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