When I retired, all of a sudden I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. At first, it felt great to wake up late and to have my nights and weekends free. I started doing some volunteer work and helping Jim with this blog site. I even tackled some of those avoided projects that were put off “until I retire.” But when an email from Wellesley College, my alma mater, invited me to take a course for free, I jumped at the chance. Here was an opportunity to study something just for fun…in my case, human evolution, a subject I had an interest in but never pursued. Plus, I didn’t have to go anywhere to take the class…I could do it all in the comfort of my own home and in my own time. All I needed was a computer and the internet!
What my college offered me was a MOOC – a Massive Open Online Course. My specific course is offered through edX.org, a non-profit online initiative created by Harvard and MIT, but providing courses from some of the world’s best universities, such as MIT, Harvard, Wellesley, Berkley, Cal Tech, Cornell, Georgetown, and even Kyoto University, University of Toronto, and others! The range of subject matter includes biology, business, chemistry, computer science, economics, finance, electronics, engineering, food and nutrition, history, humanities, law, literature, math, medicine, music, philosophy, physics, science, statistics and more. There are other MOOC organizations, like Coursera.org, whose partners include Stanford, Columbia, Yale, Johns Hopkins, as well as Peking University, University of Edinburgh, and more. The range of topics is similar to those offered by edX.org. Why these universities provide courses for free to millions of people has to do with trying to find ways to make a college education more reasonable via educational technology. You can read more about that here.
So What is it Like…My MOOC?
Well, I started out with about 19,000 classmates…no lie! They ranged from middle school kids (home schooled) to at least one 92-year old. Each week I watch some short video lectures, read 1-3 online articles (that I can print also), and work on graded and non-graded activities – sometimes review exercises, sometimes labs. My professor (Adam Van Arsdale) has done a fabulous job of making the course interesting, engaging, and even interactive. He also makes us use our critical thinking skills, a challenge I enjoy. In addition to the course work, there are discussion forums where students and the professor can write about a specific topic or comment on what others wrote. There is even a Facebook study group.
Have I Learned Anything?
Absolutely! Now when I see the terms Sahelanthropus, Australopithecus afarensis, or Homo habilis, I know what they mean. I can tell you the differences among the various forces of evolution: mutation, genetic drift, genetic flow and natural selection. I have a deep appreciation of how amazing the human body is, and I can discuss a little more anatomy with my physician father now.
Perhaps Most Important…I’m Having a Blast!
I look forward to spending those 8 or so hours per week on this course. I have discovered a new passion. In fact, a very exciting new development in the world of anthropology took place during this course – the excavation of a site in South Africa called Rising Star Expedition where the anthropologists were tweeting from that site in real time! I didn’t know how to use Twitter before, but I do now. And I would spend a few minutes each morning during breakfast reading those tweets. Also, I just discovered that in January 2014, a real live excavation (Old Vero Man Site) will take place here in Vero Beach, FL where I live. As you can imagine, I was eager to become involved, and so I’ve signed up to help the project in whatever capacity I have the skills for.
Why Not Try It?
Taking this MOOC has given me new energy… It’s food for the brain! Who knew I would have so much fun? If you are retired or even if you aren’t, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Why not try a MOOC yourself? You might love it too!
Yvonne Lee Tso
IBSS Guest Blogger