Ever since the first time I took couple of ground-breaking online courses a few years back, I try to keep some courses going all the time. Doesn’t always happen, but there’s always a lot of good stuff to choose from. This semester (if there are still semesters in continuous education), I chose to go a bit outside of my normal territory of physical sciences, engineering and IT. Instead ventured onto the territories of marketing, management, and music. It was pretty successful, I feel I have grown as a person because of that. Here are some notes and impressions from those courses.
Content Strategy for Professionals
Content Strategy for Professionals (Engaging Audiences for Your Organization) is hosted on Coursera by Northwestern University. I took it to know better about purposefully managing content, that I can put at good use at the Taipei Hackerspace, Ignite, Future Shorts, or any other project that I might be working on.
The instructor, John Lavine, was quite interesting, engaging, and gives off an aura of knowledge and authority. The first lecture was pretty good overview. From the second lecture the course went into a form of having two invited experts each week, who are pretty much doing an Explain-Like-I’m-a-5-Year-Old of their ideas and field to John Lavine. That was somehow much less interesting. Similar to a fireside chat, a lot of polite talk, we are just onlookers, but this is not a lecture. Lots of repetitions, even between different guests. I can’t really tell if I have learned anything. It might not have helped that it was “for professionals”, and they repeated multiple times that “there are no grades, no pressure…”
They have also incorporated other teaching methods. There was an e-book, which I haven’t gone into much. The hands on learning was supported by a case study, which might have been interesting, especially because the course managers arranged peer-to-peer feedback. I skipped that because I thought doing actual work instead of fictional case study might be more conductive. Apparently there was also a breakfast series, when the travelling professors invited the course attendants out at different cities around the US. Now that would have been interesting to join.
All in all, I don’t regret taking the course, and probably did the topic as well as possible given their aims. Maybe the topic was a bit shallow for me.
Critical Perspectives on Management
Critical Perspectives on Management was also on Coursera, by the IE Business School in Spain. I chose it because I have a lot of ideas about how teams should work, management should work (some of these ideas which might not have gotten me too many favours with past bosses), and thought it would be good to have some more inspiration for thought.
Here’s the trailer of the course with the instructor, Rolf Strom-Olsen.
The format of the actual lessons were recorded classes at the business school, with weekly readings, and tests.
The course went well beyond my expectation. It explored a lot of interesting topics, drawing examples and lessons from the Roman grain trade, shipyard workers, housing crisis, and much more. The overall message was “keep thinking and asking question”, which could be a duh!, but the way it was presented and discussed showed me how much uncritical of things I can be, even when I think I’m critical.
This is probably my favorite “thinking” style course besides the classic Justice with Michael Sandel. Rolf Strom-Olsen is a very good orator as well, and I would probably join any other courses that he puts up. The technology for the course was well done too. Weekly message and lessons learned along the way from the instructor; the tests are challenging and interesting; some of the readings are checked out of the business schools electronic library….
Jazz Appreciation UT.8.01x
Jazz Appreciation is on EdX, hosted by University of Texas, Austin. Chose this one because even if I’m a self-proclaimed jazz fan, I feel I barely know anything about jazz, and would love to know more.
Boy, this didn’t disappoint.
From all these courses, I feel this is the best put together. Jeffrey Hellmer, the instructor (professor and musician) has a good style, can feel his enthusiasm and knowledge every step: his comments, when he’s demonstrating one or another famous musician’s style on the piano, when pointing out things to listen to in a particular piece. The text was well prepared, and while I’m sure it was read out, it didn’t feel like it, but very engaging.
The course had a number of innovative features. As much as it can be surprising, others mentioned that this is one of the few (or only?) course so far about music that actually uses musical excerpts in the teaching. I can vouch for that it went a long way. The learning sections used Cerego, a spaced repetition app/site. It can be quite addictive for a while, though for many people it was a very big departure using “long term recall progress” instead of one time test scores for tracking the course achievement. The instructor also had an earpiece, and he started/stopped musical excerpts, so he could listed together with us, and point things out, count rhythm, emphasize musical features while we were listening with him. This kind of interactivity can go a long way!
It wasn’t all good, though. The price to pay for including music in the lecture is that copyright law apparently kicks in. The result is that all the videos were online only for 1 week, after which they were taken offline and only the transcripts were to be found – and reading those wasn’t really helpful for understanding music on the weeks when I missed it.
The great course also spawned an engaged community. My favorite is that people were compiling playlists on Grooveshark of music mentioned in the lectures. Definitely have to find those and give them a good listening. I already have a somewhat more nuanced ear when I listen to jazz and music in general, and have a bit better idea why do I like or not like particular songs or musicians.
It feels the online courses are definitely improving. The teachers are better, and also better prepared. The overall production value of courses seem to be higher. There are more courses to choose from to, with a larger intended audience as well. In the future, I will try to have a more balanced portfolio of online courses that I’m taking (between humanities and hard science).
It is exciting times. I hope more people start to realize, that universities are not the only option to get an education (by far).