rate meant I paid about 50% more. The bill including exchange rate was a bit high for online videos and discussion forums, but overall I still feel that I am getting my money’s worth because this is a level of material, deep insight, and discussion that I have struggled to find elsewhere.

I therefore highly recommend this course to anyone interested in taking a deep dive and learning more about the huge changes the Internet of Things will bring to our world.

Note: The Featured Image is a drawing uploaded on WikiPedia page IoT entry and created by Wilgengebroed on Flickrhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/wilgengebroed/8249565455/ and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic terms.

 

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hi, great review. You must feel lucky paying only 50% more, I live in Colombia, where 1 USD is multiplied by 3, so figure out how much I paid for this great course, I feel a very very lucky person taking this course πŸ™‚

    Like

    April 23, 2016
  2. helena #

    Hi, wonder if you could share the impression of the course? I’m tempted but on the other hand i was somewhat disappointed by their Big Data course i took this year (the first offering) – a lot of material was outdated – recorded in 2013-14 and contents looked like slapped together and not always coherent… thanks much!

    Like

    November 11, 2016
    • Hi Helena, thanks for commenting!

      I haven’t taken their Big Data course so cannot compare the two. My overall impression having completed the IoT course was that it was good value for money. I had been able to find some information on all these concepts online, but nowhere was there a comprehensive overview. The videos were extremely helpful to help me get a much better understanding of the topic areas, fit together well, and were coherent. The discussion forums raised a lot of interesting ideas. Months later I still think about some of the lessons learned in the course when I read or see IoT news or devices around me. I hope that helps?

      Like

      November 15, 2016
  3. Abhilash #

    I was planning on taking this course – I was wondering – If the course helped you in terms of applying the knowledge at work. Could you please share your thoughts on how this course helped you at work ?

    Like

    March 10, 2017
    • Hi Abhilash, thanks for commenting! I didn’t use this for work, it is just a personal interest of mine. However, I am an IT professional and based on that experience I would say it is an excellent starting point/overview of the field. I have since started taking Big Data and AI courses online and they tie into this course nicely. What kind of work do you do, may I ask?

      Like

      March 10, 2017
      • Abhilash #

        I am a Senior Test Engineer working in the Embedded Systems space. I work for a Hardware company. But lately there is a transition going on in the industry for Product companies from being a HW –> Solution based company where IoT is going to become more prevalent than ever.

        PS: I am just curious – what happened to my reply to your comment. I did reply a few days back. It seems like it was never got posted to the public.

        Like

        March 20, 2017
      • It’s my fault Abhilash – I forgot to approve your original comment- sorry!
        As an IT professional I would the course is definitely worth taking. I think IoT is going to be extremely difficult field – you have to be an expert at software on embedded devices (which is tough) plus the hardware side. And there are many issues that haven’t been figured out yet, not least the security/privacy aspect which we are seeing is a giant problem. The reason I loved the IoT course is it gave me a deep overview on many of the big “questions” – which is a starting point.

        Like

        March 20, 2017
  4. Yash #

    Hi Charles,
    I am not an CS/IT professional but have medium proficiency in programming as a Mechanical Engineer. I am very interested in IoT and an upcoming offering of this course. I am thinking of taking the course but worried as the intended audience seems to be CS and EE. What parts of the course require CS knowledge that others may not have? Is this something that non-CS students will struggle with without proper background?
    I would appreciate any information.

    Like

    March 27, 2017
    • Hi Yash, thanks for commenting!

      The course does touch a lot on “big data” analytics and artificial intelligence, and on wireless and GIS/spatial technologies. But, I don’t feel the course required any particular CS or IT knowledge that you wouldn’t be aware of if you use modern computer technologies like web applications and mobile devices.

      Personally I think most people coming to a course like this will be on the “hardware” side or the “software” side, but rarely both. For instance I have extensive software experience but extremely limited hardware knowledge. I didn’t find that to be an inhibitor.

      My big takeaway from the course was it was an excellent “single source” overview of the emerging IoT and related fields. IoT is an ovewhelming thing, it seems to require an understanding of hardware technology interacting at multiple levels with embedded software and eventually cloud software, big data, and AI. And, as hard as those technical challenges are, it poses numerous legal, financial, social, practical, environmental, and ethical challenges that the world isn’t ready for. Challenges we are often not even discussing.

      I thought the course and the community did an excellent job raising many of these questions, and posing possible ways to explore them.

      Like

      March 31, 2017
  5. Yash #

    Thanks, Charles!

    Like

    April 1, 2017

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