Start MOOCing

I have recently registered for my first Massive open online course (MOOC). Basically these are online classes, delivered by university professors and accessible for free by anyone, anywhere in the world (provided they have internet). A tremendous idea! I decided to take a class on probabilities, both to refresh my knowledge in this area, and to get an idea of what these courses are like. Let me walk you through the experience so far:

First, I got an account at EdX, one of the companies that provide MOOCs. On the front page, you can see a list of participating universities:


You can browse the courses on offers. I decided to enroll for Stat 2.2X, a class offered by BerekelyX, after looking through the course description and requirements:


This course will take 5 weeks (I am currently in Week 2). Each week, the instructor uploads lecture slides and videos, which students can watch at their convenience:


At the end of each week, a problem set is due, which students can enter through the web interface. In addition, there will be a mid-term exam, and a final. Students can follow their progress through their course with the help of an online progress chart:

progress chart

So far, I am having great fun. The delivery of the lectures is great, and plenty of material is provided for further reading and practise. The workload is considerable (and especially, it’s impossible to take a week off), but since the entire course only lasts a few weeks, that’s fair enough. Students are provided with an online forum where they can discuss problems or ask for help (provided they don’t post answers to the assignment questions).

I have read about how MOOCs are a great resources for high school students preparing for college and for students in developing countries (there is a great article here, if you can read German). For me, it’s a great opportunity for continued professional development and lifelong learning. Also, I just really like doing problem sets. But maybe that’s just me …

Why yet another blog?

I have been going back and forth about whether or not to start this blog. There are a lot of voices out there, and the addition of another one might seem insignificant. I have, however, decided to go ahead with it. Here are five of the reasons:

1. Some of my present salary and much of the money that paid for my education came out of taxpayers’ money. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that means you. (Well, depending on where you live and what your attitude towards actually paying tax is). Anyway, I am grateful for this. And in return, I think I owe you updates about what I’ve been up to at work, where it’s all going and why I’m doing it.

2. I love what I do. I sometimes get very excited about it. (Ask my friends, they all know what my favourite protein is, for instance.) I want to share some of this love and excitement. Maybe out there, some of you can relate to it.

3. I think I should do more thinking. You know, about stuff. During a busy day in the lab, deep quiet reflection often gets sidelined a bit. I notice that I find it easier to think if I write stuff down, so blogging might actually be a good way for me to become a better thinker.

4. I look at learning and memory in the lab (more specifically at the proteins in the brain that are involved  in forming new memories and at how they work). But I am also a learner outside the lab, and I have long wondered how the “macroscopic” experience of being a learner relates to the microscopic changes that happen in the brain. At least having a place where I write about both things might help me see the connections. Kind of “if you build it, they will come”.

5. I wanted to become a scientist because I love science. But when I made the decision, I did not know what being a scientist would be like. What do we do in a typical day? How do we plan our lives? What are our aspirations and our worries? Some of this blog will address this, because I think people who consider a career in science should know what they are signing up for. (And maybe some people who do not consider a career in science might be tempted into changing their minds!)