MITx Certificate in Computer Science Using Python

January 23rd, 2014



Ron Fredericks writes: I completed the first of 7 MITx courses in the new Foundations in Computer Science XSeries titled “6.00.1x Introduction to Computer Science and Programming using Python.” The XSeries in computer science offered by the M.I.T. Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is a sequence of courses that introduce key concepts of computer science and computational thinking. Python, Java, Digital Circuits, Programmable Architectures, and Computer Systems Organization are covered by this series of courses.

It was a pleasure to take this course with such an expert teacher leading the videos, Dr. Eric Grimson, chancellor of MIT’s EE and CS departments. I noticed that one of professor Grimson’s best teaching skills was his ability to cover a topic with surprisingly short videos. Yet he covered the material well and made the material memorable with historical anecdotes or useful insights.

Course Stats

Because each video in the course is unlisted on YouTube, it is reasonable to use each video’s view count as an indicator of student activity. There were 98 videos in the course totaling 12 hours and 10 minutes spread over an 8 week period. Each video is on average 7.5 minutes long. The number of views (and proportional estimate to the decline in the number of active students by extension), follows a typical power law distribution. I see a similar power curve using LectureMaker’s Cross-domain Video Distribution Platform where % watched is a standard analytics tool measuring viewer engagement. See chart below where the purple curve is the estimated power curve:

VideoViewsChart

Another interesting review comes from the likes and dislikes recorded with each of the 98 YouTube videos. The distribution of student “likes” over the course period seems to have several spikes, even as the number of views per course is decreasing as shown in the previous chart. See the chart below:

LikesDislikesChart

I have labeled several of the peaks where students appear to vote highly for a particular video from A to I in the chart above. Here is a list of the videos voted highly by the students:

Symbol in Chart Week Number Lecture Number Lecture Topic Video Title
A 1 1 Introduction to Computation Introduction
 
B 1 2 Core Elements of Programs Introduction
 
C 1 2 Core Elements of Programs Branching Programs
 
D 2 4 Functions Computing Powers as an Example
 
E 3 5 Recursion Towers of Hanoi
 
F 4 7 Debugging Debugging as Search
 
G 5 9 Efficiency and Orders of Growth Measuring Complexity
 
H 5 10 Memory and Search Amortized Cost Analysis: Demo
 
I 8 Research Videos Dr. Fredo Durand 3D Computer Graphics

Certificate

Each course comes with a permanent link to a proof of completion called an honor certificate. The completed series comes with a final XSeries certificate. Total cost for the program is estimated at $425.

Here is a permanent link to my course honor certificate

Grade

While each course certificate states that the student passed the course. A grade is also assigned for the student’s benefit.

Note that each quiz, test, midterm, and final are auto-graded. The multiple choice questions and python source code are all auto-graded. The auto-grader did get confused on a few of my source code submissions. The confusion came from code comments using key words that the auto-grader mistook for live python grammar. I solved this problem by submitting my code samples without comments. In some cases the problems where auto-graded incorrectly through teaching staff errors. These errors were announced and handled as best they could. Because of the rarity in auto-grading problems, I found that the policy of throwing out my worst test score solved any remaining issues I may have had around grading issues.

Here is a copy of my grade (click image to enlarge):

grade_snippet

Progress

This course included 8 weeks of instruction with:

  • Multiple problem sets during each week,
  • An end of week problem set,
  • A midterm, and
  • A final exam.

I found the evolving progress report helpful to stay motivated to complete the course. There are horizontal grid marks for various milestones such as passing and grade levels. The lowest weekly problem set is automatically thrown out, as marked by the “x”. I wish a student average for the course could have been included as well.

Here is a what my progress report looks like (click image to enlarge):

progress

Courseware

The courseware includes several features and navigation menus. See image below to match discussion with each red letter.

A
Along the top are the main course services:

  • Courseware – As shown in image below with video instruction and links to all other course services.
  • Updates and News – changes, errors, and comments from teaching staff.
  • Calendar – Due dates for problem sets, midterm date, and final date.
  • Wiki – Support material and useful links supplied by students and teaching staff.
  • Discussion – A link to all discussion threads launched by students. Each video segment (several per week) has a discussion, merged together into this link.
  • Progress – Individual progress report, summary (as shown in image above), along with each graded exercise.
  • Textbook – A link to the official text book. Textbook is optionally and offered at about 50% discount.

B
Down the left margin are links to each week’s course material. Each week becomes available according to the calendar. When the course is completed, the full course is still available as an archive. See Week 7 is the image below for details.

C
Each lecture includes a ribbon of activities as shown horizontally just above the current video – with icons for each video, tests, and additional material (icon not shown) in a time ordered sequence.

D
Each video includes a time encoded transcript to the right of the video. As the video progresses, the text is highlighted. A student can click on the text and the video will preposition to that portion of the text. The video can be downloaded for those with slow Internet, and the timed transcript can be downloaded as well.

E
Each lesson includes a slide set that can be downloaded as well as any software examples discussed.

F
Each lesson includes a discussion forum where students can post questions or comments. Some discussions end up with improved ranking based on “+1” clicks by students. Teaching staff can also mark a discussion as useful with a unique icon as well. These per video discussion threads are grouped into one common discussion link discussed above (in section “A”) so ideas can be searched or further ranked by interest.

Here is what the courseware looks like (click image to enlarge):

Sample_Course_Page_Week7

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