Wednesday, 25 September 2013's Fall

And people in real education are in a new term or semester, and so am I. I had to pare down my courses brutally in the lead-up to my daughter's wedding, in fact I dropped out of several because I had no time.

The only one I kept up through the busy time was:

A Brief History of Humankind

As it turns out, this is the most compelling course to date. I am actually urging friends to take it, or at least put the book that goes with it on their MUST BUY list. It's not exactly a history course, more anthropology and/or social science, but it's GOOD. It's very, very good. If you get a moment, at least look it up.

Now that I have some spare time I also signed up for:

The professor is somewhat quirky in his delivery, but I'm getting used to him, and although this is a peer-reviewed essay grading system, which I'm not keen on (some of my peers' ideas leave a little to be desired) I shall stick it out. I much prefer tests/exams, but the content is good, so it's worth the bother.

Next week I shall start a VERY different course:

I'm looking forward to that immensely as it's an area I've never studied before at any level. Having been put on the floor (unharmed, thankfully) by a terrorist bomb in my teens, and then, decades later, befriending a terrorist, my angle may be a little skewed, one way and another. But I want to see what this is all about, and I do hope the location of the university will help avoid the usual American bias.

Finally, also next week, something different again, that just appealed to me as a gardener/farmer:

I'm not going to start talking to my carrots, you understand, but I like knowing. I need to know. I crave knowledge.

If you do too, give Coursera a look. It's the most incredible thing, FREE courses, in your leisure time. What have you got to lose? 

Monday, 10 June 2013

Greek and Roman Mythology

I have decided there is something wrong with me. I cannot seem to enjoy this course. I keep at it, and I won't give up, but it's a chore.

It's not the fault of the professor. He's engaging and passionate. In fact, if it were not for his insights I think I would have given up long ago. No, he is giving it his very best. I do not blame him at all.

But this is incredibly popular stuff. It has had incredible staying power. Classic stories that have inspired...well, just about everything since. Today's great writers, and many other people, love this stuff. Modern culture derives from this.


Thursday, 25 April 2013

New Horizons

Spring is almost upon us and I had to be quite severe in my cuts at Coursera. May is my busiest month of the year, and as it turned out, despite the bad weather, April has been hectic too. So I cut two of the new courses. The STS in China course was interesting but something had to go, and the Einstein course was, as I suspected, math heavy. Not my thing. At least the first week's lectures about his early life were worth my time.

So, with a number of courses ended,  I'm now down to this schedule:

Know Thyself      Week 8 of 10   (Philosophy)
The Ancient Greeks      Week 6 of 7 
Democratic Development      Week 4 of 10
Greek and Roman Mythology      Week 1 of 10

As you can see, this is a much lighter load. The mythology course requires a lot of reading, so timewise it probably equates to two. The first two finish shortly, and two others will begin:

Introduction to Psychology   Starts in 11 days
History of Rock, Part One  Starts in 18 days

So results are in. Here's my complete list so far:

Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life  You earned 91.0%
Energy 101  You earned 90.6%
Introduction to Philosophy  66.0%

Aboriginal Worldviews and Education  87.0%
How Things Work 1   You earned 70.0%   (Physics)

Results for the two courses that ended this week will be in soon:

The Modern World: Global History since 1760

I would recommend all of these courses to absolutely anyone EXCEPT the Introduction to Philosophy. If you are interested in Philosophy, find a different course. 

Saturday, 13 April 2013


Spring is coming (eventually) and soon quite a big part of my day will be spent outdoors. I had to go through the courses at Coursera that I had been interested in taking and do some gardening - I had to prune!

I'm hoping that those that didn't make the list will be offered again, I'll take them then, but for now I had to cut back. So how did I choose?

The whole point of doing this is to learn, which is a pleasure, if it becomes an onerous chore there's no point doing it. At the same time I want, need, benefit from a challenge. As with everything in my life I seek a balance there, the right level of challenge. The right amount of workload, of commitment, and of difficulty.

So, my schedule right now is as follows:

Global History: Week 13 of 14
AIDS: Week 8 of 9
Philosophy: Week 6 of 10
Ancient Greece: Week 4 of 6

And I've started 3 new courses:

Democratic Development
Science, Technology, and Society in China I: Basic Concepts
Understanding Einstein: The Special Theory of Relativity

Quite how I'll do with the latter is anyone's guess but it is apparently possible to pass without doing any math. We'll see.

Several courses have finished recently, and I await grading. I received  no grade for Genetics and Evolution as I stopped taking quizzes the last two weeks and did not attempt the final exam. This is an example of a challenge not worth the effort, for now. I have enjoyed the course, studied all the material, including reading the optional book, and I fully understand all the concepts. I have no real use for the math, as I'm never going to be a geneticist, but I have gained enormously from taking the course.

In fact with the possible exception of the first Philosophy course I took, I have enjoyed all these courses, and have gained enormously from them all. I can't "pick a favourite" but if I must single out one that has made the most difference to me, then it is this second Philosophy course. This proves two things, the obvious one being that courses are not all created equal. The difference in the two philosophy courses is so great that I could write a very long blog on it, but in fairness to those who created the first one, I won't critique it in public.

But most of all it proves to me that Philosophy, as a subject, is far more important than many people think. So many people just roll their eyes at the idea of it. I have been one of them, and I don't mind admitting it.

I never studied it before. It wasn't offered when I was at school, and I never had the privilege of a college education. Of course I have read philosophy, I have written it, I've certainly done plenty of it in my own way. But not like this. This was life-altering, and I do not exaggerate. Some of it is new ideas to me, some just ties up loose ends. But it has honestly, seriously, changed the way I think. For the better, in my opinion.

Of course I have met people who have studied it, didn't enjoy it greatly, and who still roll their eyes at the word. All I can say is, you didn't have the right teacher. Had I only experienced that first course, I'd be dismissive of it too. What drove me to try again? I really don't know, I'm just glad I did. I'm glad I was awakened to it. I am now keen to study more, and to consider why people are resistant to learn.

And overall, all this study has changed my attitude, not just to specific things I've been taught, but to the whole idea of formal education, study by lecture, commitment to assignments, and so on. More than ever I feel I missed out....... let's not go there, waste of time, I am catching up, better late than never.

If there is anyone reading this dithering over their education, stop it. Do it. Work hard. Commit. Enjoy. As soon as you can, as much as you can. If my friends are reading this, stop your damn excuses for not taking part.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Learning About Learning

One of the ideas that always crops up when we discuss education is that good teachers (a good system) encourages students in how to learn, as well as just imparting information. This was what was so clearly missing from the school I went to. There really was no concept of that at all.

But I am discovering for myself just how certain aspects of study affect my ability to learn.

This week I did terribly on a test in my Philosophy course. I thought I had done far better. The test was on Freud, or specifically on his lectures on Parapraxes and Dreams. I read the material. Twice actually. I watched the lecture videos attentively. And I got a pitiful 40% on the test. I was horrified.

When I reviewed the questions I'd got wrong, there was no "Aha!". I really couldn't see where I'd gone wrong.

The only thing I can think of is that I didn't enjoy Freud at all. I don't agree with much of the theory involved. That shouldn't prevent me from understanding it, but apparently it does. I need to investigate this phenomenon a bit more.

Several courses have finished or are winding up, and mostly I've done quite well. On the Genetics course I haven't a hope of obtaining a pass mark at this stage, so I am not even bothering to take the final exam. I am, however, still watching the lecture videos intently, and I'm still learning. I love the material covered in this course, I just can't handle the math. I probably could if I put enough hours into it, but there's really no point.

I think, for now, my attitude towards my studies has evened out, and I have found my ideal weekly workload. So, I've cut back on the courses I had signed up for over the next few months, there aren't enough hours in the day, and they will be offered again (I hope).

Thursday, 21 March 2013


It's funny, I never really saw any point in philosophy, and yet, now I realise I've been engaging in it, deeply, my whole life.

This really defines the problem with lack of a formal education. Despite reading so much, on so many topics, for so long, without the guidance that would be given by (good) teachers and professors, I missed the real crux of the matter.

I am enjoying "Know Thyself" so much, in so many ways. I am learning so much, so quickly.

I agonized over Week 3 (Ryle). When it came to the quiz, I was convinced that it was going to be a poor effort, and yet I got 100%. So, I think we can agree that not only am I enjoying it, I am understanding it.

I am now going to buy a hard copy of this book, and read it at my leisure, probably several times.

Friday, 15 March 2013

End of Week Report, 15th March

I took one look at the material for week 2 of Chemistry* and dropped the course. Math. I suppose I should have expected it, but that's not going to happen right now. It's an extremely good course, I love the approach, and the professor is very clear, but now is not the right time for me to attempt another course with math in it. Maybe next year.

AIDS is very different this week, looking at prevention by behavioural changes. I admire those in public health etc with the staying power to remind people for the umpteenth time to use a condom. It must get very discouraging that it has to be repeated. And dealing with the shame and denial (the social cause of the spread of the disease), well all I can do is take my hats off to them for their patience and tenacity. These are dedicated people.

Aboriginal Worldviews is heavy this week, testimonies from survivors of residential schools, more and more details about the abuses of native people. Another piece of information came from the forums, this was not in the course, a student posted a lecture from a Mohawk doctor......"there is an established history of american indians being subjected to psychiatric interviews after they are arrested for minor crimes such as vandalism or disorderly conduct in which they are asked if spirits were involved in their minor crimes. These questions are of course not asked of non-indians. When the indian admits his belief in spirits, he is diagnosed with schizophrenia and required to take pills and receive electro-shock treatments that damage his brain and dull his thinking in order to control his "illness". He is also labelled publicly and may end up being shunned as mad by his own family, which makes things worse."

History this week was the first half of WWI, how and why it began, and why it went so badly. I have a horrible feeling those lessons, even if they were ever realised by TPTB, were quickly forgotten. Looking at current long slow war situations, the parallels are clear. Bad planning from the get-go.

Between these three courses, I could easily lose all faith in humans altogether.

Thankfully there's Philosophy. It's a light in a dark tunnel. This week was Descartes, and it was done so well (Professor Mitch Green is a treasure) there was no single moment I felt lost. So glad I took this and didn't let the other Philosophy course (ended) put me off. I have never read Descartes, I had been avoiding him, and now I love him. That's quite a feat.

In Energy we looked at how electricity is produced, including the sustainable technologies. Clearly the way forward is wind, if only we can get people past their superstitions.

Physics went well, I'm not clear on a few points, but the purpose of this course is to introduce the concepts, and that's working. Several aspects are counter-intuitive, and seeing it explained so well helps remember why things are the way they are. I was fascinated to discover that grams and ounces aren't just different scales, but different systems. Grams are mass, ounces are weight, they just happen to be equal at the Earth's surface due to gravity.

First week of "Introduction to Sustainability" is somewhat depressing, Malthusian catastrophes, and all that (knew about those from History) but good to see that several predictions have not actually come to pass. Still, at least there is such a discipline AS Sustainability, which is the key, of course, we have to say "Now what?" because we are very close to the edge.

Genetics is on March Break, and we are over the math intensive part of the course. I don't think I can pull my grades up enough, even if I get 100% from now on, to pass, but it's still been worthwhile. I get it, I just can't do the figures myself. If nothing else, this course caused me to purchase Jerry Coyne's book Why Evolution Is True, which everybody needs a copy of. It's the layman's guide, and it might just be enough to convince people with open-minds, but hitherto wrong information (i.e. from their church, or biased school).

*Using short names for the courses, see my full list for their full names.