Show me the data!

I’ve enrolled in some MOOCs

January 5th, 2013 | Posted by rmounce in phdchat

I’ve written about MOOCs last December but never actually enrolled in one myself… until now.

Sure, I’ve done Codecademy courses and Codeschool courses which I’ve immensely enjoyed but they’re perhaps(?) not quite the same thing.

This year I’ve decided to bite the bullet and do some Coursera courses (depicted below, confusingly there are different courses run by different teams with the exact same titles/topics):

Coursera courses
The more I think about it – why not? It’s free to enrol. It’s free to drop-out & ignore if you don’t have the time for it, or you realise it’s too easy/hard/uninteresting. WHY NOT?

So I’ve sent a few tweets out that unashamedly I’m enrolling in some Coursera courses this year and not unsurprisingly found that other people I respect are also dipping their toes in the MOOC water: @gawbul (Steve Moss, University of Hull) a fellow PhD student, is also taking many of the same courses that caught my eye.

Some initial observations:

  • Coursera definitely isn’t Open. I see no Creative Commons licenses anywhere – you probably can’t repost or remix the content provided on each of these courses which is a big shame IMO. It’s an MFOC (free rather than open) not a MOOC, but sadly few would recognize this distinction.
  • Roger Peng is running the Computing for Data Analysis course. I’m a huge fan of reproducible research, I got my first little peer-reviewed contribution in Nature simply through reproducing (and finding significant error with) published research – it’s really cool to see lectures from someone you kinda idolise. There’s 0% chance of personal interaction with him through the course; there’s simply too many thousands enrolled but still that’s pretty cool – a big name draw.
  • The sheer diversity of people enrolled in the courses is very inspiring, in one discussion thread of IT professionals I find Ahmed from Sudan “Software Architect Trying to Learn more about Statistics and Business” and Gurneet from India, old and young people from across the globe all wanting to learn. I really do get that warm fuzzy feeling that MOOCs could contribute significantly to educating the world and making it a better place. It’s not about replacing or being the alternative to a college degree, it’s just about learning what you want to learn and feeding curiosity.
  • Without looking at any of the lectures or materials on my first attempt I managed to get 9/10 on the first Computing for Data Analysis quiz assessment (which I’ve since re-attempted to get the full 10/10 score). So at week 1, introducing R and data manipulation in R, it’s fairly easy for me. But even so it did help me tighten-up, refresh and test my knowledge. I’m looking forward to week 2 of the course starting 9th January. And especially the start of the Machine Learning & NLP courses. These will be invaluable for my postdoc work I suspect…

So far so good. Do let me know in the comments if you’ve signed down for a MOOC too, I’d be interested to know. At first I felt mildly guilty as a PhD student enrolling for these things but now I see it’s a no brainer – if you have time for it, and it might benefit you – why not give it a try? There’s no shame in that.

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