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Online vs. on campus
In “Is MIT Giving Away the Farm?” (September/October 2012), Bethany LaPenta said of her online MITx class: “You didn’t have to deal with the technicalities of ‘Oh, is the wire in this resistor not working?’—technicalities that really slow down your learning. And you don’t have to worry about anything catching on fire.” For me, having trouble with the equipment did not slow down my learning; it was an important part of my learning.

In 1965 I was taking 6.01, Introduction to Electrical Engineering (no computer science then!), from Professor Amar Bose. In one lecture session, as he wrote on the board with his back turned, a circuit on the table began to smoke and then catch fire. That burned out. Then another component caught fire. Then a third. We wondered whether to grab the fire extinguisher or just wait and see what happened. As the smoke cleared, Professor Bose turned around and told us that all the theoretical knowledge we had about voltage, current, and resistance was woefully inadequate. Now we would learn about power and heat in circuits. This was one of the best audiovisual aids I have ever seen in a presentation.

The real value of an MIT education lies in on-campus experiences and relationships. What online students miss is the experience of the real world impinging upon our theoretical understanding. Experiencing the failure of wires and equipment in the lab is invaluable in preparing students for the real world. And there is nothing like a fire to “burn in” a lesson.

Combining practical experience with the received knowledge of book learning is at the core of what MIT does. Requiring students to deal with the practical side—and with other people—is a major factor in what makes MIT great. As Joi Ito observed (in another September/October article, “Connection Central”), the scarce resource is not technology or money but relationships. MIT’s focus on inclusiveness is a model for universities.

Still, I think MITx is a fabulous expansion of what MIT does for all of us. I believe it will not jeopardize the value of on-site education, but it will provide great benefit to thousands of people who would otherwise miss out.

Paul Flanagan ’67, SM ’68
Virginia Beach, Virginia

Salman Khan? Who’s that?
Some of my classmates had not heard of the 2012 commencement speaker (“Academic Wizard,” September/October 2012). I, on the other hand, was super-excited to hear him speak. As a graduating student soon to be licensed as a high-school teacher, I was inspired by the application of Sal Khan’s engineering skills to meet educational needs.

I had been introduced to Khan Academy’s vast online library of educational videos in MIT’s Scheller Teacher Education Program. A peer in 11.130, Educational Theory and Practice II, had used the videos in his Massachusetts achievement test prep class to individualize instruction for students who all struggled in math but with different topics.

Khan’s speech did not disappoint. His “delusional optimism” that he could revolutionize education resonated with me. His comments about MIT’s responsibility and current initiatives to share its educational resources made me proud to be from MIT.

I, like Khan, am indebted to MIT for instilling a love of learning. Now I aspire to impart that love of learning to others. As a teacher at an international high school in Beijing, I am starting to use Khan Academy in my 12th-grade Algebra 2 class. After diagnosing students’ specific math weaknesses, I assign them relevant videos to watch at home as they jot down notes and questions. Instead of lecturing in class and leaving the students to struggle through homework alone, I am trying to maximize our problem-solving time together.

Nydia Ruleman ’12
Beijing, China

The Department of Military Science
When reading the march/april 2012 issue, I was happy to see an article on ROTC (“Rank and File”). But it reported the disbanding of the Department of Military Science and Tactics shortly after the passage of the National Defense Act of 1916 and said that in 1917 it was “replaced by . . . MIT’s new army ROTC unit, the Paul Revere Battalion.”

In fact, the ROTC program I enrolled in as a freshman in 1949 was under the Department of Military Science and Tactics. The cadets chose from the Corps of Engineers, Chemical Corps, Ordinance Corps, Quartermaster Corps, Signal Corps, and Army Security Agency. The Air Force ROTC had a similar program. Later the Paul Revere Battalion was formed as a single organization concentrating more on solely military functions with cadets from MIT and other institutions. So while the Paul Revere Battalion cannot be presented as “one of the nation’s oldest ROTC units,” MIT apparently remains the home of one of the nation’s oldest ROTC programs.

John E. Rempert ’53
Torrance, California

Editor’s note: You’re right: in 1917, MIT’s Department of Military ­Science and Tactics became an ROTC unit that has been in continuous operation ever since. Eventually, it expanded to include cadets from other local universities and was renamed the Paul Revere Battalion.

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