In this section, Dr. Jeremy Orloff and Dr. Jonathan Bloom describe how readings and reading questions were used in 18.05.
Students were expected to complete a reading before each Tuesday/Thursday class. Each reading was roughly ten pages in length and intended to be fairly quick, with lots of examples and lots of white space. In class, we assumed the students had done the reading, that they had looked through the examples, and that they could dive into working on a problem right away. We did a minimal amount of lecturing in class.
We wrote the readings ourselves. This allowed us to cover precisely the content we wanted to cover, in precisely the way we wanted it covered. Our understanding is that students generally like targeted readings more than videos; targeted readings focus on exactly what the students need and can be reviewed more quickly than videos can be reviewed.
Alongside the readings, we posted online reading questions through our MITx site. These were multiple choice or numerical answer questions that were automatically graded through the site, and students were expected to complete them before class. The questions were intended to be relatively easy for anyone who had done the reading or already knew the material but difficult for everyone else. For example, a problem might be exactly the same as one in the reading but with different numbers. A version of the interactive reading questions is available on this course’s Readings page.
The reading questions were by and large a way to get students to at least skim the reading and use it a bit before class. Students have a lot of obligations and we didn’t expect them to think of 18.05 as their most important course. But even if the students just searched the reading for the information they needed for each reading question, they would be better prepared to contribute to and benefit from the activity in class.