Falling MOOCs

Enough lazing around in a hammock in the cool shade under an oak tree drinking sangria. Yeah, I haven’t been doing any of those things, but it sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Except I’d get my foot caught in the hammock, fall out in a drunken stupor, and break something.

In any case, summer’s almost over, and it’s time to get some focus back. Here’s the list I’m starting with, which is going to need some pruning along the way:


7.00x Introduction to Biology
Archived, self-paced
12 weeks of material
MIT (edX)

Official blurb:

The course content reflects the topics taught in the MIT introductory biology courses and many biology courses across the world. As a student, you will first focus on the structure and function of macromolecules such as DNA, RNA and proteins.

Status: Completed the first part on cellular and molecular biology, found it extremely helpful in later medical courses; excellent course, wonderful teaching style, multiple modalities, though I very much wish it were “live” and not archived. I’m not particularly interested in the genetics component so it’s on hold, but will stay enrolled and perhaps complete later.
I haven’t been able to find an introductory biology class scheduled, so I’m trying this archived course. That means it’s not really running and the forums are closed, but the materials (most of them, at least; I haven’t found anything nonfunctioning yet) are available. Kind of super-self-paced. I’m finding it to be quite good. The lectures are clear and interesting, and a variety of additional materials are included – flash cards, “deep dive” grad student sessions filling in some of the nitty gritty details the lectures may have romanticized a bit (and were probably in a textbook that regular students would have), and a resource box of diagrams of everything under the sun. I’m quite impressed. Of course, I’ve only just started Week 2, so I expect, like most MIT courses, things will go way over my head any minute, and since it’s self-paced, I may just stop in the middle. But I feel like I’m picking up some significant understanding at the moment. It’s also far more biochem than cell biology, which was a surprise, but it’s a nice reinforcement of the chem courses I took earlier.


Think Again: How to Reason and Argue
Start August 24, 2015
12 weeks, 5-6 hrs/wk
Duke University (Coursera)

Official blurb:

Reasoning is important. This course will teach you how to do it well. You will learn some simple but vital rules to follow in thinking about any topic at all and some common and tempting mistakes to avoid in reasoning. We will discuss how to identify, analyze, and evaluate arguments by other people (including politicians, used car salesmen, and teachers) and how to construct arguments of your own in order to help you decide what to believe or what to do.

Status: Completed, comments here.
I waitlisted this course some time ago when someone recommended it, but I don’t remember who or why. Still, with a long election season ahead (where reasoning doesn’t seem to be important at all), it seemed like a good course to take. And I’ve heard there’s some serious logic involved. Bring it on! I love formal logic, and if I keep doing it, maybe I’ll get to the point where I can do it right. My one concern: I’m not sure what to make of the course description starting off with “Reasoning is important.” Not that I disagree (even though I see little evidence of the importance of reason on the news), but it’s such a bald statement of truth stripped of any shred of evidence or supporting data, it’s almost comic.


Discovery Precalculus: A Creative and Connected Approach
Start September 1, 2015
15 weeks, 10 hrs/wk
University of Texas at Austin (edX)

Official blurb:

You will construct your own knowledge… [it] will immerse you in discovering the hows and whys of what it’s like to learn math at a deeper level… what makes mathematics tick. … how to think better, think logically, ask the right questions. That’s the difference between Discovery Precalculus and a traditional precalculus course.

Status: Completed, comments here.
I had this listed on my Summer preview, for some reason – see, this is why I keep taking classes, I still don’t realize September is in Fall, not Summer. At any rate, I’ve been looking forward to this course for a long time, as it’s supposed to be “inquiry based” and involve understanding rather than formulas. I hope so. Because I’m beginning to despair of ever learning calculus, and a lot of the reason is lack of algebra and trig. The course is taught from an art museum. To be honest, I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. Several of my MOOCbuddies are taking the course as well, so I’ll at least have someone to cry scream work with.


A Cornucopia of Book Porn

Status: dropped, maybe some other time
Harvard is making available a set of self-paced book courses, dealing with the artistic creation of books as physical objects, primarily in the middle ages. Each course runs anywhere from 6 to 10 weeks, estimates 1 to 4 hours work per week, and can be completed together or separately in any order.

The courses are:

Print and Manuscript in Western Europe, Asia and the Middle East (1450-1650)
Making and Meaning in the Medieval Manuscript
Scrolls in the Age of the Book
Monasteries, Schools, and Notaries, Part 1: Reading the Late Medieval Marseille Archive
Monasteries, Schools, and Notaries, Part 2: Introduction to the Transitional Gothic Script
The Medieval Book of Hours: Art and Devotion in the Later Middle Ages
Book Sleuthing: The Nineteenth Century

I don’t know how many of these I’ll actually take, but given how nice it was to relax once in a while with the Stanford book porn classes, I’ll probably enroll in several as “recreational moocs”, to be enjoyed as time permits.


Electronic Literature
Start October 12, 2015 (self-paced)
6 weeks, 2-4 hrs/wk
Davidson College (edX)

Official blurb:

Love letters generated by a computer. An online poem two hundred trillion stanzas long. A mystery novel in the form of a wiki. The story of Inanimate Alice, told through videos and instant messages. An ocean buoy tweeting remixes of Moby Dick. Welcome to the weird world of electronic literature—digitally born poetic, narrative, and aesthetic works read on computers, tablets, and phones. Experimental, evocative, and sometimes simply puzzling, electronic literature challenges our assumptions about reading, writing, authorship, and meaning.

Status: Completed, comments here.
Of all the things I saw in ModPo, postmodern conceptual poetry was the one that interested me most. So this course seemed like a broader view of what’s possible. I’m also curious to see what edX means by “self-paced”.


fall moocs operaIntroduction to Italian Opera

October 13, 2015
7 weeks, 3-4 hrs/wk
Dartmouth University (edX)

Official blurb:

This course is an introduction to Italian opera, focusing on giving you the tools and experiences to become better students of opera. Act I will give you a toolbox of skills to listen for specific moments and gestures in opera. Act II will focus applying these skills to listening activities with your favorite Italian composers. At the end of the course, we will help you to carry these experiences beyond the course, encouraging you to become lifelong listeners and lovers of opera.
No previous knowledge of music or opera is necessary.

Status: Completed, comments here.
I used to insist I hated opera, but like most things, once you get some idea of what’s going on, you see all sorts of things you never noticed. It’s not that I’m crazy about the whole genre – Wagner, please, spare me – but I’m very fond of about a half dozen operas, and rather like a half dozen more. A few months ago, a writer friend asked if any moocs dealt with opera; I hadn’t heard of any, so I was happy to see this crop up.


Western Civilization: Ancient and Medieval Europe
Start October 14, 2015
8 weeks, 18 hrs/wk
Arizona State University (edX)

Official blurb:

This course will provide a general outline of European history from Ancient times through 1500 AD, covering a variety of European historical periods and cultures, including Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Celtic, Frankish and others.

Status: Completed, comments here.
I was pretty psyched to see a history course, covering the exact period I am so clueless about, until I noticed: 18 hours a week. Huh? I’m hoping that’s a mistake, or a rare overestimate. There’s an option to earn actual academic credits for this, so maybe it’s more rigorous. I guess I’ll find out.


Ancient Egypt: A history in six objects
October 26, 2015
6 weeks, 2-3 hrs/wk
University of Manchester (Coursera)

Official blurb:

This course provides an introduction to ancient Egyptian history, using six items from the collections of The Manchester Museum. These items have been carefully chosen to reflect the development of the dynastic age through their origin, manufacture, decoration, and use.

Status: Completed, comments here.
I’ve never been particularly interested in Egyptology, but I like the idea of approaching history through the use of objects. This will be more of a recreational mooc, and if I’m struggling with Precalc, I’ll probably skip it, but it’s worth a look.


Philosophy and Critical Thinking
November, 2015
4 weeks, 1-4 hrs/wk
University of Queensland (edX)

Official blurb:

This course introduces principles of philosophical inquiry and critical thinking that will help us answer this question. Learn how we can use philosophical ideas to think about ourselves and the world around us.

Status: Completed, comments here.
If it’s a philosophy course, I take it. Even if they’re on exactly the same topic, no two philosophy courses are ever alike. I’m not expecting much, since another Queensland philosophy course, one that was touted as one of edx’s most popular courses, turned out to be distinctly not my thing, but who knows, maybe this one will be better.


Calculus 1B: Integration
December 1, 2015
11 weeks, 5-10 hrs/wk
MIT (edX)

Official blurb:

How long should the handle of your spoon be so that your fingers do not burn while mixing chocolate fondue? Can you find a shape that has finite volume, but infinite surface area? How does the weight of the rider change the trajectory of a zip line ride? These and many other questions can be answered by harnessing the power of the integral.

The Differentiation part of this sequence was quite good – it isn’t their fault I’m an idiot – but I’m a lot more nervous about integration, since it’s something I’ve spent a lot less time on. I’m feeling pretty burned-out in Calculus right now, seeing as I’m coming to the end of two courses that ran more or less concurrently (not to mention a third, “mathy philosophy” course), and I didn’t do well in either of them. That doesn’t mean they weren’t worthwhile, but it does mean I’m in one of my I’m-never-doing-this-again snits. It does seem like I just wasn’t meant to “get” calculus. But I signed up for this a long time ago, and who knows, maybe I’ll feel better by December.


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