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Mark Matthews

When MIT announced in 2001 that it would put course materials online, who imagined that before the end of the decade, its OpenCourseWare website would draw 15 million visits a year? The concept “has surpassed our wildest dreams,” Catherine Casserly, director of the Open Educational Resources Initiative at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, said in 2009. So be prepared for more stunning surprises from the latest stage of the Internet revolution in education: the decision by America’s elite schools, including MIT, to issue certificates to students who complete their online courses. As Beryl Benderly reports in our cover story, this credential, available for a modest fee, suddenly turns MOOCs – massive, open, online courses – into bankable commodities. While the certificates won’t lead to degrees from the institutions that provide them, they could nevertheless lead to jobs. What all this means for most of America’s engineering instructors will take time to assess. But one thing is already clear to Autar Kaw of the University of South Florida, winner of ASEE’s 2011 National Outstanding Teaching Award and a leader in online education: They will have to “take their game up a notch.”

Equally far-reaching are the uses being explored for graphene, the wonder material derived, in nano form, from the lowly sediment in pencil lead. Able to conduct electricity some 100 times as fast as silicon, harder than a diamond, many times tougher than steel – and yet flexible – graphene has kick-started a science and engineering revolution, Tom Grose writes in our second feature. Graphene has another quality that Prism’s talented designers have exploited: stunning beauty.

For sheer thrills, it’s hard to beat science fiction. An attention-grabbing tool for any instructor, sci-fi is particularly useful in teaching basic engineering concepts, as Jaimie Schock describes in “Fiction and Fact.” One favorite of Penn State Prof. Albert Segall is the movie Independence Day – not because it’s true to life, but because its dramatic episodes can readily be exposed as scientifically implausible.

We hope you’ll enjoy the October Prism, and we would be happy to hear or read any comments.

Mark Matthews


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