Coursera, the MOOC (massive open online course), has kept me very busy. Last year I took the sustainability course and earlier this year, 2 physics introductory courses. My background is accounting, business and the humanities. Now, with access to excellent tuition from top flight college lecturers, all for free, I am greedily imbibing the sciences. I am currently taking 4 courses: Animal Behavior (University of Melbourne, Australia), Preparation for Introductory Biology – DNA to organisms (University of California, Irvine); Calculus One (The Ohio State University); and the most intriguing A Brief History of Mankind (Hebrew University of Jerusalem).
The biology course is unusual in that it is provided for 2 levels of students – I am taking the basics level while first year students at the college are required to take the scholars level which involves considerable additional research and peer assessments. We all watch the same videos and take the same quizzes. I am content to receive a basic understanding of the functioning of the cell and DNA, alleles etc.
Animal Behavior answers so many of the questions you would have from watching wild animals. Good videos and additional reading material – a fun course.
Calculus can be fun but I struggled mightily in the beginning and only pride prevented me from un-enrolling. The problem is I never did calculus at school and my algebra and trig was at a basic level and a long time ago, so from the get go I was adrift with almost all the terms tossed about (radical #’s, rational #’s, real #’s, polynomial etc.). I borrowed a couple precalculus books and have been working hard to catchup. Why mess with calculus? I like #’s and often competed against the clock to solve internet sudoku problems – grappling with calculus is a more worthwhile use of leisure time and more challenging.
The most intriguing course is not about science but is listed under the humanities section of coursera and is a brief history of mankind by Dr. Harari. He speaks directly and effectively and traces our history to to the different homo species (such as homo erectus and then Neanderthal man) and describes how between 70k to 100k years ago, unaccountably, homo sapiens developed superior communication skills and emerged victorious over the other homo species. From being a scavenger of the bones of victims of predators, homo sapiens became triumphant over all animals. For anyone interested in the palio diet or the advantages of hunter gatherer culture over the lives of humans in the subsequent agricultural revolution, this is a must see course. We just covered the onset of the agricultural revolution – lesson 5 titled “History’s Biggest Fraud” and I eagerly await new installments.
So the above have taken much time. But the growing season has been good for me – my Giant Asian Pears are excellent – they are huge (bigger than a baseball) crunchy and sweet and plentiful. Muscadines are ripening now but not as plentiful as they were when sited in my vegetable growing area where they could tap into my compost rich beds. I have a prolific apple tree producing though the apples are not as sweet as some of my other apple trees. They need selective slicing to remove visitors but are entirely toxin free. Squash are plentiful and some have visitors in which case my chicken receive a treat, and some are fine. Tomatoes are still coming in and, as always, there is lots of kale and collards. I have begun seeding and planting out kale for the fall and as soon as the tomatoes and squash are past I will commence in earnest, together with garlic, which again did very well this year and is the easiest of all vegetables to grow.