Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are not automatically required to go to class. So you notice when, on a lousy midwinter evening in a driving 45-degree rain, 98 show up at Room 46-3002 in Singleton Auditorium, the Christian Science Monitor reports. They come not for the free Thai takeout (though it’s appreciated), but because everyone in Eric Lander’s introductory biology course is needed. In person. Ilana Porter, an ebullient first-year student from New Jersey, doesn’t mind, and even dumps her plate of noodles to be on time. “We want good seats,” she says, and secures a spot in the front row. Dr. Lander, a MacArthur “genius” and a leader of the Human Genome Project, is the sort of iconic professor you expect to find at the front of a lecture hall at an eminent university. In Ms. Porter’s pared down parlance, he is “legit.” So much else here, though, is experimental. That’s because “Introduction to Biology: The Secret of Life” is also a Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC, offered by edX, the MIT-Harvard University nonprofit, free of charge to anyone in the world with an internet connection.

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