The website Coursera is at the forefront of a revolution in upper-level education. In partnership with a number of universities around the world, the site offers free massive open online courses (MOOCs) to any interested student. Lectures can be taken at the student’s pace instead of the instructor’s, homework is peer-reviewed, and a passing grade is rewarded with a certificate of completion to inform others of the newly gained knowledge. For those of us not returning to brick-and-mortar universities this fall, sites like Coursera offer a chance to learn new skills or gain a greater appreciation of the world. Here’s a list of eight courses that will expand your scientific horizons.
Tales from the Genome – Udacity (Starts soon)
Genetics may be the most important branch of biology needed for understanding today’s news, from genetically modified organisms to forensic evidence to medical testing. This course serves as a refresher on this vital topic.
Introduction to Computer Science – Stanford University (Always open)
Among the most popular MOOCs, this three-course series is exactly the same as that offered at the prestigious university. It’s also among the most rigorous, but knowing the basics of programing in today’s society is a valuable asset.
Social Psychology – Wesleyan University (Starts August 12)
This course provides a detached viewpoint on the decision making of daily life, how societal and psychological factors impact human behavior. As the course website image suggests, it may even be useful during your next trip to the casino!
Climate Change – University of Melbourne (Starts August 12)
Global warming gets a lot of press, both positive and negative, and it’s often difficult to separate the science from the spin in the media. A collection of Australian scientists and economists teaches this interdisciplinary class with the goal of allowing students to make informed decisions about climate issues.
Introduction to Sustainability – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Starts August 26)
I’d be remiss in compiling a list of free courses without including a plug for my graduate alma mater. Johnathan Tomkin’s course expands on the issues raised by modern crises and provides a framework for developing and understanding solutions to them that can stand the test of time.
Energy 101 – University of Texas at Austin (Starts September 15)
Texas, while no longer the hotbed of oil production it once was, is still very much concerned with energy issues. This course offers an overview of the scientific and societal issues surrounding one of the world’s most important economic sectors.
Science and Cooking – Harvard University (Starts in October)
It’s a good thing MOOC lectures can be paused, because you’ll be wanting to make snacks while watching this course. With a focus on the applied aspects of science, Harvard professors and chefs team up to talk about the principles behind cutting-edge cooking.
Electricity and Magnetism – Rice University (Starts October 7)
In the words of Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and sometimes the smartphones and computers that pervade modern life can feel more than sufficiently advanced. This class helps to bring technology down to size by focusing on the basic principles of its power and operation.