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Old 13th October 2018, 10:52 AM   #1
Meadmaker
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An online course about climate change denial

I ran across a course that might be of interest to people who frequent this forum. The course is offered by edx.org. It's free, although you can add a "verified certificate" for 50 bucks. The course is titled "Making Sense of Climate Science Denial". The goal of the course is to describe the science of climate change and, more importantly, why people might deny it. I ran across it on the list of upcoming courses. It starts October 15. I decided I didn't have the time for it myself, but that it might be interesting to people here.


For some background, edx.org is a "mooc" site (Massively Open Online Course). Moocs burst on the scene a few years back, with prestigious universities offering their course content online. Edx began as a collaboration between MIT and Harvard. (And Berkley, perhaps? Maybe some others.)


It turns out that MOOCs weren't a panacea. Course that started out with thousands of people ended with dozens completing them. Professors found that the amount of effort required to support the online discussions and homework wasn't worth it. They had all sorts of problems. It turns out the act of physically going to class actually has a benefit.


Nevertheless, MOOCs can offer some great content. I've taken several classes, mostly in engineering related topics. Some have been duds, but most are really excellent and, obviously, a good value for the really cheap price. I took an optimal control systems class from MIT that was really first rate, and I took an introductory physics class to refresh some skills I hadn't used in 30 years.


Lots of outfits these days offers MOOC courses, but of the ones I've tried, Edx is the best. The classes there are higher quality and, generally, if you actually take the time and effort to complete the assignments, you'll learn something in the process. (A couple of other outfits I've taken classes from haven't been as good. In the evaluation portion of one class from Coursera.org I said that I felt like I just watched a six week long infomercial.)


Anyway, I thought it might be of interest. Check it out if this sort of thing appeals to you.
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Old 14th October 2018, 01:17 AM   #2
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It would certainly be of interest to me but I'm currently in the middle of two online courses (one on black holes from coursera, one on critical thinking skills from futurelearn) so I can't fit it in at moment. I wasn't aware of edx, I'll bookmark the site and check it out when I finish my current courses in December.
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Old 14th October 2018, 06:57 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
It turns out that MOOCs weren't a panacea. Course that started out with thousands of people ended with dozens completing them. Professors found that the amount of effort required to support the online discussions and homework wasn't worth it. They had all sorts of problems. It turns out the act of physically going to class actually has a benefit.


Nevertheless, MOOCs can offer some great content. I've taken several classes, mostly in engineering related topics. Some have been duds, but most are really excellent and, obviously, a good value for the really cheap price. I took an optimal control systems class from MIT that was really first rate, and I took an introductory physics class to refresh some skills I hadn't used in 30 years.

Lots of outfits these days offers MOOC courses, but of the ones I've tried, Edx is the best. The classes there are higher quality and, generally, if you actually take the time and effort to complete the assignments, you'll learn something in the process. (A couple of other outfits I've taken classes from haven't been as good. In the evaluation portion of one class from Coursera.org I said that I felt like I just watched a six week long infomercial.)


Anyway, I thought it might be of interest. Check it out if this sort of thing appeals to you.
I took a half-dozen courses online at Coursera, and really enjoyed the experience and like you say, the price was right. The instructors were profs at places like Penn and Stanford. The way they handled the workload was particularly ingenious--part of your grade required you to check other people's work.

The problem is that the cheaper you make it, the less skin the student has in the game. The weekend rolls around, a friend has tickets to the big game and you've got a paper due at midnight Sunday, what are you going to do? If you paid for it, you might say, hey I can't blow this off. If it's free or cheap, you might decide the exact opposite.

I did take one class I should not have; it was a course on the history of comic books. I found myself posting endless corrections in the forum to the enthusiastic but oft-misinformed prof.
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Old 14th October 2018, 07:25 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Brainster View Post
I took a half-dozen courses online at Coursera, and really enjoyed the experience and like you say, the price was right. The instructors were profs at places like Penn and Stanford. The way they handled the workload was particularly ingenious--part of your grade required you to check other people's work.

The problem is that the cheaper you make it, the less skin the student has in the game. The weekend rolls around, a friend has tickets to the big game and you've got a paper due at midnight Sunday, what are you going to do? If you paid for it, you might say, hey I can't blow this off. If it's free or cheap, you might decide the exact opposite.

I did take one class I should not have; it was a course on the history of comic books. I found myself posting endless corrections in the forum to the enthusiastic but oft-misinformed prof.
I asked a question at the end of that optimal control class from MIT. The question was, "What's in it for you guys?" The answer surprised me, but it helped me explain some of what I was seeing then (in 2014) and even more of what I have seen since.

I noted, in my question, that I got a chance to get the same instruction that I would get at MIT. Our lectures were the same. Our homework was the same. We got interaction and assistance from TAs, and occasionally the professor. What did they get out of it? 100 bucks from anyone who chose to get the "verified certificate"? Based on the discussion in other questions, I would guess that would mean 5000 dollars or so. Not nearly worth the effort. So what was it?

The answer was that it was primarily exposure of the prof's ideas and tools. Part of the class was a really awesome MATLAB toolbox that had been developed by Professor Tedrake for robot modelling, and the core ideas that were taught in the class were a bit unconventional. For a relatively low cost, he got to push those ideas to a much wider audience. Sure, we weren't all going to go somewhere and make him famous in academic circles, but it was fairly cheap publicity.

What I've noticed since then is that motivation explains the existence of a lot of courses. The one I described as an infomercial was a class on organic (i.e. plastic) solar cells. The material was fascinating, but the homework and quizzes were geared to be very easy. I didn't really learn much, just because they didn't demand much. It was clear that what they really wanted to do was reach people and get publicity for their research.

Since then I've seen more and more classes that I think are more like that. They've been reduced in scope, shortened to six to eight weeks, and often on obscure topics that either highlight a professor's research, or a company's products. (Microsoft is now offering courses, which happen to use Microsoft products.) There's nothing wrong with that. Some of the courses are still excellent. It just means that every once in a while I take one that it's pretty obvious that the whole "instructional" aspect is to generate publicity, and not a lot of actual instruction happens.

Nevertheless, I would recommend MOOCs to anyone who thinks they might be interested. EDX is very good, but Coursera also has some great courses. I've never completed anything at FutureLearn. I took a very good course on robotic navigation from Francais Universite Numerique (FUN). A lot of their offerings are in English, and are quite good. Udemy, which I think was actually the first, is a bit more spotty in quality. Very interesting topics, but I found that the work wasn't all that challenging, so it was a bit too easy to skate by.
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Old 14th October 2018, 07:27 PM   #5
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And I might add that the course that started this thread, the one described in the OP, looks like an "I want the world to know this" sort of course, but it still looks quite good. I just don't have the time for it.
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Old 14th October 2018, 08:43 PM   #6
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Hmm, interesting set-up here. According to the summary info box, the subject falls into the category of "Communication." Yet all of the instructors are experts in various aspects of climate science.

If climate scientists knew a lot about communication, would there be so much climate science denial? And if they think yet another review of the scientific evidence and "debunking of the myths" will shed any light on the actual causes of climate science denial, they're in denial themselves.

Considering the subject matter, it makes sense for there to be plenty of climate science expertise among the instructors. But there should also be a comparable breadth and depth of expertise in persuasive communication, with emphasis on political speech, advertising, and social media. And, though it's not my favorite field, the psychology department should weigh in too.

Without that, I predict seven weeks of "climate science denial is all a big misunderstanding, which will go away as soon as we set the facts straight," with perhaps a passing nod to wondering why that never actually happens.

To find out if I'm right, I might have to enroll in the course. Wouldn't be the first time I've spent 25+ hours on one ISF thread...
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Old 14th October 2018, 11:16 PM   #7
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I hope you do take it, Myriad, and report back. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on it, and whether your suspicions as to its contents are correct. If you think it's a worthwhile course I'll sign up for its next run.
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Old 14th October 2018, 11:31 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
What I've noticed since then is that motivation explains the existence of a lot of courses. The one I described as an infomercial was a class on organic (i.e. plastic) solar cells. The material was fascinating, but the homework and quizzes were geared to be very easy. I didn't really learn much, just because they didn't demand much. It was clear that what they really wanted to do was reach people and get publicity for their research.
I've also wondered at the motivation, given the amount of work such courses must require for very little monetary return, and I think you're right that just making ordinary people aware of what they're doing is a big part of it.

Quote:
Nevertheless, I would recommend MOOCs to anyone who thinks they might be interested. EDX is very good, but Coursera also has some great courses. I've never completed anything at FutureLearn.
I would also mention Academic Earth, who video entire semesters of University degree courses and post them for you to, essentially, audit. A philosophy semester called (rather uninvitingly) Death, which consisted of over twenty 45 minute lectures by Professor Shelly Kagan, was the most riveting online course I've ever done.
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Old 15th October 2018, 07:38 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Pixel42 View Post
I hope you do take it, Myriad, and report back. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on it, and whether your suspicions as to its contents are correct. If you think it's a worthwhile course I'll sign up for its next run.

I'm giving it a try. I enrolled last night shortly after posting my previous post, and the course "begins" (which I imagine means the first aliquot of self-paced course content will be posted) this evening.

When I read the word "course" I still think "semester of college class" but this is much smaller in scale, more like "adult evening course at the town community center" level. The edX estimate for this course is two to four hours per week, for seven weeks. Doesn't sound like I'll be writing many term papers or cramming for three-hour exams. And maybe my wishes for a thorough cross-disciplinary (climate science and communication) treatment are unrealistic for such a short format.

In any case, I can use a brushing up on the current state of climate science. It's been a few years since I wrote this, based on a single three-hour lecture.
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Old 18th October 2018, 12:12 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
I asked a question at the end of that optimal control class from MIT. The question was, "What's in it for you guys?" The answer surprised me, but it helped me explain some of what I was seeing then (in 2014) and even more of what I have seen since.

I noted, in my question, that I got a chance to get the same instruction that I would get at MIT. Our lectures were the same. Our homework was the same. We got interaction and assistance from TAs, and occasionally the professor. What did they get out of it? 100 bucks from anyone who chose to get the "verified certificate"? Based on the discussion in other questions, I would guess that would mean 5000 dollars or so. Not nearly worth the effort. So what was it?

The answer was that it was primarily exposure of the prof's ideas and tools. Part of the class was a really awesome MATLAB toolbox that had been developed by Professor Tedrake for robot modelling, and the core ideas that were taught in the class were a bit unconventional. For a relatively low cost, he got to push those ideas to a much wider audience. Sure, we weren't all going to go somewhere and make him famous in academic circles, but it was fairly cheap publicity.

What I've noticed since then is that motivation explains the existence of a lot of courses. The one I described as an infomercial was a class on organic (i.e. plastic) solar cells. The material was fascinating, but the homework and quizzes were geared to be very easy. I didn't really learn much, just because they didn't demand much. It was clear that what they really wanted to do was reach people and get publicity for their research.

Since then I've seen more and more classes that I think are more like that. They've been reduced in scope, shortened to six to eight weeks, and often on obscure topics that either highlight a professor's research, or a company's products. (Microsoft is now offering courses, which happen to use Microsoft products.) There's nothing wrong with that. Some of the courses are still excellent. It just means that every once in a while I take one that it's pretty obvious that the whole "instructional" aspect is to generate publicity, and not a lot of actual instruction happens.
I took a couple of basic economics courses that I had never bothered with in college (micro and macro) but which I basically understood from a lifetime of reading finance publications. Then I took a couple of programming courses--Python and then an Android apps course that I bailed on after a frustrating evening trying to get a program to work both Landscape and Portrait.

So I was certainly skimming the surface, not going deep, which is where you might find the stuff you describe.
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Old 22nd October 2018, 04:00 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Meadmaker View Post
I asked a question at the end of that optimal control class from MIT. The question was, "What's in it for you guys?" The answer surprised me, but it helped me explain some of what I was seeing then (in 2014) and even more of what I have seen since.

I noted, in my question, that I got a chance to get the same instruction that I would get at MIT. Our lectures were the same. Our homework was the same. We got interaction and assistance from TAs, and occasionally the professor. What did they get out of it? 100 bucks from anyone who chose to get the "verified certificate"? Based on the discussion in other questions, I would guess that would mean 5000 dollars or so. Not nearly worth the effort. So what was it?

The answer was that it was primarily exposure of the prof's ideas and tools. Part of the class was a really awesome MATLAB toolbox that had been developed by Professor Tedrake for robot modelling, and the core ideas that were taught in the class were a bit unconventional. For a relatively low cost, he got to push those ideas to a much wider audience. Sure, we weren't all going to go somewhere and make him famous in academic circles, but it was fairly cheap publicity.

What I've noticed since then is that motivation explains the existence of a lot of courses. The one I described as an infomercial was a class on organic (i.e. plastic) solar cells. The material was fascinating, but the homework and quizzes were geared to be very easy. I didn't really learn much, just because they didn't demand much. It was clear that what they really wanted to do was reach people and get publicity for their research.

Since then I've seen more and more classes that I think are more like that. They've been reduced in scope, shortened to six to eight weeks, and often on obscure topics that either highlight a professor's research, or a company's products. (Microsoft is now offering courses, which happen to use Microsoft products.) There's nothing wrong with that. Some of the courses are still excellent. It just means that every once in a while I take one that it's pretty obvious that the whole "instructional" aspect is to generate publicity, and not a lot of actual instruction happens.

Nevertheless, I would recommend MOOCs to anyone who thinks they might be interested. EDX is very good, but Coursera also has some great courses. I've never completed anything at FutureLearn. I took a very good course on robotic navigation from Francais Universite Numerique (FUN). A lot of their offerings are in English, and are quite good. Udemy, which I think was actually the first, is a bit more spotty in quality. Very interesting topics, but I found that the work wasn't all that challenging, so it was a bit too easy to skate by.
Very cool info on the Opt. Ctrl. course. It's of interest to me. BTW, Matlab has offered a "Home" version at a steep discount for the last few years. I spend a lot of time on it. Can't use if for work but I'm retired and it fills my needs to explore the things I'm interested in.

As for Microsoft, they've gone whole hog supporting iOS, Android, Linux, and such and they have a pretty good, and free, set of programming tools. Quite a change over even 5 years ago.

And there's resources like stackoverflow and for C++ programmers, cppreference, It's never been easier to learn programming or keep up to date on the latest. Not hard to find the jewels out there.
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Old 22nd October 2018, 06:48 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by marting View Post
Very cool info on the Opt. Ctrl. course. It's of interest to me. BTW, Matlab has offered a "Home" version at a steep discount for the last few years. I spend a lot of time on it. Can't use if for work but I'm retired and it fills my needs to explore the things I'm interested in.

As for Microsoft, they've gone whole hog supporting iOS, Android, Linux, and such and they have a pretty good, and free, set of programming tools. Quite a change over even 5 years ago.

And there's resources like stackoverflow and for C++ programmers, cppreference, It's never been easier to learn programming or keep up to date on the latest. Not hard to find the jewels out there.
The specific course title I took was "Underactuated Robots". The emphasis was on robotic systems that were not "controllable" using the strict mathematical definition used in Control Systems class, so you had to take advantage of the system dynamics to make them do what you wanted them to do. It used a lot of the optimization techniques familiar to me from optimal control.

They haven't offered it in a while, but I think you can still access course materials in the "archived courses" section. i.e. watch the videos, do the homework, etc. There wouldn't be any discussion sections for the homework, though.

I've seen several control system classes via Edx and Coursera. Some of them are rank beginner, not heavily mathematical, classes that I've recommended to my high school robotics team (they've never taken me up on it) while others were like that Underactuated Robotics class, which shadowed a real graduate level course at MIT.

I have taken several courses that require MATLAB, and they all give you a free, time-limited license for the full product, and in some cases one or more of the "toolboxes", like the Control System or Image Processing toolbox.
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