Using the Internet for Smart

Since we’ve lived in Germany, I’ve found myself diving deeper and deeper into the comforts of the internet. I’m very aware that I’m doing it, but it’s a necessity – my writing jobs are all completed online and, of course, the internet is the way to stay in touch with friends and family. Parts of it weird me out: realizing I’ve spent hours in front of a computer screen without talking to another person. Realizing that I get this sad little moment of gratification from “liking” something on Facebook – something I didn’t even know how to do before we moved here.

However, one of the ways I’ve managed to harness the internet for good is through Coursera, a platform that offers free classes in hundreds of subjects. It’s a good way to stave off slow brain-death in the middle of German winter. My two favorite classes so far have been “Greek and Roman Mythology” and “Computer Science 101.” I’m also currently taking “The Modern World: Global History since 1760” and “Natural Language Processing;” I think that my math and programming skills are not up to par for the NLP class, but we’ll see how long I can keep up.

The list of courses that I’ve started and not finished is, unfortunately, much longer than the list above. Either the courses turn out to be way beyond my capabilities – sometimes it was clear from the first lecture, and sometimes it took a sad few weeks…I’m looking at you, “Statistics,” “Calculus” and a whole bunch of programming classes! At one point I also had a writing project come up that ate up all of my free time (sorry, “Intro to Mathematical Thinking”). But the great thing about the classes is that you can drop as needed, and you’re obviously not losing any money.

I’ve also really enjoyed Udacity, where I’ve been working on an Intro to Computer Science course. The layout of the site and the content of the videos is perfect for learning programming; in my opinion, it’s better than the Coursera programming courses I’ve attempted in the past.

Are any other intrepid travelers out there attempting online courses?


8 responses to “Using the Internet for Smart

  1. Ooh, those look really good! I may try them some time – although I’m not sure whether I’ll actually make it to the end of a course without the motivation of “I’ve paid for this so I’d better complete it!”.

  2. Yeah, they do have really high attrition rates, which I would think depend partially on the subject matter and length – some are just 4 weeks, and others are 15! And some might have required essays with peer grading (which I didn’t find to be very useful), group discussions or other complex projects. Still, you can always at least watch the lectures and do some of the reading.

  3. I love the idea of online learning, but I barely take the time out for the stuff I *pay* for, like the extra community parts of Rosetta Stone, or even reading a good book.

    Online learning is great for people who have way better time management skills (or a hell of a lot more idle and bored time at the computer) than I do.

    The mythology course sounds like fun though.

  4. Those are going to be so useful to me later this year when I move! Especially since, looking out the window in Baden-Wurttemberh now, I’m convinced that German winter lasts… forever.

      • Love of the country and of a German 🙂
        I’m moving for a little break before running down the PhD rabbit hole. Now in Lower Saxony, where the sun is thankfully shining! I hope you’re faring better there.

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