EdX Adds Physics Course to Spring Course Roster

Renowned MIT physics professor and virtual education veteran Walter Lewin has added his popular course on electricity and magnetism to this spring’s edX class offerings, announced the online educational platform on Tuesday.

EdX, a not-for-profit venture launched jointly by Harvard and MIT in spring of 2012, aims to expand access to educational courses and revolutionize online and on-campus learning. Lewin’s course is the latest addition to edX’s spring selection, which includes new 2013 offerings such as “Justice” from Michael J. Sandel and “The Ancient Greek Hero” from Gregory Nagy.

Lewin’s course, MITx 8.02 Electricity and Magnetism, is a second semester introductory physics class that covers electric and magnetic fields, electromagnetism, and the nature of light as well as other topics like big-bang cosmology, superconductivity, and color perception. The course is based on the on-campus class that he taught at MIT in the spring of 2002 and will be accompanied by problem-solving sessions and interactive simulations on course material.

“My lectures in MIT have always been very unusual, very special,” said Lewin, who returned from retirement to work full-time on his edX courses. “Physics is my life, and teaching is in my blood.”

Known for his lively demonstrations and animated delivery, Lewin has been making his lectures available to students around the world for over two decades. In 1983, Lewin began offering instruction through MIT Cable TV, and twelve years later, the University of Washington TV station began screening his lectures to a broad audience of various ages.

More recently, Lewin has posted his lectures on MIT’s OpenCourseWare, iTunes, and YouTube. His courses on Newtonian mechanics, electricity and magnetism, and vibrations and waves have attracted international fame and front page acclaim from The New York Times, which coined the professor a “web star” in 2007. According to his profile on MIT’s website, his lectures reach almost two million people everyday.

Describing edX as an “unprecedented breakthrough” comparable to the invention of the printing press, he said that he predicts two, longer-term effects of virtual education through edX: first, that students enrolled at universities like Harvard and MIT may begin taking virtual versions of certain courses in place of traditional, in-person courses, and second, that students may bypass lower-quality colleges and universities and opt for virtual education instead.

“These certificates may have enormous impact on their lives,” said Lewin of students who successfully complete courses from edX, particularly those with limited access to higher education in their home countries.

Lewin’s physics research and dynamic style of teaching has attracted many awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1984 and MIT’s Everett Moore Baker Teaching Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2003. His course is currently open for enrollment and will begin on Feb. 18. He said that he is currently preparing a virtual course on mechanics for this fall and plans to offer a third course in the future.

—Staff writer Nikita Kansra can be reached at nkansra01@college.harvard.edu.