Let us build ourselves a place of learning! On the Internet! Actually, some people already did that, so I’m just mooching on their MOOC. ^_^
Last year I started taking a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course – a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people.) It was about information technology in the society, the impact the technology had, and I was quite active at first. But then I found a part that was actively misleading (the “search bubble” was presented as a fact, whereas it has been disproved shortly after it made headlines). When I found that neither students nor professor did basic fact checking or reacted to being directed to correct information, my interest in the course quickly faded to zero.
At the time, the MOOC concept was still fairly new in Norway. Besides NTNU, I think only the college in Molde had started, and it was mainly a work by pioneers with little formal support from faculty staff, much less inter-college organization. In America, MOOCs had already been around a year or two (possibly more, but not in the public eye). So that was where I cast my gaze next.
This summer I took a MOOC from University of California San Diego, “Climate Change in Four Dimensions”. This is not something I need for my job, it was just interesting (it is a big topic and gets a lot of interest these days, often from people who have opinions but little knowledge.) To no small degree it was also a test of Coursera, the platform delivering the course. Each of the major MOOC platforms has courses from a number of universities, but they vary in which universities and how they present the courses, probably also in what type of courses, although there is clearly some overlap there at least. If I could complete a fairly long single course (10 weeks) that interested me, I knew that the MOOC model was not broken despite my failure to complete the one last year.
I completed the course, had fun and got a good grade, although I did not purchase the official certificate track to get the faux sheepskin certificate or whatever you use these days. As I say, it is not a thing I need for my work, and it is not like it gives me any authority elsewhere either. If people don’t listen to actual scientists, they sure won’t listen to me. But the course was a success as far as I was concerned. (Not that I was overly concerned.) (English is a funny language.)
I followed up the success with a course this fall from the main competing platform, edX. This was the “Science of Happiness” course I mentioned. edX seems to have a clearer line between us freeloaders and the serious students, although you can still take part in pretty much all activities even if you are not on the paid track. But it seems a little easier to slink away. I have not quite done that yet, but I am slipping behind.
Then started the course “Learning how to Learn” on Coursera, which I had signed up for before I started the edX course. You’d think I would be able to handle two fairly small courses like this – they require only a few hours a week each – but I am finding it harder than I expected. Admittedly, this is in part because I have started this huge Sims 2 project, which runs on my second computer during much of my free time. Well, when I am not outdoors playing Ingress, which I am 2-3 hours a day typically, if you include the ingressing on my way to and from work. I am trying to keep it under 10% of my time, but it is rarely much below at least. Anyway, the Sims 2 thing should theoretically take very little time, as it runs mostly on its own on the upgraded Vista computer. But somehow I keep getting sucked in and end up guiding my sims to maximize their life satisfaction rather than my own. That’s just the kind of wannabe guiding spirit I am. ^_^
Of the two courses, I give priority to Learning how to Learn. Both because I find it more agreeable (the incessant invocation of Darwin in a study of happiness really starts grating on me, BerkeleyX) and because the learning course is a tool for all my future courses. If I can optimize my learning even a little bit, this will pay off in all future courses. Of course we don’t know how much future I have, but I haven’t found an expiration date yet, so for the time being I intend to keep learning and stick to my plan of working till I am 75 or until I can’t work any longer. The “can’t work” part tends to depend a lot on your education level here in Norway, with intellectuals often working well past 70 and laborers typically quitting at 62. So, if I can upgrade my intellectual status for free, I improve my chances to keep contributing to civilization, which it could certainly need!
The world also needs my novel (or at least NaNoWriMo says so), but that is a story for some future day, if at all. At least I am having vacation all November, so perhaps the chaos will settle down enough that I actually can think of something to write. The Learning How to Learn course should be finished around then, and the other one by the middle of the month.