Summer School: Upcoming MOOCs, Summer 2015

Between MOOCing and Pushcart, I haven’t had much time for blogging, but two of my most time-intensive courses are almost over and I feel luxuriously at leisure. Relatively speaking. I’ll be posting about the courses that I’m finishing up as they close; in the meantime, I thought I’d list the courses I have coming up for the summer.

As I said when I did a similar list back in January, this is both an overestimate and an underestimate. Of the twelve courses I mentioned back then, I dropped four, and took several additional ones (some of which started after the April cutoff I used; winter and spring blended into each other, with no natural “break” as tends to happen in June, September, and January). Some of the courses I was most looking forward to, turned out to be, well, not my cup of tea. And conversely, I was thoroughly engaged with some courses that I’d expected to drop pretty quickly.

Somehow I have a nearly 100% edX schedule coming up. I’m not sure why that is, though it could be because Coursera, to my great dismay, is shifting to mostly self-paced courses. Possibly there’s also a shift in subject matter, towards a more marketable-skill product likely to generate revenue from Signature Track enrollments. I’ve ranted elsewhere about education turning into vocational training. But the pendulum swings, and in twenty or thirty years when everyone has business and tech skills, maybe someone will decide literature, history, art, philosophy do indeed have resume value.

And, as always, this is only my personal opinion; every MOOC is different, and every one I loved/hated someone else hated/loved. The only way to find out if a course is for you, is to try it. Since they’re free – why not take a look?


Animal Behavior
Start June 1, 2015
8 weeks, 6-8 hrs/wk
University of Melbourne (Coursera)
Official blurb:

In this course, we will explore how scientists study animal behaviour, and in particular how behaviour is shaped by the evolutionary forces of natural and sexual selection.

Status: Dropped
I don’t even remember signing up for this, but there it is on my Upcoming list (which is how I get so overwhelmed with MOOCS)… it’s probably something that was recommended during Genetics & Evolution. I’ll take a look, but I doubt I’ll last past the first week. As for the header image: I’m no fan of censorship, but I’m a lifelong arachnophobe, so pictures of spiders – even relatively pretty peacock spiders – are verboten here.


Calculus 1A: Differentiation
Start: Open now for pre-req assessment; official start June 2, 2015
13 weeks, 6 to 10 hours/week
MITx (edX)
Official blurb:

But what is the derivative? You will learn its mathematical notation, physical meaning, geometric interpretation, and be able to move fluently between these representations of the derivative.

Status: Completed, comments pending 1B
I’ve been taking calculus for over 2 years now. I keep trying. I have a feeling I’m not going to last in this one; just taking the prereq assessment scared me. But I might pick up something before I run screaming from the room. And they get a lot of credit for their choice of header image: when it comes to math, humor counts for a lot.


Paradox and Infinity
Start June 9, 2015
10 weeks, 3-6 hrs/wk)
MITx (edX)
Official blurb:

An introduction to highlights from the technical side of philosophy–from the higher infinite to Gödel’s Theorem…. we will study a cluster of puzzles, paradoxes and intellectual wonders, and discuss their philosophical implications.

Status: Completed, comments here
Now we’re talking. I’m a little nervous that, since this is offered by MIT, it’s going to go off into the stratosphere pretty quickly, leaving me behind in the dust. But I’ve encountered a number of paradoxes and infinity puzzles over the past couple of years thanks to MOOCs, so I might be able to handle it. And extra points for a great header image – even though it’s a stock photo, at least it’s an interesting one.
This course comes with an option I’ve heard of, but haven’t seen before: For $300, “you will be assigned problems that are graded by teaching assistants and given professional written feedback.” Interesting to see how MOOCs develop and monetize.


The Divine Comedy: Dante’s Journey to Freedom, Part 3 (Paradiso)
Start: Open now for 2-week reading period; material starts June 10, 2015
5 weeks, 10-12 hrs/week)
GeorgetownX (edX)
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.

Status: Completed without grade, comments here
I wasn’t very enthusiastic about Georgetown’s “personal” approach to the Inferno module last fall, to say the least, but I did find a way to make it work for me for Purgatorio, which I loved (I’m not quite done, I have two more cantos to go): tackling one canto a day (most days), I used the Hollander translation/commentary as my primary material, used the Youtube videos from Prof. Mazzotta via Yale OpenCourses as a supplement, and used a skim of the Georgetown material just to get the jist of their more intensely theological interpretation. So I’m not really “taking” this course (presumably there are quizzes and essays, but I’ll be ignoring them); I’m only looking at some of the material and occasional lectures, using it as a structuring vehicle for my own self-study. That’s the nice thing about MOOCS; you can use them however they best work for you.


Start June 23, 2015
5 weeks, 3-5 hrs/wk)
Australian National University (edX)
Official blurb:

Ignorance! provides a comprehensive framework for understanding how people think about unknowns, how they deal with them, and how certain kinds of ignorance are enshrined in cultures and social institutions…. Your understanding of ignorance will be expanded via online games, discussion forums, opportunities to find out what your own “ignorance profile” is, additional readings, and Wiki materials….Knowing more about ignorance will help you to manage and work with it. It also will help you in dealing with the unexpected, and with complex problems.

Status: dropped.
Given the prevalence of ignorance in evidence these days, it makes sense to offer a course on the subject. For myself, the more courses I take, the more I realize I don’t know, which is how Socrates envisioned it anyway. I have no idea what this is, but it might be a lot of fun. And I’ll admit, I just ge t kick out of being able to say, “I’m studying Ignorance!”


Chinese Language: Learn Basic Mandarin
Start July 6, 2015
6 weeks, 4 hrs/wk
Mandarinx (edX)
Official blurb:

Basic spoken Mandarin phrases and vocabulary for everyday life; The importance of proper “tones” in Mandarin; Greater insight into Chinese culture and its influence on pop culture

Status: dropped
I never met a language I could learn (besides English), and I’ve tried quite a few. Add languages to the long list of things I don’t seem able to do – math, music, and isn’t it funny that they’re all related. I probably won’t last long in this course, and I have no idea who “Mandarinx” is – other than it isn’t an actual school, but these e-schools, like, have been cropping up on edX. I’d most like to understand the tonal nature of Chinese, something that’s eluded me up to now.


Pre-University Calculus
Start: July 14, 2015
7 weeks, 6-8 hrs/wk
Delftx (edX)
Official blurb:

Pre-university Calculus will prepare you for the Introductory Calculus courses by revising four important mathematical subjects that are assumed to be mastered by beginning Bachelor students: functions, equations, differentiation and integration….The class will consist of a collection of 3-5 minute lecture videos, inspirational videos on the use of mathematics in Science, Engineering and Technology, exercises, assignments and exams.

Status: completeded; no comments.
So what’s the difference between Calculus and “pre-university Calculus? Um… well… one is for pre-university, obviously. Maybe I’ll pick up something that makes everything else make sense. It’s what I do, I take calculus. And I can’t wait to see what counts as “inspirational videos”. And if the MITx course turns out to be too hard, maybe this one will be ju-u-u-u-ust right. They lose points, however, for the ridiculously trite header image.


Reading Macondo: the Works of Gabriel García Márquez
Start July 27, 2015
6 weeks, 6 hrs/wk
Universidad de los Andes (Futurelearn)
Official blurb:

The main goal of this course is to explore the literary contributions of Gabriel García Márquez to world literature, through his first five works. These are set in (or near) the fictional village of Macondo – a town inspired by the author’s birthplace, Aracataca.

I’ve already unenrolled from this class, since it’s clear to me I won’t have the time to read the works involved, and that probably falls below my own moral threshold for participation even for a “recreational MOOC”. Probably; I include it here because it looks interesting, and I’m still debating whether I might drop in and take a peek at some of the lectures (which, by the way, are in Spanish with English subtitles).


Creative Coding
Start Aug. 3, 2015
6 weeks, 6 hrs/wk
Monash University (Futurelearn)
Official blurb:

One of the most exciting ways to learn programming is through authoring your own creative programs. Known as “creative coding,” this growing field uses computer software as a medium to develop original creative expression.
So if you’re an artist, designer, architect or musician who’s interested in how you can expand your creative skills, or even a computer programmer looking to work in creative applications, you will find this free online course extremely useful.

Status: dropped
I signed up for this course last year but was too busy at the time, so I’m going to try again. I’d love to be able to do some simple animation. In a past life a long time ago, I was a computer programmer, but I was a lousy one, so I have no idea if I’ll be able to make any headway in six weeks, but we’ll see.


Scrolls in the Age of the Book
Start Sept. 1, 2015; 5 weeks (self-paced), 2-4 hrs/wk
Harvardx (edX)
Official blurb:

This course is an introduction to the making and use of scrolls in the European Middle Ages…. Why and how did the scroll format remain popular and relevant in the age of the codex? This course proposes four main reasons, which account for essentially every kind of scroll that still exists today. We will see and examine in detail a number of beautiful objects, and come to understand the thinking of those who chose the scroll format for their texts.

Status: dropped
I’ve never done an edX self-paced course before; I’ve approached most of as self-paced anyway, since the forums aren’t conducive to communication. Except for the Art of Poetry course, because somehow, enough of us cared enough to make it work. I’m interested to see what the difference is between a “real” self-paced course, and the way I’ve been working them. I wonder if this is a little academic one-upmanship – “So Stanford did a MOOC on medieval manuscripts? Fine, we’ll do one too – but we’ll focus on scrolls instead of codices!” – or just a coincidence. In any case, of course I’m going to take it. And by the way, that’s my idea of a header image.


Discovery Precalculus:: A Creative and Connected Approach
Start: Sept. 1, 2015
15 weeks, 10 hrs/week
UTAustinX (edX)
Official blurb:

This is an inquiry-based exploration of the main topics of Precalculus. The emphasis is on development of critical thinking skills….The course places major emphasis on why the mathematics topics covered work within the discipline, as opposed to simply the mechanics of the mathematics.

Status: Completed, comments here.
By now, the observant reader will be confused and wonder if perhaps I’m obsessed with calculus. I am. It’s my white whale. And this isn’t calculus; it’s “pre-calculus”, the stuff you’re supposed to know before you take calculus, which is why I’m taking it three months after my third (or fourth, or fifth, depending on how you count) go-round with calculus. Hey, I’m not in charge of edX course scheduling. And, by the way, I took a pre-calc last year. I need all the help I can get.
I’m particularly interested in this course, however, because it’s “inquiry-based”, which is an educational buzzword for “you learn more by figuring it out than by listening to lectures”. I’m not sure how closely it cleaves to IBL, but I did take a UTAustin course a couple of years ago where they gave it a shot, and it was pretty interesting.
They lose points for a boring header image, but I’m more disturbed by the idea that mathematical computer art has become so ubiquitous as to be… boring.


2 responses to “Summer School: Upcoming MOOCs, Summer 2015

  1. Yes please, censor the spiders, insects, and other ceatures that were never meant to be seen enlarged. There’s a reason they are small. 🙂

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