“MOOC”s on critical thinking at Michigan State and on genetics and evolution at Duke

December 15, 2012 • 12:34 pm
I hate the acronym “MOOC” almost as much as I do the word “blog.” But what it stands for—”massive open online courses”—are innovations that promise to make education widely available to those who aren’t near universities or lack the time or exorbitant tuition that modern universities demand.
My ex-student, Mohamed Noor, is again running a sort-of-MOOC at Duke, teaching “Introduction to Genetics and Evolution” beginning January 4. It’s ten weeks long, FREE, has no “prerequisites” (i.e., it’s for beginners) and, judging by the enthusiastic reaction of students in the earlier incarnations, I’d urge you to take it.  Watch the short introductory video at the site.  (Full disclosure: my book is recommended but not required. I’ll also be Skyping in some time during the course to answer students’ questions.)
And here’s another that looks intriguing: a course at Michigan State University on critical thinking and the Foundations of Science. This one begins in May 2013, and runs through June. Sign up here; again, it’s free.  You’ll have to enter your name and email to get more information, and you can also read this blurb about the course at the MSUToday news:

Tongue-in-cheek humor aside, Foundations of Science is intended to help students improve critical thinking skills and empower them to make intelligent decisions. If they happen to laugh along the way, that’s all the better, said Stephen Thomas, MSU assistant professor of zoology and one of the course creators.

“Science isn’t just for nerdy people wearing white lab coats; it’s useful for everybody,” he said. “Results from the traditional course offered by our collaborators Matt Rowe and Marcus Gillespie at Sam Houston State University showed highly significant improvements in students’ critical thinking skills as well as their understanding of science.”

. . . The course will offer multiple types of media and exercises to give students experience applying critical thinking to different scenarios involving pseudoscience, such as psychics, homeopathy and ghosts. Students also will be able to participate in group discussions, compete for badges and interact with members of the scientific community.

There you go!  If you don’t have a background in evolution and genetics, Mohamed’s course will help you navigate my own site as well.
h/t: Diane

20 thoughts on ““MOOC”s on critical thinking at Michigan State and on genetics and evolution at Duke

  1. Dr. Noor’s course has been fantastic, thank you so much for posting about it the first time. I would encourage anyone to take it. It’s challenging, but you’ll definitely learn something.

    His style is engaging and he really expects his students to think. He writes great assessments. His spring class at Duke will be participating as well this time. He and the TAs have been very active in discussions.

    The Foundations of Science class sounds great too. I might just sign up.

    Just off to take the 2nd part of the final for Dr. Noor’s class now.

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have read your book and read a few blogs and have learned so much in the last few years but this is exactly what I need. I understand only basics of evolution and keep finding ideas from my fundamentalist Christian background (I know it sounds silly but I still thought that the order of creation was basically correct from the bible account, my mother taught me that!)come up. There isn’t a lot of in-between believing in creation and understanding the mechanisms of evolution completely out there. Especially when your science education in school was back in the 60’s. So, thank you again for linking.

  3. I’ve taken the course, just now. My genetics memory was very stale, and Mohammed has done a fine job in refreshing it as well as giving me a lot of new information. Strongly recommended!

  4. I am taking this class presently. It is nearly over and I’m sad to see it end. It has been one of the best classes I have ever taken. I have learned so much that it boogles the mind. Dr. Noor is so enthusiastic about genetics that he can’t help but inject that enthusiasm into his students. It has been challenging but worth every minute of my effort to grasp the material. I would highly recommend this class to anyone who wants to explore genetics and evolution.

  5. My husband and I enjoyed Dr. Noor’s course tremendously! I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to understand more about Genetics and Evolution. Loved Dr. Noor’s pleasant, friendly style. It was a pleasure to participate in this stimulating course. Would recommend purchasing the textbook although it’s not required. I’m glad that I read WEIT just before the course began- it provided a good framework for the material that was covered. Thanks again, Dr. Coyne for recommending it! Looking forward to my next Coursera course.

  6. “MOOC” is much worse than “blog.” First of all, “MOOC” an acronym, while “blog” is a portmanteau, and clearly a fancy class name like portmanteau is preferable. 🙂 Second, the pronunciation and spelling of “MOOC” is questionable. I’m tempted to pronounce it “mooch,” which has negative connotiations that are apropos, despite the admirable motivation of the concept.

  7. Haha, got the final exam tomorrow and as I was just taking a quick study break by checking out some of my favourite websites, a post about the course appears and I’m reminded to get back to the books. Can’t seem to get away from it!

    I’m going ot make it a mission to tell as many people as possible about Coursera in general, but Dr. Noor’s course in particular. It really is great stuff. There are still a few concepts that I found it difficult to wrap my head around. Like genetic drift. Ugh, that remeinds me. Gotta go

    1. “There are still a few concepts that I found it difficult to wrap my head around.”

      Same here!

      But I’m looking forward to completing the exam and then reading up on the areas that baffle me — and fascinate me. We’ve covered so much material, that I want to spend some time processing all the details at my own pace.

  8. Professor Noor’s lectures are excellent, and I recommend his course highly.

    But anyone planning to enroll should be aware that there is a strong emphasis on math (not much more than highschool level), and if your basic skills are rusty, you might want to brush up on them before the course begins: fractions, percentages, decimal points, an elementary grasp of algebra.

    You should also be prepared to work for longer than the suggested 5 to 6 hours per week.

    Otherwise, enjoy!

  9. Really enjoyed Dr Noor’s class this time around. It was good to get down and dirty with a number of tools on how to calculate certain things that are just completely absent from all the wonderful paperbacks I read to learn about evolution. Got a notepad full of calculations from the weekly exercises and final exam (just completed!)

    I hope that there’s a more advanced course on evolutionary theory coming up sometime. Until then, I’ve already got 4 other courses to do. It’s actually quite nice that the learning I do in my spare time as a hobby is stuff that I can pursue more formally in a course. Currently doing a course on argument, with a course on philosophy, a course on algorithms, and a course on music production coming up.

  10. Just want to recommend Evolution 101 as a great starting point for individuals interested in learning about evolution. I recommend it to students who are taking some of my upper level classes and need a quick review.

  11. “Students also will be able to participate in group discussions, compete for badges and interact with members of the scientific community.”

    Is it alright to decline to compete for “badges”? Or stickers, or candy, or “Dragon Dollars” or “Beaver Bucks” and so on and so forth which now obtain at the K-8 -and perhaps also nowadays at the high school – level? Has this stuff now infiltrated the universities?

  12. There are 20,000 people taking this course! I watched all of the first lesson and I am so excited about doing the rest. I am even looking forward to doing the tests. I had thought before that would be too hard with no background in science but you can just keep trying until you understand.
    But, Jerry, if you do another interview, hold still!!!

Leave a Reply