Learning online

MOOCs (massive open online courses) have great potential. You can find everything from courses in language to psychology, genetics, art, and more. The biggest problem with a MOOC is that the learner has to be massively self-motivated and organized.

I recently finished up a class on Coursera (Imagining Other Earths) that delved into characteristics of planets, how we define habitable planets, and how life on exoplanets might be detected. Except “finished” is probably putting too strong a word on it. I turned in all the written work and engaged in peer evaluation of other papers, but I fell away from watching the videos early on.

I’m currently enrolled in a class on epigenetics, but I haven’t watched any of the videos or done assignments or quizzes. I’ll probably save the videos to watch at my leisure, but mostly, I’m using it as a source for collected information on epigenetics, as the instructor has already assembled a wealth of supporting material.

Another class starts today on diversity of exoplanets. I don’t know yet how much I’m going to participate in it versus just using it to further my understanding of what is already known.

What’s the common thread for these? They’re all topics I’m using to enrich the background of my science fiction. I can deepen my fantasy writing, too; the art & archaeology of ancient Nubia is something I’m watching to see whether it opens up a new course. I might look at Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, too, just out of curiosity.

There’s a lot out there — and this is just one site. If I wanted to learn to code, I’d be all over Codecademy; and Khan Academy I see mentioned most for math, but they have history, biology, computers, and more. And then there’s iTunes University, which has both audio and video courses from many different universities. And MIT and Stanford have their own free online learning. It’s a grand time to want to learn.

Have you done any online courses? If so, what did you think?

Dreams from the past

Recently, Karina Fabian (discussed previously for Magic, Mensa & Mayhem), in her Rocket Science for the Rest of Us blog, pointed to an announcement — NASA is taking applications for astronaut training. There was a time I would’ve loved to be an astronaut, but I didn’t know how to go about applying, or what the requirements were, or where to go to find the answers. The only hint I had was that the Captain in I Dream of Jeanie had come in from the Air Force, and I knew I didn’t want to go into the military. So I went on with my dreams of going to medical school (which, clearly, I didn’t have much better information on).

Intrigued at the recent announcement (even though there’s no way I’m relocating to Houston), I looked at the Astronaut Selection and Training brochure for the requirements. Bachelor’s degree in math, science, or engineering — check. At least three years of post-college experience — check. (Two years as a lab tech, and the master’s degree counts as one, despite the number of years I put in to get it.) Vision correctable to 20/20 — check. (Even if it’s going to require progressive lenses next time around.) Blood pressure below 140/90 — check. Height between 62 and 75 inches — check. (Hey, I’m not too short!) At least on paper, I’m qualified.

The things that give me pause are in the training procedures. Because of my leg, I’m not sure I could do hyperbaric or hypobaric conditions, or even SCUBA certification. So much as I would love to have a mid-life crisis and apply to become an astronaut in the hopes of going to Mars someday, it’s not realistic. Which is just as well — as I said, I’m not up to relocating to Houston. Don’t care for the climate. And my husband has tenure here, which, in this economic climate, isn’t something to dismiss.

So I’m letting the dream stay in the past. On the other hand, if anyone reading this is qualified and tempted, let me know how it goes.