Turning edX into a Mom-and-Pop Business

by Joe McGonegal on September 12, 2013

in Learning, Student Life

When Rishi Patel ’14 first stepped into Professor Anant Agarwal’s Circuits and Electronics class at MIT in 2011, he was hooked.

After telling his parents how great 6.002 was, Patel had a strange experience: his mother and father signed up for it, too.

The next spring, 155,000 others joined the Patel parents in enrolling in 6.002x, Circuits and Electronics, the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) offered by edX, which Agarwal now leads as president.

Sonal Patel P'14 chats with President Reif about edX at his 2012 inauguration.

Sonal Patel P’14 chats with President Reif about edX at his 2012 inauguration.

Only 7 percent completed the course and received a certificate. Sonal Patel, Rishi’s mother, is proud to have been one of them. She even asked Agarwal and President L. Rafael Reif to autograph her certificate.

“Rishi said, ‘Okay, take it if you want to, but don’t ask me for help!’” Patel recalls. “He was a little surprised to see his parents doing p-sets at this age! Still, it was the best experience and the best way to connect with MIT and our child.”

Agarwal himself acknowledges that embracing contemporary technology has helped him better communicate with his own teenage daughter. “Let’s not fight this in [the] classroom,” he said in a TedGlobal talk this year. “Let’s embrace technology and the millennial generation’s natural predilections.”

Sonal Patel has since enrolled in two more edX courses. In online discussion groups, she found a growing body of MIT parents like herself taking their children’s courses alongside, or soon after, them. This year, she formed a Facebook group for them, a place to recommend courses, discuss their children and name their favorite professors.

Chris Gunning ’82 joined the group.

“I’m a big believer in edX,” says Gunning. “It’s a fantastic resource for students of all ages all over the world.”

Gunning also enrolled in Professor Agarwal’s 6.002x class, which he loved as a student 30 years ago. “I was interested in seeing how the online class compared to it. I really enjoyed Professor Agarwal’s presentation style and taking the class was a great refresher for me,” he says.

Gunning’s daughter Victoria is a Course 6-3 junior. “She hasn’t taken any classes through edX, but she highly recommended 7.00x, Intro to Biology, based on how much she enjoyed Professor [Eric] Lander in 7.012,” he says. “I look forward to starting it this week.”

Vani Thilagar’s daughter Lasya took 6.00, Introduction to Programming, in 2011 and highly recommended it to her mother, who took the virtual version the following fall.

Both her daughter and her high school son, Thilagar recalls, got a kick of seeing their mother back at school.

Patel's 6.002x certificate, signed by Professor Agarwal and President Reif.

Patel’s 6.002x certificate, signed by Professor Agarwal and President Reif.

“They would check up on me–’Did you finish your assignment yet?’ and ‘Don’t procrastinate, it can take longer than you think!” Thilagar recalls. “Sometimes they were very helpful, saying, ‘We’ll take care of making dinner, you go finish your exam.’ Finally, they said they were very proud of me when I got an A!”

Thilagar speaks with the vim of any first-year student when the fire is first lit within. And now she’s hooked, too. She signed up for Antropology 207x, Intro to Human Evolution, this fall.

“What really drove me to edX, and [certain] classes in particular, was taking a class that I knew that my daughter had taken or would eventually take,” says Ric Cazares P’15, who has completed 6.002x and MechE 2.01x. “Even though our respective experiences with the classes are very different, I feel good knowing that I have a feel for a couple of her classes.”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Horst Fischer September 16, 2013 at 2:09 pm

I signed up for 6.002x for similar reasons but then my son (’15) ended up doing aerospace, not electrical engineering. I still did quite well and I cherish my 6.002x certificate and put it up my in my office for my biology students/colleagues to see.

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