Upcoming MOOCs Early 2015

One of my followers asked why I write about MOOCs after they’re over; isn’t it too late then? Why couldn’t I write about them before they started, so others who are interested might have the chance to join in? I can see the appeal, both for readers, and for me (it’s always fun to have company).

The problem is: I tend to sign up for everything that remotely catches my fancy, then drop what doesn’t “click” for whatever reason (which is why completion statistics are not the way to evaluate the efficacy of MOOCs). This is how I sometimes get overloaded when everything I’ve signed up for turns out to be a good course. I also hear about other courses on the discussion boards and end up taking a look at those, too. And some courses I intend to be “recreational” – meaning I plan to just watch the lectures and maybe do the minimum required for completion (I know, that’s how a lot of people approach every course, but, well… I don’t do it that way). So any “upcoming MOOCs” list is bound to be both an over- and an underestimate.

But why not give it a shot: so here’s a sketch of courses I’m starting in the next three months. It seems a little science-heavy, which is something new for me (I’ve been downright inspired by a course I’m still taking – don’t worry, you’ll read about it in a few weeks), but the Spring quarter is at the moment more humanities-oriented. Then again, who knows what’ll turn up in between now and then.


Intro to Genetics and Evolution
Jan. 1 thru March 23 (11 weeks, 5-6 hrs/week)
Duke University (Coursera)
This was a last-minute signup because so many people in the Origins course (a science survey course, still in session but on hiatus this week) recommend it or are taking it. I’ll have a few weeks to see if I’m up to it before time pressure forces a decision.

Official blurb:

Introduction to Genetics and Evolution is a college-level class being offered simultaneously to new students at Duke University.The course gives interested people a very basic overview of some principles behind these very fundamental areas of biology. We often hear about new “genome sequences,” commercial kits that can tell you about your ancestry (including pre-human) from your DNA or disease predispositions, debates about the truth of evolution, why animals behave the way they do, and how people found “genetic evidence for natural selection.” This course provides the basic biology you need to understand all of these issues better, tries to clarify some misconceptions, and tries to prepare students for future, more advanced coursework in Biology. No prior coursework is assumed.


Reason and Persuasion: Thinking Through Three Dialogues By Plato
Jan. 12 thru March (8 weeks, 3-4 hours/week)
National University of Singapore (Coursera)

So, I like philosophy. I’ve already read the texts covered, some quite recently. This is probably going to be a recreational MOOC, but it’s the sort of thing I could get obsessed with easily. Instructor John Holbo did his own illustrations for the accompanying text (which is free and available online in pdf form; for that matter, he has a whole blog for his design work, and I’m sort of in love with his “Getting Past Yes” illustration) and it’s my kind of fun.

Official blurb:

In this course we will study Plato’s ancient art of blowing up your beliefs as you go, to make sure they’re built to last. We spend six weeks studying three Platonic dialogues, then two more weeks pondering a pair of footnotes to Plato; that is, we will consider some contemporary manifestations of issues Plato discusses. Our focus will be: moral theory and moral psychology.


University of Kentucky (Coursera)
Jan. 13 thru March (10 weeks, 10-12 hrs/week)

My lack of understanding of the basics of chemistry became apparent in the science course I’m taking now, and other students recommended this. I’m nervous; high school chemistry was extremely math-heavy, IIRC (and a very long time ago), and I don’t know if I’ve improved my math comfort level enough for this. But I’m very motivated, and sometimes that makes up for stupidity.

Official blurb:

This course is designed to cover subjects in advanced high school chemistry courses, correlating to the standard topics as established by the American Chemical Society. This course is a precursor to the Advanced Chemistry Coursera course. Areas that are covered include atomic structure, periodic trends, compounds, reactions and stoichiometry, bonding, and thermochemistry.


Our Earth: Its Climate, History, and Processes
Jan. 19 thru Feb 28 (5 weeks, 5-8 hrs/wk)
University of Manchester UK (Coursera)

A whole group of us from the current science course will be taking this. If it works out half as well, it’ll be a blast.

Official Blurb:

This course focuses on a basic science understanding that demonstrates how the processes on Earth (including biological processes) lead to natural climate changes that have shaped the planet and the path of evolution. Students are challenged to think of the Earth as an integrated system made up of water, air, ice, land, and life.
In addition to video lecture segments 5–20 minutes at a time, the students will be taken on video geologic field trips across the world and tours within the Manchester Museum’s collections (both on display and behind-the-scenes) where course content will be brought to life.
Another highlight of the course will be an interactive web game that will allow the students to build their own Earth. The students will pick the locations of continents and other parameters (e.g., axial tilt, solar input), and a simplified climate model simulation will produce the resulting atmospheric and oceanic circulation, as well as ice sheets. Students can explore how different configurations of continents and mountain ranges changes the global circulation and extent of polar ice caps.


Visual Perception and the Brain
Jan. 26 thru March 11 (8 weeks, 3-4 hrs/week)
Duke University (Coursera)

I got interested in this because of the Philosophy of Science course just finished.

Official blurb:

The course will consider how what we see is generated by the visual system, and what visual perception indicates about how the brain works. The evidence will be drawn from neuroscience, psychology, science history and philosophy. Although the discussions will be informed by visual system anatomy and physiology, the focus is on perception.


The Divine Comedy: Dante’s Journey to Freedom, Part 2 (Purgatorio)
Feb. 4 – March (5 weeks, 10-12 hrs/week)
Georgetown University (edX)

I’m very ambivalent about taking this course, having been put off by the overemphasis on personal religious introspection in Part 1 (Inferno). I’m just finishing up my “slow read” of Hollander’s Inferno, and my copy of Purgatorio just arrived, so I’m kind of looking forward to getting started now, while I’m unencumbered by other classes. Yet I do tend to do better with structure, and I like what they did with the art on the MyDante site (and the notation feature might be fun to use now that I have full access to the Hollander in advance). And it’s always a good idea to see different interpretations; I can skip all the sermons and confessionals. I’ll have to see.

Official blurb:

In this course, you will be asked to participate in learning activities on both edX and on MyDante, an innovative platform for deep reading that emphasizes mindfulness and contemplative reading habits as key to deriving lasting meaning from poetic texts. The pedagogical approach of the course goes beyond mere academic commentary on the poem as literature; it introduces the reader to a way of thinking about the meaning of the poem at a personal level.


Cultural Studies and Modern Languages: an Introduction
Feb. 16 – March 16 (4 weeks, 3 hrs/wk)
University of Bristol UK (FutureLearn)

This is pure recreational MOOCing. Futurelearn is inconsistent; some courses are terrific, others are more like mediocre documentaries. But the material sounds great – and I’ve never heard of some of it, so boy do I feel ignorant, and I’ve got to do something about that.

Official blurb:

Together we’ll explore eight countries by looking at some of the slogans, books, monuments and images which emerged from them over different historical periods. You will learn about the following topics:
Slogans: Franco Basaglia’s La libertà è terapeutica; Dolores Ibárruri’s ¡No pasarán!; Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch!
Books: Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables; Dante’s Inferno; Ladislav Fuks’s The Cremator
Monuments: The Holocaust Memorial; The Obelisk of Luxor; The Bronze Horseman
Images: Bouabdellah’s video art work Belly Dancing to the Marseillaise; Shepherd’s map of the Habsburg Empire; The Quauhquechollan’s cloth painting


The Neurobiology of Everyday Life
Feb. 23 thru May 24 (10 weeks, 4-6 hrs/wk)
University of Chicago (Coursera)

I’ve heard great things about this course (such as, the professor is very active and the material is comprehensive), and I’m taking the description at it’s word that no background is required. I wonder if my compulsive reading of all those Oliver Sacks and Harold Klawans books will come in handy…
Official blurb:

The Neurobiology of Everyday Life is a 10-week course intended for anyone interested in how the nervous system works. The course starts by introducing basic neuroanatomy, neurodevelopment and mechanisms of neural communication. Students will gain an understanding of how injury and disease of different types and in different locations can alter a person’s life. Students will then use their understanding of fundamental neuroanatomy and physiology to examine how:
1) we perceive the outside world;
2) we act in the world either volitionally or emotionally;
3) our nervous system allows us to live; and
4) cognition operates to make us the human individuals that we are.


Logic: Language and Information 1
Feb. 24 thru March (5 weeks, 6-8 hrs/wk)
University of Melbourne (Coursera)

Even though it turns out I passed the Stanford course, I have no delusions about my grasp of formal logic. I’m going to see if backing up a few steps and going at it from another angle helps. And there’s no such thing as too much practice.

Official blurb:

This is an introduction to formal logic and how it is applied in computer science, electronic engineering, linguistics and philosophy. You will learn propositional logic—its language, interpretations and proofs, and apply it to solve problems in a wide range of disciplines


Maps and the Geospatial Revolution
March 25 through early May (5 weeks, 6-9 hrs/wk)
Penn State (Coursera)

I like maps. And the preview video is terrific (funny-terrific; worth watching whether or not you’re interested in the course). It may be way over my head, but I’ll give it a shot. I suspect it’ll make me smile at any rate.

Official blurb:

Learn how advances in geospatial technology and analytical methods have changed how we do everything, and discover how to make maps and analyze geographic patterns using the latest tools.


Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics
March 30 through May 11 (5 weeks, 4-6 hrs/wk)
Universiteit Leiden (Coursera)

This is recreational MOOCing. I like language. I studied linguistics at a very basic level in college, so I just want to enjoy the material.

Official blurb:

The Miracles of Human Language introduces you to the many-faceted study of languages, which has amazed humans since the beginning of history. Together with speakers of many other languages around the world, as well as with famous linguists such as Noam Chomsky and William Labov, you will learn to understand and analyse how your native tongue is at the same time similar and different from many other languages. You will learn the basic concepts of linguistics, get to know some of the key features of big and small languages and get insight into what linguists do.


The Science of the Solar System
March 31 through early June (9 weeks, 4-6 hrs/wk)

This is going to be way over my head, but hey, it’s taught by the guy who killed Pluto, and he seems to have a sense of humor, so I’m in.

Official blurb:

Explore the solar system using concepts from physics, chemistry, biology, and geology. Learn the latest from Mars, explore the outer solar system, ponder planets outside our solar system, and search for habitability in the universe.

Then I have a bunch of high-school level courses carried by edX but run through another system, School Yourself, which seems painfully close to Udacity. I hate Udacity. From the previews, some of them seem much to basic, even for me. However, there could be some value in taking a math course where I could actually help other students for a change, and considering the gaps in my math capabilities, it might be more helpful than I think. I’ll see what happens.

That’s my winter schedule (plus starting Pushcart, and a couple of other ongoing projects). Should keep me busy.


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