As online education has exploded in the past decade, the number of physics and physics-related massive open online courses (or MOOCs, to use the industry lingo) has grown substantially as well. Several such courses aim at high school students, especially those involved in the AP Physics program. One of us (BK) was involved in creating two such courses, both of which use the edX platform: MechCx, a full AP Physics course, as part of the group led by David Pritchard at MIT and a smaller-scale MechC101x, where BK was the sole author and developer. CL, a senior at Weston High School in 2016-17, took MechC101x during its first run in the summer of 2015 before taking BK’s AP Physics C class in 2015-16. The purpose of this article is to present the data obtained from the maiden run of MechC101x, analyze the advantages and disadvantages of MOOCs compared to face-to-face courses, and to lay out some principles for the effective use of MOOCs in physics education.

The website
that tracks the MOOCs from the major providers such as Coursera, Udacity, and edX lists more than 100 physics courses
, as of July
AP® and Advanced Placement® are registered trademarks of the College Board, which was not involved in the preparation of and does not endorse any of the findings and opinions expressed in this article.
edX (on the web at, launched jointly by Harvard and MIT in 2012, is the leading non-profit MOOC provider, offering, as of the summer of 2016, more than 1000 courses to at least seven million students worldwide.
The course MechCx
created by Pritchard’s team, has recently passed the College Board audit process and thus became an “official” AP Physics C (Mechanics) course, one of the very few online science courses to earn such certification
. The course is available at
Research in Learning, Assessment, and Tutoring
The history of collaboration between edX and Weston Public Schools, where BK is a physics teacher, is presented in greater detail in BK’s article
WHS Faculty Create Online Courses for the World
,” available at
The second run of the course took place in the summer of 2016; it ended after the draft of this paper was completed. We are happy to report that, while the overall number of enrolled students dropped by about 30%, the number of those who completed the course increased by about 60%! We hope that both the enrollment and the completion figures will grow in the future runs of the course.
About 900 more students enrolled and then un-enrolled before the course went live; those students are not included in the statistical data presented throughout the article.
For the purpose of this article, we will use the word “students” in lieu of the more bulky “course participants”—even many of those individuals are, apparently, no longer students in real lives.
The male and the female students’ passing rates were, respectively, 8.3% and 6.6%.
Recall that the median age of the participants was not-so-tender 22, but only about 4% of the participants identified themselves as teachers in the survey; it would appear that most adults didn’t respond at all.
Note that the “passed” category contains the “aced” category. Therefore, and due to rounding, percentages do not add up to 100%.
Supported by a grant from edX, BK was the sole creator of the course (writing, coding, and troubleshooting the content and running the course in both 2015 and 2016.) The total time spent on creating the course is estimated to have been about 500 hours—which, incidentally, was about twice BK’s original estimate.
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