A free online course in genetics and evolution by Mohamed Noor

July 25, 2012 • 10:31 am

My second Ph.D. student, Mohamed Noor—now a professor and assistant chair of biology at Duke—is offering an online course this fall called`”Introduction to genetics and evolution.”  It’s intended for people interested in biology who haven’t had previous courses in the field. (High-school biology is really all you need.)  I think this is a fantastic idea and a course that any of you wanting a solid grounding in these fields should take. The course is 9 weeks long, starts in early October, and, best of all, is free. All you have to do is sign up at the link above.

There will be recorded lectures, a chatroom for students to discuss things, and I’ll be Skyping in to answer students’ submitted questions. (Disclaimer: the course will be using WEIT as an ancillary text, but that’s not why I’m touting this! I want more people to learn about evolution, and it has the added benefit of giving you a leg up when reading my biology posts.)  Just be warned, at least 10,000 people will be listening in, so don’t expect personal interaction with the instructor!

Here’s the course description and syllabus:

A whirlwind introduction to evolution and genetics, from basic principles to current applications, including how disease genes are mapped and how we leverage evolutionary concepts to aid humanity.

Course Syllabus

  • Evidence for evolution
  • Introduction to basic genetics
  • Recombination and genetic mapping simple traits
  • Complications to genetic mapping
  • Genes vs. environment
  • Basic population genetics and Hardy-Weinberg
  • Gene flow, differentiation, inbreeding
  • Natural selection and genetic drift
  • Molecular evolution
  • Evolutionary applications and misapplications
  • Adaptive behaviors and species formation

Mohamed is a terrific lecturer, as I know from having heard him, and he’s won several awards for his teaching, including:

2012 David and Janet Vaughan Brooks Teaching Award
2010 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring
2007 Gordon G. Hammes Faculty Teaching Award, Duke University School of Medicine
2000 Louisiana State University, College of Basic Sciences Undergraduate Teaching Award

But be warned: Mohamed talks fast (fortunately, the lectures are recorded). Mohamed’s Ph.D.-defense lecture at Chicago must have set some kind of record for brevity: it was about 32 minutes long! (An hour is usual.) As he says in the FAQs:

  • Does Prof. Mohamed Noor ALWAYS talk that fast?  Yes.

47 thoughts on “A free online course in genetics and evolution by Mohamed Noor

  1. Professor Noor would do well to take voice lessons from an experienced coach who can teach him how to slow down his delivery.

    I’m not being sarcastic. If he’s that good a teacher, he should strive to make his delivery as good as the content of his lectures.

    Jes’ sayin’

    1. I took an online course at MIT and there was a control that let the student speed up or slow down the lecture while maintaining the original pitch. Some lecturers also talk too s l o w l y … ear of the beholder!

      1. Time is money. When you’ve got lots of good stuff to say, talk fast. Those that think fast will pick it up.

        Just saying.

        1. When there is “good stuff” going on, those who can start to see it’s implications, and the implications’ implications, and the implications’ implications’ implications …
          Sorry, what were you saying? I was just following up your previous point.

  2. Thanks. My sincere wish however is that Professor Noor’s learning, time and energy are not spent solely on preaching to the converted.

  3. I was conversing with a mildly religious acquaintance three months ago, and although she was “not sure” whether she could accept evolution, she did voice a sincere interest in really learning about it. Caught by surprise, all I could do was recommend a book or two. She said something like If I were still in college, I’d take a class in it—I swear!—but I can’t shell out for credit hours right now… Now I can alert her to Dr. Noor’s course. I don’t care so much what she believes after the class—just hoping she comes away with a proper grasp of the science. Thanks for posting this Jerry.

  4. Mohamed is one of the most relentlessly up-beat people I’ve ever met (albeit briefly) at meetings. His good humor is contagious. I wonder how he maintains the energy for it?

  5. I’m definitely in. Sincere thanks to Prof Coyne for informing us about this exciting opportunity, and much gratitude and kudos to Professor Noor for providing it!

  6. I heard him give a talk at the Evolution meetings last year or the year before. He does, indeed, talk pretty fast.

  7. A quick question, because this sounds really cool, but my life is a bit chaotic right now:

    In order to fully participate, will I need to listen to the lectures at predetermined times on specific days, or can I view them within a specific time frame (i.e. 12-48 hours) after the videos are posted?

    1. Good question– I am fairly certain there are not “predetermined times of day” (since it is being taken internationally), but what I don’t know is how many days you have to watch each lecture. They do try to keep people in sync going through them, so they can then be at the same stage and help each other in chat-rooms.

      1. Never mind that — what’s your preferred method of bribery? Beer? Food? Concert tickets? First things first, man! Gotta keep up that GPA….


  8. I was looking for a good refresher course; even a modest vet tech needs solid understanding of evolution and genetics 😉
    I just hope I’ll be able to keep up with Professor Noor – I guess I’d better start revising the so-called (here) “academic English”. Thank you for spreading the word, Prof. Coyne!

  9. I was hoping something like this would come along! Signed up and eagerly awaiting the start of school (unlike when I was a student and dreaded the start of school)!

    1. Does Dr. Noor really have a reputation for
      talking fast? His speech in the video on the link you provided didn’t seem that fast. I
      checked out this National Science Foundation
      interview with him (http://tinyurl.com/drnoor) and didn’t find him at all hard to understand.

  10. My students (English) claim I talk fast; I guess I will have to listen fast as well.

    As I was typing my comment, I received a “Welcome to Introduction to Genetics and Evolution!” email from Mohamed Noor.

  11. If you want to slow speech down you can use a music sequencer such as Reaper, to slow it down or speed it up without changing the pitch. Alternatively you can increase or decrease the pitch without changing the speed. Very easy to do. Any music sequencer will do it but Reaper is very easy to use and cheap. Just load the recorded speech onto the timeline, click on the appropriate gizmo and adjust.

  12. Talking fast is not that big of an issue. I had a microbiology professor who could write with both hands at the same time on his chalkboard, not necessarily on the same topic. Plus occasionally he would start lecturing in a heavily Asian-accented fast speech pattern on a non-related subject. The first time he did this, I just sat there and stared. By the next class I had arranged to take notes of his right hand, a friend covered his left hand, and a very nice Asian student took notes on anything he said. It was still a tough class because the guy could cover so much material in one semester.

  13. Heard about this a few days ago at Richard Dawkins’ site, and not only did I sign up, but I already own the textbook, and got it for half price at a used bookstore (sorry Jerry).

    1. I’ve taken a few Coursera classes. There will be a signed certificate from the lecturer saying that you passed, but the achievement is mainly for your knowledge or as something to put in your resume rather than something to be used as university credit etc.

  14. Does sound very interesting, but I think I’ll have to pass on this round. Moving, busy stuff.
    I assume that the course will be offered again in the future? (Depending on demand, etc etc.

  15. This is fantastic! I’ve taken genetics as part of my grad curriculum, but that’s as far as it went (psych major). However, my interest in biology and evolution has taken on a new life.

    I’ll add, I have learned an immense amount from this blog already.

  16. I signed up for this last week when I saw the news posted on Dawkins’s website. Thanks for sharing this with more people, Jerry!

  17. Does this class come with a proof of finishing it and the grade earned?
    Does it have a university backing it, or an undergraduate comparable class?
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge, research and time for free!

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