Diagram of cube with different aspects of the course on each face.

Image courtesy of Daniel Kolodrubetz.

What is a MOOC? Ask yourself this question, and what probably comes to mind is an introductory undergraduate course like 6.00.1x Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python or 7.00x Introduction to Biology—The Secret of Life.

But the universe of online learning is ever expanding, and the stereotype of the MOOC as basic undergraduate fare is being shattered, with new experiments in online education arising every day.

A prime example of this phenomenon is 8.EFTx Effective Field Theory, a graduate-level course in quantum physics created by Professor Iain Stewart, to be offered on the edX platform starting on September 16.

This course is decidedly not for everyone. Effective Field Theory (EFT) is a fundamental framework to describe physical systems with quantum field theory.  Some of the topics the course covers include:

  • The Standard Model of particle physics as an effective field theory (EFT)
  • The weak bosons, W and Z, and the Higgs boson as predicted by the Standard Model
  • Chiral perturbation theory (ChPT), an effective field theory (EFT)
  • Static effective field theories such as Heavy-Quark Effective Theory (HQET)
  • Soft-Collinear Effective Theory (SCET), a theory for collider physics

While the lingo may seem intimidating to non-initiates, Professor Stewart’s goal is simple enough: to bring MIT-caliber graduate physics to physics students and instructors around the world. The edX platform provides an effective way to do this.

OCW for Preparation and Prerequisites

Meanwhile, OCW offers a wealth of complementary resources to prepare for the MOOC. Begin by examining Professor Stewart’s 8.851 Effective Field Theory, the OCW representation of Professor Stewart’s course as taught on campus in Spring 2013. The OCW site has videos of all of Professor Stewart’s lectures.

OCW also has the prerequisite course for 8.851, 8.324 Relativistic Quantum Field Theory II, as taught in Fall 2010 by Hong Liu. Professor Stewart usually recommends that students also take his 8.325 Relativistic Quantum Field Theory III , whose Spring 2007 version is available on OCW.

People who want even more background can explore the prerequisites for 8.324 on OCW: 8.322 Quantum Theory II and 8.323 Relativistic Quantum Field Theory I.

Professor Stewart and his colleagues in the MIT physics department have thus made a wealth of graduate-level resources on quantum physics available to the world, and the launching of the 8.EFTx MOOC in September will extend this effort in a new direction even as it illustrates how OCW and MITx can resonate sympathetically in the brave new world of online learning.