I’ve been kind of messed up about moocs lately. I feel like Goldilocks: this one’s too hard, this one’s too easy. Once in a while, I find one that’s ju-u-u-ust right, but my zone of just right has narrowed and I’ve dropped more courses in the first week or two than I’ve completed. Part of that is internal to me (I have some minor chaos going on in my life right now, and I don’t handle chaos, even minor chaos, well). Part of it is that moocs are, indeed, changing, just like Facebook and Twitter changed when money became more important than “Hey, let’s put on a play in the barn and see how it goes.” I miss the Golden Days. Which were, um, like two years ago.

But: like eating bok choy, how do you know you don’t like it if you don’t try it (and, after decades of picking slimy green stuff out of my Americanized Chinese food, I didn’t realize how wonderful bok choy actually was until I was in my 50s). And of course I may hear about other tasty tidbits not on this list along the way.

At the moment, I’m in the middle of four courses that weren’t on my previous list; that’s how it’s been going lately. I’ll discuss the ones I complete when I’m done. I’m in week 8 of a 16-week edX course on The Einstein Revolution, which is a combination of physics, history, philosophy, and art; it’s often terrific, often terrifying (my full comments here). I’m also taking, as a “recreational mooc”, a series of courses on various world religions as seen through their scriptures (I gave up on this; too much “gee whiz, what do you think?” and not enough content). I’m refusing to take, but am still enrolled in, another edX course on poetry, this time the Modernist era (until I got bored with not-taking a course, go figure). And just for fun, I’m taking a gut course. Literally. Anatomy of the GI tract (full comments posted here). Ok, so it isn’t as glamorous as the brain , but the brain’s still gotta get fed.

So here’s my Spring/early Summer preliminary list of what I’ll be starting in the next few months. As mentioned above, I will probably drop many of these, and will end up taking others not on this list, so it’s more of a draft of intent. I keep hoping that documenting these intents will increase the chances that I’ll be able to work through the chaos, but right now, chaos has the upper hand. But still, what is there but to try:


IMAGE | ABILITY – Visualizing the Unimaginable
Start April 19, 2016
6 weeks, 3-4 hrs/wk
School/platform: Delft University of Technology, edX

Official blurb:

Students and professionals in science, design and technology have to develop and communicate concepts that are often difficult to comprehend for the public, their peers and even themselves. [This course] will help you enhance your communication and interpersonal skills and provide insight, tips and tricks to make such complex and seemingly unimaginable concepts and ideas imaginable.

(Status: dropped. As I’d feared, this was completely out of my wheelhouse. Not the course for someone who, like me, has no idea where to start in creating a message with art. But they’re nice people, and send cookies to the people who do know what they’re doing.)

I have a lot of unimaginable concepts. I’m not sure making them imaginable is a necessary, worthy, or prudent goal, but I’m curious as to what they’re talking about. However, since I’m not a student or professional in science, design, or technology, I expect this will turn out to be completely out of my wheelhouse. We’ll see.


Shakespeare on the Page and in Performance: Young Love and
Tragic Love
Two course series
Starts April 27, 2016
3-4 weeks, 4-5 hrs/wk each course
School/platform: Wellesley/edX

Official blurb:

Explore Shakespeare’s plays of young love, Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to learn what makes them so compelling and magical.
Explore Shakespeare’s mature plays of tragic love, Othello and King Lear, and learn what makes them so powerful and enduring.

Status: Completed, comments here.

My local library just hosted the First Folio tour for a month, so it’s been a high-Shakespeare season around here. I’m primed. Yet I’ve had trouble with Shakespeare moocs in the past; they all seem to assume more background than I have. Maybe third time’s the charm.


First Nights: Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and the Birth of Opera
Start April 28, 2016
3 weeks, 2-3 hrs/wk
School/platform: Harvard/edX

Official blurb:

In this music course, you will learn the basics of operatic form and analysis, the genres and styles used, and the circumstances of this opera’s first performance and subsequent history. Learners in this course need not have any prior musical experience.

Status: Completed. I’m not going to post about it, since it’s structured very much like the Messiah and Beethoven courses. I’m still not a fan of the opera, but I still enjoyed the course and understand the music better, so it was a great success.
Third of five. I’m less familiar with Orfeo than I was with The Messiah or the Beethoven, but I did encounter it in the Dartmouth opera course last year, and I’m a big fan of these First Nights courses so I’m looking forward to it.


China: Civilization and Empire
5 course series
Starts May 1, 2016
5 weeks, 3 hrs/wk for each course
School/platform: Harvard/edX

Official blurb:

China: Civilization and Empire explores the development of this great civilization from the Neolithic to the last dynasty. We see the formation of political structures and social practices that have lasted into the present; we learn to appreciate artistic and literary traditions of sophistication and refinement; we inquire into its philosophical and religious legacies and their significance for our own lives; and we trace the creation of the largest economy in world history.

Status: In progress; I loved part 1, posted comments here; on to part 2 and beyond.
This is actually the first of two series (series are very popular in moocdom these days); the second covers the modern era, but I figured I’d start at the beginning. I know remarkably little about Chinese history, so I hope to learn quite a bit.


Propaganda and Ideology in everyday life
Start May 16, 2016
5 weeks, 3 hrs/wk
School/platform: University of Nottingham/Futurelearn

Official blurb:

We will explore how and why words come to mean such different things, across time and space. We will look at how we come to be political, and how political ideology and propaganda pick up on the words, images and symbols we use to express our own convictions and sentiments.

Status: Dropped. I don’t know why, but I just can’t get into Futurelearn any more.
It’s been a while since I took a Futurelearn course. The class on corpus linguistics remains one of the best moocs I’ve ever taken, particularly in terms of how it handled the different levels of expertise coming in, but everything I’ve taken since then has been quite non-academic and just seemed like a mild documentary rather than a course. This is an interesting topic, particularly given the times, so I though it might be a good time to check in.


Cell Biology: Mitochondria
Starts May 25, 2016
4 weeks, 2-4 hrs/wk
School/platform: Harvard/edX

Official blurb:

This course is designed to explore the fundamentals of cell biology. The overarching goal is for learners to understand, from a human-centered perspective, that cells are evolving ensembles of macromolecules that in turn form complex communities in tissues, organs, and multicellular organisms. We will focus, in particular, on the mitochondrion, the organelle that powers the cell.

Status: Completed. Great course. My detailed comments posted here.

After neuroscience, this should be easy. Famous last words. Depends on how into the biochemistry we get, but it’s listed as an introductory course.


Question Everything: Scientific Thinking in Real Life
Starts July 12, 2016
8 weeks, 2-4 hrs/wk
School/platform: University of Queensland/edX

Official blurb:

This science course will advance your knowledge as we unpack some important scientific thinking skills using real-world examples. By completing this course, you will be better prepared to continue studying math and science at the high school level and beyond.

It seems strange to take a course to prepare me for high school, but it’s not like I’m comfortable with math and science at any level. I keep thinking I might have missed something along the way, so why not. This is the school that had the Glossary Fairy for philosophy class; not sure if the same level of kitsch will apply.


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