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A decade of OCW benefits: Drawing talent to MIT

OpenCourseWare gives student confidence that he can work at the MIT level.
MIT freshman Mat Peterson
MIT freshman Mat Peterson
Photo courtesy of Mathew Peterson

Since MIT OpenCourseWare was launched in 2001, millions of people from around the world have accessed OCW content to further their education. This series of occasional articles examines the ways in which OCW is making a difference in the lives of its users.

In his junior year at Klein Oak High School in Spring, Texas, Mat Peterson — now an MIT freshman — was struggling with his physics course. A friend of his recommended that he look at MIT OpenCourseWare, where Peterson turned to Walter Lewin's videos and found the help he needed.

Once he became aware of what OCW had to offer, Peterson also used the site to catch up on a missed calculus class using videos from 18.01. "I found the topic that I needed and watched the lecture. That really helped." Peterson continued to use OCW to supplement the calculus instruction he received at University of Houston during his senior year.

Working with the material on OCW gave Peterson confidence in his ability to study at the MIT level, but even more importantly, provided a window into an instructional approach that appealed to him. "The objective was to learn how to do things, not just plug data into formulas," he said. On OCW, Peterson saw how problem-solving approaches were used throughout the MIT curriculum.

Prior to looking at OCW, MIT had not even occurred to Peterson as a college option. No one from Klein Oak High School had ever gotten into MIT, and Peterson had expected he would attend one of the Texas state schools. "It had just seemed so out of reach beforehand," he said, describing the impact of the site. "It wasn't even on the table."

Now in his first year at MIT, Peterson says the environment is challenging, but he's doing well. In OCW, he even sees an opportunity to accelerate his study here at MIT. Though he'd taken calculus at University of Houston, he'd expected he would retake it at MIT, just to be sure he was adequately prepared for 18.03. "My calculus 3 course only covered the first three-fourths of what is covered in 18.02 here," he explained. However, with OCW, he can close the gap. "I can go through 18.02 [on OCW], refresh myself and go through the last five or six lectures." With OCW, he feels confident pushing ahead to 18.03.

Through OCW, Peterson has found a challenging educational environment, but one where he feels confident he can succeed. "This is an amazing place, and definitely very difficult, but I feel like I am meshing well with it."

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