Happy New MOOCs 2016

These lists scare me. It doesn’t look like that much, less than prior lists in fact, but considering two courses started in the Fall are still ongoing (including calculus, which eats up every minute I can feed it and still leaves me banging my head against the screen), and that irresistible courses crop up unexpectedly all the time, it’s a daunting schedule. But I expect I’ll drop some of these; after 3 years, I still can’t tell from the descriptions whether or not a course is for me, unless I start it, so I start them all, so as not to miss anything.

The 2016 plan, winter quarter:


General Chemistry: Concept Development and Application
Start: On demand
Instructor: John Hutchinson
School/platform: Rice University via Coursera

Official blurb:

This course will cover the topics of a full year, two semester General Chemistry course. We will use a free on-line textbook, Concept Development Studies in Chemistry, available via Rice’s Connexions project.
The fundamental concepts in the course will be introduced via the Concept Development Approach developed at Rice University. In this approach, we will develop the concepts you need to know from experimental observations and scientific reasoning rather than simply telling you the concepts and then asking you to simply memorize or apply them.

Status: Dropped after 1 week: disliked the approach.
Sounds like IBL for chemistry – cool! Maybe, we’ll see. One of the benefits of MOOCs is that you can take courses over and over again. I haven’t taken this course before, but I took two chem courses earlier this year and still didn’t feel as though I had a real sense of how chemistry works. I’m an old fart, after all, so not everything sticks the first time around, or even the second. So, here’s another shot at chemistry, let’s see if repetition is the key to success. The trouble is, it’s a self-paced course, and I have yet to finish a self-paced course, no matter how good the course is. Some of my Rogue MOOCer friends are taking this, too, so maybe we’ll keep each other moving forward.


Medical Neuroscience
Start January 4, 2016
12 weeks, 16-20 hrs/wk
Instructor: Leonard E. White, Ph.D.
School/platform: Duke University via Coursera

Official blurb:

Medical Neuroscience explores the organization and physiology of the human central nervous system. This course is designed for first-year students in graduate-level health professions programs. It builds upon knowledge acquired in prior studies of cellular and molecular biology, general physiology, and human anatomy.

Status: Completed; comments can be found here.
I like brain stuff. From the description, I have a feeling this is too technical for me, but I’ve taken several courses on brain function, and there’s plenty of bio info all over. There’s a “prereq check” quiz kicking things off, so that’ll help me figure out just what I’m in for. I’ll give it a shot, but I won’t feel bad if it’s over my head.


Ancient Philosophy: Plato & His Predecessors
Start: January ?? 2016
Instructor: Susan Sauvé Meyer
School/platform: University of Pennsylvania via Coursera

Official blurb:

What is philosophy? How does it differ from science, religion, and other modes of human discourse? This course traces the origins of philosophy in the Western tradition in the thinkers of Ancient Greece….Part I will cover Plato and his predecessors.

Status: Completed, comments posted here.
So, well, you know, philosophy… I keep taking courses on Plato, and it seems to me every one of them has a very different viewpoint. That’s a good thing, by the way. Start date seems a little vague, and there’s no indication of how many weeks, so I get the feeling this is still under construction. It’s one of those “rolling enrollment” things, I think; a compromise between scheduled courses (which Coursera abandoned insisting everyone prefers on-demand), and on-demand, which has been a complete bust. I used to have an attitude towards edX. Now I have an attitude towards Coursera. Anyway, I’ll do it for Plato. There is a Part 2 featuring Aristotle, but let’s see how this goes first.


Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and the 19th Century Orchestra
Start January 21, 2016
3 weeks, 2-3 hrs/wk (self-paced)
Instructor: Thomas Forest Kelly
School/platform: Harvard via edX

Official blurb:

Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th Symphony premiered in Vienna in 1824, and continues to be one of the most popular symphonies in the repertoire. The monumental symphony’s size and complexity stretches traditional instrumental forms to the breaking point, and its famous choral finale changed our view of orchestral music forever…
You will learn the basics of musical form and analysis, the genres and styles used and the circumstances of this symphony’s first performance and subsequent history. Learners in this course need not have any prior musical experience.

Status: Completed, comments can be found here.
Another installment in the First Nights series of non-rigorous musical exploration, from the people who brought you the Messiah MOOC. I need to keep my expectations in line: coincidences of timing and surprise made the Messiah course a special event, and this may not have the same emotional impact (then again, Beethoven, hello?), but I’m looking forward to it all the same.


Fun with Prime Numbers: The Mysterious World of Mathematics
Start January 21, 2016
4 weeks, 1 hrs/wk
Instructor: Tetsushi Ito
School/platform: Kyoto University via edX

Official blurb:

In this math course, you will learn the definition and basic properties of prime numbers, and how they obey mysterious laws. Some prime numbers were discovered several hundred years ago whereas others have only been proven recently. Even today, many mathematicians are trying to discover new laws of prime numbers.

Status: Dropped at the beginning of week 3. This was probably the worst MOOC I’ve taken.
I have no idea what this is – what kind of a math course can be done in one hour a week? – but my policy is to take every math course I see, so I signed up. It might be fun, who knows. It’s certainly going to be different.


The Conscious Mind – A Philosophical Road Trip
Start February 2, 2016
4 weeks, 2-4 hrs/wk
Instructor: Dan Lloyd
School/platform: Trinity College via edX

Official blurb:

In ordinary life we barely notice the operations of our own minds. In The Conscious Mind – A Philosophical Road Trip, we will illuminate what we take for granted in perception, action, and interaction with others. We’ll explore this mindful awareness through demonstrations, illusions, brainteasers, thought experiments, riddles and jokes, all designed to shake you loose from your ordinary assumptions about the way consciousness works.


Status: Completed, comments posted here.
Hey, it’s a philosophy course. I take philosophy courses. And consciousness is cool, mostly because no one knows just what it is. The description sounds somewhere between religion and psychology, and the teaser video is unusually creative for a teaser video, so sure, I’ll see what’s up.


The American Renaissance: Classic Literature of the 19th Century
Start February 16, 2016
7 weeks, 3-5 hrs/wk
Instructor: Donald E. Pease, James E. Dobson
School/platform: Dartmouth via edX

Official blurb:

Join a hybrid community of learners, both online and in residence at Dartmouth College, as we discover how to discern the historical turning points involved in the production and transmission of American Renaissance writings. We will conceptualize the role historical and affective turning points continue to play in the selection, interpretation and valuation of these writings.

Status: Dropped. Too much self-importance and self-congratulations. A course that takes itself way too seriously.
I was quite impressed by Dartmouth’s cooperation between instructor and EdTech team in the Opera course I just finished; so many courses now seem to be run by edtech departments, with instructors relegated to the role of on-air talent, but they seem to have a more synergistic approach. Of course, every MOOC is different, so there are no guarantees, but hello, literature, yeah, count me in. I’m further impressed: on December 20, they launched a website and Twitter account for the course, including a list of all readings to be covered (which are substantial, so the advance notice is appreciated). The teaser video’s trumpeting of Dartmouth’s role in this literature is a little over the top (we get it: Dartmouth is a venerable institution with an illustrious past, can we move on now?), but it’s just a teaser video.


College Algebra and Problem Solving
Start April 18, 2016
8 weeks, 18 hrs/wk
Instructor: Adrian Sannier, Sue McClure
School/platform: Arizona State University via edX

Official blurb:

In this college level Algebra course, you will learn to apply algebraic reasoning to solve problems effectively. You’ll develop skills in linear and quadratic functions, general polynomial functions, rational functions, and exponential and logarithmic functions. You will also study systems of linear equations. This course will emphasize problem-solving techniques, specifically by means of discussing concepts in each of these topics.

Status: Completed, comments can be found here.

I just finished the ASU history course, and frankly, that leaves me very skeptical about this course. But, it’s a math course, and see above re I take math courses. I’m hoping the promised problem solving techniques will be prominent.


Exploring Light
Start March 24, 2016
4 weeks, 2-4 hrs/wk
Instructor: Paul Doherty, Eric Muller, Zeke Kossover
School/platform: Exploratorium (San Francisco science museum)

Official blurb:

This is an Exploratorium Teacher Institute professional development course open to any science teacher (particularly middle or high school level) and light enthusiast. Participants will engage in hands-on STEM activities that allow them to directly experience natural phenomena and gain an understanding of how the Exploratorium helps people learn.
NOTE: Because this is a hands-on workshop, you will need to buy or find materials for this course. All of the materials required are inexpensive and should be easy to obtain. We’ll send out a complete list with recommended sources before the course begins.

Status: Dropped quickly. Teachers looking for classroom activities might love it, but it wasn’t going to do me much good.
This is the first time I’ve heard of the Exploratorium, a hands-on science museum in San Francisco. I’ve taken several courses from the Manchester Museum in England, though they’re part of a university; apparently the Exploratorium is standalone. The course is intended for teachers, so I’m aware it’s going to have a very different focus, but the hands-on aspect appeals to me; it all depends on how much trouble and expense is involved in finding the materials.


Explorations in Confucian Philosophy
Start April 25, 2016
6 weeks, 4-5 hrs/wk
Instructor: Alan K. L. Chan
School/platform: Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, via Coursera

Official blurb:

Explore the world of Confucianism, its foundational teachings, the ways in which it continues to shape Chinese culture and society, and how it may respond to today’s global challenges.

Status: Course postponed “until further notice”.
For all the philosophy courses I’ve taken, I know virtually nothing about Asian philosophies in general, nor Confucianism in particular. What better reason to take a course?


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