Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Never-Ending Quest for Knowledge

I have taken the leap into free online courses in the hope of learning something new and pursuing my interests in ways that Library School has not provided.  Coursera was recommended to me by a friend and, after a quick perusal of their course list, I was hooked.

There are classes covering many subject areas such as biology and life sciences, computer science, education, humanities, mathematics etc. etc.  Currently they have 116 online courses and anyone can sign up free of charge.  The host universities include Edinburgh, Toronto, University of Michigan, Princeton and Duke.

I started the 'Internet History, Technology and Security' class yesterday, hosted by the U of M's School of Information Science.  There are over 33,000 students enrolled in the class and so I am not expecting personal service from the professor but he is available on Twitter and surfs the forums daily as well as having office hours.  The forums are a central part to these classes and students are encouraged to help each other answer questions and solve problems.  So far, we have had around an hour and a half of lectures on the origins of the internet and have learned all about the Bomba and Enigma machines in WWII.  The calibre of the lectures is far better than I was expecting and I was engaged with the material - something that cannot be said of most online classes I have experienced!

ENIGMA machine
Courtesy of Erik Pitti

As far as assessment goes, there are non-graded in-lecture quizzes as well as weekly graded quizzes (worth 60% of the overall grade).  There will also be a final exam, making up the remaining 40% of the grade.  Hopefully those who complete the course will receive a certificate but there are no credits available.  I am not doing this for the certificate though, I just wanted to broaden my knowledge and a free online class taught by a different institution seemed like an excellent way to do so.

In the next few months I am signed up for some more classes: 'Securing Digital Democracy' with the U of M; 'Learn to Program: The Fundamentals' with the University of Toronto; and 'E-Learing and Digital Cultures' with the University of Edinburgh.  While this is extra work with not a lot of documentation to show for it, I think that I will still enjoy learning about subjects related to my field and continuing to add to my academic experiences.


  1. Glad you are enjoying Coursera! I just started my Fantasy and Science Fiction course. Currently reading The Brother's Grimm Fairy Tales. Genius suggestion by your friend whoever they are! =)

  2. I also started 'Internet History, Technology and Security'. The first week was very interesting. If this course ends OK for me (interesting enough, not too difficult for me, etc.), I certainly plan to follow other ones.

  3. I heard about coursera a while ago but don't have time to do anything until I finish my dissertation, looks great though!

  4. I heard about Coursera and considered taking a course or two but don't have the discipline to do so in the midst of my library masters! Perhaps when I graduate in May, and I wish to continue learning I will have to enroll. They have many amazing options and I found it would be a great way to pick up skills I didn't acquire in my studies.