Two years out of college, and I still reminisce about Shopping Period at Brown. As a pre-law English concentrator, my course-load each semester usually consisted of two English classes and at least one social science class. But that didn’t stop me from compiling a list of 10-20 classes to shop just to fill in that one space I had left in my schedule. Some of the more interesting classes that I shopped included a Chinese Modern Literature class, West African Dance, Abnormal Psychology, Environmental Design and Production, and Astronomy.
Unfortunately, I could never manage to fit these more interesting classes into my schedule because certain discussion sections and exam dates would clash or I didn’t meet some prerequisite. As a result, I would usually end up taking some kind of Modern Language class that met in the wee hours of the morning, and this is probably why I now work part-time as a Modern Languages teacher.
Flash forward to 2012, and you get Coursera, an answer to the Shopping Period dilemma. This beautiful brainchild of Stanford professors, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, allows anyone to take a comprehensive course taught by some of the most preeminent professors from top universities in the world. All of this for the price of $0.00. Participating schools include Berklee College of Music, Brown University, California Institute of Technology, Columbia University, Duke University, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Princeton University, Stanford University, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, University of Edinburgh, University of Melbourne, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, and Wesleyan University.
Media outlets from the New York Times to NPR to The Atlantic to Forbes to Ted have gushed over the site, which launched in April 2012. Coursera is helping to level the playing field by allowing all access to an education that was once also accessible to a select few.
Classes include your standard college courses– Microeconomics, Intro to Programming, Statistics, Linear Algebra, History of the Modern Middle East, etc. But, what makes Coursera unique is all of the special thematic classes it offers that are generally only available at elite liberal arts schools in the northeast. Also, what’s great is that these classes only last for a few weeks, and you can even get a certificate of completion from the professor.
After scanning the 195 classes on the growing course list, I’ve compiled a list of 10 Interesting Classes that I wish I could have taken in college and now I probably will. Enjoy!
1. How Music Works, University of Florida, Professor Alexander Reed
This is the kind of class in undergrad that I would have loved to take, but I would have been too intimidated to register for because of my lack of formal music training. Even though the course description for these kinds of classes always say “anyone and everyone is welcome,” the class composition always ends up containing music majors, a capella singers, band geeks, and the occasional math god. I am the type of person who greatly appreciates all kinds of music, but has no musical talent whatsoever. This class sounds pretty cool because it also examines the social and psychological impact music has on our daily lives.
2. The Fiction of Relationship, Brown University, Professor Arnold Weinstein
Arnold Weinstein is a legend at Brown University, and not just among the humanities folk. I cannot tell you the number of hard sciences students I know who took one of his classes to complete their pre-Med requirements and ended adding English or Comp Lit as a double major. Unfortunately, I never got the opportunity to take one of his classes in real life, but I most certainly will virtually come June 2013. This class aims to explore how literature can clarify and complicate our relationship with others. Authors read include de Laclos, Melville, Woolf, Morrison, Borges, and of course, Weinstein’s favorite, Faulkner.
3. Principles of Obesity Economics, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Professor Kevin Frick
Both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and First Lady Michelle Obama could get behind this class. The focus is primarily in assessing economic motivation as it relates to consumer choice and as it relates to government action to combat obesity. I’ve only ever taken Principles of Economics and Contracts, but I could definitely get behind this Econ class.
4. Drugs and the Brain, California Institute of Technology, Professor Henry A. Lester
My personal belief is that medicine only makes you weaker and any benefit we get is basically some kind of placebo effect. But, I am completely open to having my theories quashed by this course. This Caltech neuroscience class aims to answer What exactly happens to the body when they take a tylenol? an anti-depressant? recreational drugs? Also, I really would like to know what living in China for one year did to my brain after all of the second-hand smoke I inhaled.
5. Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative, Vanderbilt University, Professor Jay Clayton
This course might actually be a work of genius: trying to understand literature and film when they are translated into video games. The Lord of the Rings Online TM will be analyzed against the backdrop of Romantic poets, pre-Raphaelite painters, Morris, Mallory, Scott, and of course, the literature of J.R.R. Tolkein.
6. Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, University of Edinburgh, Professor Charles Cockell
After watching Prometheus (2012) this summer, I started really getting into How the Universe Works on the Science Channel. I’m starting to think that the reason why the Mayan calendar ends in 2012 is because we’ll have made contact with intelligent life on another planet and will then probably have to adopt their measure of time (because obviously they’re going to be the dominant species. We’re the ones who cut funding for NASA). I’m basically looking to take this class to confirm my suspicions.
7. A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior, Duke University, Professor Dan Ariely
When I took Principles of Economics in my freshman year, I always took serious issue with the assumption that consumers behaved rationally. In my first semester at law school, the adjective changed from “rational” to “reasonable,” but even this slight change did not change my mind about the fact that human beings are quite adept at behaving irrationally despite intending to act rationally. This course seems to put a liberal arts spin on behavioral economics and psychology, and it might be a great outlet in which to release all of your frustrations over how stupid people really are.
8. Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society, University of Pennsylvania, Professor Karl T. Ulrich
This course looks awesome because it basically covers almost every kind of design: architecture, graphics, services, apparel, engineered goods, and products. Basically, there is something for everyone!
9. Modern European Mysticism and Psychological Thoughts, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Professor Jonathan Garb
I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Modern European Mysticism. This course looks interesting because of its detailed analysis of mysticism, religion, and psychology.
10. The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound, and Color, Wesleyan University, Professor Scott Higgins
This course is a standard film history class at most colleges, but often while in school, you don’t get to devote as much time to this kind of class as you would like. Also, this class is only a short 5 weeks long, so even if you’re still in college, it won’t totally kill you to take it on as a fifth or sixth class.