Education

12 great free online courses

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

Much ado has been made in recent years over the quickly rising cost of healthcare in the United States. But the cost of college tuition and fees has skyrocketed at nearly twice that rate. Going to college today will cost a student 559% more than it did in 1985, on average.

In an exciting talk given at TEDGlobal 2012, Stanford professor Daphne Koller explains why she was inspired — alongside fellow professor Andrew Ng — to create Coursera, which brings great classes from top universities online for free. Coursera classes have specific start dates, require students to take quizzes and turn in assignments, as well as allowing professors to customize their course into online chunks rather than simply recording their lectures.

When she spoke at TED Global, Coursera offered classes from four top colleges — Princeton University, the University of Michigan, Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania — but in July, Coursera announced that they had increased to 16 participating colleges, including five of the schools considered the top 10 in the country by the U.S. News & World Report. The site now offers 116 classes.

Even outside of Coursera, the number of college classes available on a computer screen rather than in a brick-and-mortar lecture hall is staggering. At TEDxEastside Prep, Scott Young gave the intriguing talk — “Can you get an MIT education for $2,000?” — in which he shared his effort to get an MIT education in computer science by taking the school’s Open Courseware free online courses. The result? He’s currently taken — as well as passed exams and completed programming assignments for –  20 of the 33 courses in schools’ curriculum.

Inspired by Young, below, find 12 courses you could take for a completely free TED degree in Big Ideas.

The Course: Introduction to Artificial Intelligence
The School: Stanford, via YouTube
Taught By: Peter Norvig, Sebastian Thrun
Course Description: Artificial Intelligence is the science of making computer software that reasons about the world around it. Humanoid robots, Google Goggles, self-driving cars, even software that suggests music you might like to hear are all examples of AI. In this class, you will learn how to create this software from two of the leaders in the field.
Notes: When Thrun and Norvig first put this course online in the fall of 2011, 160,000 students from 209 countries enrolled. While the course is closed, you can still watch the lectures on YouTube. And see Norvig discuss what he learned teaching the course in the TEDTalk, “The 100,000 student classroom.”

The Course: The Structure of English Words
The School: Stanford, via iTunes
Taught By: Will Leben
Course Description: Thanks to historical, cultural, and linguistic factors, English has by far the world’s largest vocabulary—leading many of us to have greater than average difficulty with words, and some of us to have greater than average curiosity about words. Our historical and linguistic study will cover both erudite and everyday English, with special attention to word meaning and word use, to both rules and exceptions. Most words originated with an image. “Reveal” = “pull back the veil,” “depend” = “hang down from.” Change is constant. “Girl” once meant “a young child of either sex;” an early synonym for “stupid” was “nice.” Are there good changes and bad ones? And who gets to decide?

The Course: Physics for Future Presidents
The School: University of California Berkeley, via YouTube
Taught By: Richard A. Muller and Bob Jacobsen
Course Description: Contains the essential physics that students need in order to understand today’s core science and technology issues, and to become the next generation of world leaders. From the physics of energy to climate change, and from spy technology to quantum computers, this is a look at the modern physics affecting the decisions of political leaders and CEOs and, consequently, the lives of every citizen. How practical are alternative energy sources? Can satellites really read license plates from space? What is the quantum physics behind iPods and supermarket scanners? And how much should we fear a terrorist nuke?”
Note: A complete guide is available to anyone who wants to teach the class at their university.

The Course: Dilemmas in Bio-Medical Ethics: Playing God or Doing Good?
The School: MIT, via Open Courseware
Taught By: Erica James
Course Description: This course is an introduction to the cross-cultural study of bio-medical ethics. It examines moral foundations of the science and practice of western bio-medicine through case studies of abortion, contraception, cloning, organ transplantation, and other issues. It also evaluates challenges that new medical technologies pose to the practice and availability of medical services around the globe, and to cross-cultural ideas of kinship and personhood. It discusses critiques of the bio-medical tradition from anthropological, feminist, legal, religious, and cross-cultural theorists.

The Course: Videogame Theory and Analysis
The School: MIT, via Open Courseware
Taught By: Alice Robison
Course Description: This course will serve as an introduction to the interdisciplinary academic study of videogames, examining their cultural, educational, and social functions in contemporary settings. By playing, analyzing, and reading and writing about videogames, we will examine debates surrounding how they function within socially situated contexts in order to better understand games’ influence on and reflections of society.

The Course: Sets, Counting and Probability
The School: Harvard, via the Open Learning Initiative
Taught By: Paul G. Bamberg
Course Description: This online math course develops the mathematics needed to formulate and analyze probability models for idealized situations drawn from everyday life. Topics include elementary set theory, techniques for systematic counting, axioms for probability, conditional probability, discrete random variables, infinite geometric series, and random walks. Applications to card games like bridge and poker, to gambling, to sports, to election results, and to inference in fields like history and genealogy, national security, and theology.

The Course: Introduction to Aerospace Engineering and Design
The School: MIT, via Open Courseware
Taught By: Dava Newman
Course Description: The fundamental concepts, and approaches of aerospace engineering, are highlighted through lectures on aeronautics, astronautics, and design. Active learning aerospace modules make use of information technology. Student teams are immersed in a hands-on, lighter-than-air (LTA) vehicle design project, where they design, build, and fly radio-controlled LTA vehicles. The connections between theory and practice are realized in the design exercises.

The Course: Shakespeare After All: The Later Plays
The School: Harvard
Taught By: Marjorie Garber
Course Description: This free online Shakespeare course focuses on Shakespeare’s later plays beginning with Measure for Measure and ending with The Tempest. This course takes note of key themes, issues, and interpretations of the plays, focusing on questions of genre, gender, politics, family relations, silence and speech, and cultural power from both above and below (royalty, nobility, and the court; clowns and fools).

The Course: Securing Digital Democracy
The School: University of Michigan, via Coursera
Taught By: J. Alex Halderman
Course Description: Computer technology has transformed how we participate in democracy. The way we cast our votes, the way our votes are counted, and the way we choose who will lead are increasingly controlled by invisible computer software. Most U.S. states have adopted electronic voting, and countries around the world are starting to collect votes over the Internet. However, computerized voting raises startling security risks that are only beginning to be understood outside the research lab, from voting machine viruses that can silently change votes to the possibility that hackers in foreign countries could steal an election. This course will provide the technical background and public policy foundation that 21st century citizens need to understand the electronic voting debate. You’ll come away from this course understanding why you can be confident your own vote will count — or why you should reasonably be skeptical.

The Course: Galaxies and Cosmology
The School: California Institute of Technology, via Coursera
Taught By: S. George Djorgovski
Course Description: This class is an introduction to the modern extragalactic astronomy and cosmology, i.e., the part of astrophysics that deals with the structure and evolution of the universe as a whole. It will cover the subjects including: relativistic cosmological models and their parameters, extragalactic distance scale, cosmological tests, composition of the universe, dark matter, and dark energy; the hot big bang, cosmic nucleosynthesis, recombination, and cosmic microwave background; formation and evolution of structure in the universe; galaxy clusters, large-scale structure and its evolution; galaxies, their properties and fundamental correlations; formation and evolution of galaxies; star formation history of the universe; quasars and other active galactic nuclei, and their evolution; structure and evolution of the intergalactic medium; diffuse extragalactic backgrounds; the first stars, galaxies, and the reionization era.

The Course: Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World
The School: University of Michigan, via Coursera
Taught By: Eric Rabkin
Course Description: Fantasy is a key term both in psychology and in the art and artifice of humanity. The things we make, including our stories, reflect, serve, and often shape our needs and desires. We see this everywhere from fairy tale to kiddie lit to myth; from “Cinderella” to Alice in Wonderland to Superman; from building a fort as a child to building ideal, planned cities as whole societies. Fantasy in ways both entertaining and practical serves our persistent needs and desires and illuminates the human mind. Fantasy expresses itself in many ways, from the comfort we feel in the godlike powers of a fairy godmother to the seductive unease we feel confronting Dracula. This course will explore Fantasy in general and Science Fiction in specific both as art and as insights into ourselves and our world.

The Course: Bits: The Computer Science of Digital Information
The School: Harvard, via the Open Learning Initiative
Taught By: Harry R. Lewis
Course Description: This course focuses on information as quantity, resource, and property. We study the application of quantitative methods to understanding how information technologies inform issues of public policy, regulation, and law. How are music, images, and telephone conversations represented digitally, and how are they moved reliably from place to place through wires, glass fibers, and the air? Who owns information, who owns software, what forms of regulation and law restrict the communication and use of information, and does it matter? How can personal privacy be protected at the same time that society benefits from communicated or shared information?

Photo: ShutterStock