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Strang's math lectures go on web

When Professor of Mathematics Gian-Carlo Rota died two years ago, his legendary lectures were lost with him. "He was a fantastic lecturer," said colleague Gilbert Strang. "It's a shame that we have zero record of any of his classes at MIT."

Professor Strang, also a professor of mathematics, said he's no Gian-Carlo Rota. But he hopes his videotaped lecture series on linear algebra will be helpful to MIT students and others outside MIT. This is one component of MIT World.

So, thanks to the Center for Advanced Educational Services (CAES) and funding from the Lord Foundation, anyone with a web video viewer can get up close and personal with eigenvectors or pick up a refresher class on the geometry of least squares.

All of Professor Strang's 18.06 lectures, held in Rm 26-100 in fall 1999, were videotaped. They were immediately put onto a web page for free student access throughout the world. Although there was no advertising or announcement, the 18.06 web page has had 128,000 hits.

A first-year computer science student from the University of Toronto thanked MIT and Professor Strang for access to the lectures. "I was having so much difficulty visualizing and 'getting the big picture' of all those n dimensions at first. I understand it better now after watching the lectures and I actually love linear algebra," she wrote.

"I suppose my teaching style is more informal than a highly rehearsed and practiced lecture might be," Professor Strang said. "If you pick a lecture in the middle of the semester, it will probably be better."

With future funding, the lectures could become the foundation of a web-based tutor similar to a CAES program called Physics Interactive Virtual Tutor or PIVOT, said Richard C. Larson, director of CAES.

PIVOT is an interactive learning web-based environment that augments undergraduate teaching in core science courses. Taught by Professor of Physics Walter Lewin, the initial focus of the project is one of the required freshman subjects that MIT students find most difficult: introductory Newtonian physics.

President Emeritus Paul Gray, professor of electrical engineering, is teaching Circuits and Electronics (6.002) this term. He is doing eight videos on concepts that have been difficult for some students to understand. Called tutorials, the videos are designed specifically for web delivery and are being prepared and presented separately from classroom lectures, with exhibits by Professor Gray.

While not officially part of MIT World, this effort is another example of how MIT's best in both teaching and research can be presented to the MIT community via asynchronous web delivery, Mr. Larson said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 21, 2001.

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