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Course Review: Leaders of Learning

Provider: Harvard @EdX [course page]
Lecturer: Richard Elmore
Subject: Education + Leadership
Delivery: self-paced asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 4-6 hrs/week over 6 weeks
Completion Date: 08/07/2014

picture of an e-learning classroom

picture of an e-learning classroom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: This course discusses the role of our own learning theory plays in creating and organizing learning environments.

Strengths: Leaders of Learning discusses how learning environments are affected by theories of learning and vice versa. It discusses this in the context of the four modes of learning quadrants: Hierarchical Individual, Hierarchical Collective, Distributive Individual and Distributive Collective. These have very unique traits, and folks are encouraged to consider where they sit in these quadrants based on a questionnaire filled out during the first week of the course. Students are asked to consider education leadership, structure and environment in the following weeks. This concludes with a peer assessment where students are called to design their own ideal learning environment.
The course designers considered the logical way in which one’s belief about how learning works plays a role in the structure of a learning environment. This often creates specific challenges for students and teaching staff. If those involved in the give environment understands these traits, they can begin to plan ways in which to deal with some of the associated problems. In this regard, this course is about clarifying challenges and encouraging those involved to find solutions – which takes leadership and organization.

Weaknesses: Scary penguins may haunt your dreams… for no particular reason….

Conclusion: The release of this MOOC is timely given recent changes in distribution methods and content in the west. There is no doubt that there will be more changes in the next few years as countries and organizations attempt to catch up to existing technologies and knowledge about learning methods. This course is focused on those involved in education, but it will likely also benefit those involved in other areas as well. I recommend it for anyone interested in either teaching and/or leadership.


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Course Review: England in the time of King Richard III

Provider: University of Leiceister @FutureLearn [course page]
Lecturers: Deirdre O’Sullivan + others
Subject: History
Delivery: self-paced asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 3 hrs/week over 6 weeks
Completion Date: 08/06/2014

Yorkist king Richard III grew up at Middleham....

Yorkist king Richard III grew up at Middleham. “Middleham Castle”. RichardIII.com . . Retrieved 2007-10-24 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: The discusses England at the time of King Richard III.

Strengths: Deirdre O’Sullivan brings together a team of experts to discuss English culture at the time of King Richard III, with a short history lesson of the Wars of the Roses. We learn about the military, communications (text and linguistic), culinary, employment and religious devotion of English people. In the last week, we also learn about the archeological dig that uncovered the body of King Richard III, teaching us a little about archeological processes used during this important find.
This course uses a variety of different information about the state of England during this period to offer context and insight into what led up to King Richard III’s death. This showed the affect that the Black Death had on civilization, changing the manner in which the social classes dealt with each other. It led to changes in habits as a result of changes in income and working environment. This apparently led to revision of many laws as well.
We also see the establishment of standardisation in language during this time, something that reminds me of some of the changes brought about by Emperor Qin during his rule in China more than a 1000 years prior. The introduction of such things enabled easier communication within the country. We also see the publication of various texts, such as books on cooking and falconry, thus allowing the sharing of knowledge between various groups.

Weaknesses: Be warned: Studying this course may dispose of ignorance with great prejudice.

Conclusion: I really enjoyed this course. At the beginning I believed that I knew a lot more about this time period than I did. Over the span of the six weeks, I saw the banishment of misconceptions about medieval society as well as the answering of many of my questions. The University of Leicester put together a freaking excellent introduction to English history.
I primarily recommend this MOOC to anyone interested in history and/or looking to avoid errors in their creative projects, such as written works. However, I believe that most people can benefit from understanding how certain events can have major effect on the path of mankind. This is a must-enrol!


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Course Review: Exploring Metaphysics

Provider: The Great Courses by The Teaching Company [course page]
Lecturers: Professor David K. Johnson Ph.D. (University of Oklahoma)
Subject: Philosophy + [Science / Physics + Neuroscience] + Religion
Delivery: 24 Audio lectures
Recommended Load: N/A
Completion Date: 08/06/2014

English: The first lecture in Experimental Phi...

English: The first lecture in Experimental Philosophy, which took place in London in 1748. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: Professor Johnson demonstrates the importance of Philosophical thought using examples in science and religion.

Strengths: This lecture series covers a lot of material in a short time. The speaker delivers it all in a conversational tone, with a hint of humour and pop culture references strewn throughout. He builds upon material over time and often references what he’s discussed in previous lectures. As such, the material is best listened to in order.
Although I’ve spent a bit of time studying the “big three” (a.k.a. Science, Religion and Philosophy), it seems that a lot of students tend to not think beyond the terminology used in textbooks. This series goes beyond the simple stuff in order to discuss how philosophy can help us come to terms with the fact that we know very little about what makes the universe and human beings behave in the manner that they do.
As mentioned above, the material builds upon itself. This is done by explaining the terminology and arguments (both deductive and inductive) used by philosophers in the various fields. The lecturer goes into the pros and cons of each, citing where he falls and why. This all concludes with the “Matrix Argument”, a lecture that has resulted in some rather interesting online discussion on sites such as Goodreads. However, variations of this argument have been introduced as part of philosophical courses for years due to their ability to question our perceptions of the world around us.

Weaknesses: Having some minor knowledge of some of the material will help reduce backtracking and looking for definitions of the terms.

Conclusion: This lecture series is an entertaining, educating and enlightening explanation of the importance of Philosophy across the various fields. Although I have done some study (courses and online free-study) of the big three, this course ties them all together nicely. It doesn’t answer all questions, instead encouraging students to consider that they do not and may never understand the answer to many of their questions. Philosophy in this context is the awareness of our lack of knowledge and understanding of the universe. It is this spark of wisdom that also encourages students to dig deeper and start asking further questions, as questions may lead to answers.
I recommend this lecture series to anyone with an open mind and an innate curiosity. Folks with an appreciation for the weird nature of the universe should also check it out.


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Course Review: Space, Time and Einstein

Provider: World Science U
Lecturers: Brian Greene
Subject: Science / Physics
Delivery: self-paced asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 3 hrs/week over 3 weeks
Completion Date: 08/02/2014

Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in ...

Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921 (age 42). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: This short course gives an introduction to physics. The website is rolling out other physics courses, ranging from short introductory courses to term-length “University Courses”. One university course entitled “Special Relativity” is available. 2 short courses and 2 university courses on physics are currently in development.

Strengths: Brian Greene presents a rather neat introduction to time and space through the lens of physics. No mathematics or physics knowledge is required, just an interest in learning some concepts. The material is delivered via engaging videos, activities and forum discussions.

Weaknesses: After doing this short course, I will not look at science fiction series and films as before.

Conclusion: I never studied physics in high school due to the intimidating nature of the subject. However, this course does much to make the material accessible, thus spurring an interest, at least in yours truly, in doing further study in physics. As such, I have enrolled in the World Science U term-length course “Special Relativity”.
I recommend this course to anyone with an interest in science and/or physics, as well as anyone looking to avoid pesky technical issues with their science fiction or science-focused writing.


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Course Review: Literature of the English Country House

Provider: The University of Sheffield @FutureLearn [course page]
Lecturers: Jim and Susan Fitzmaurice + others
Subject: Humanities
Delivery: self-paced asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 3 hrs/week over 8 weeks
Completion Date: 07/27/2014

Belton House

Belton House (Photo credit: ** Lucky Cavey **)

Description: The discusses the role that the English country house played upon English writing (fiction, non-fiction and poetry) from the 15th century onwards. #FLHouseLit 

Strengths: The team discusses the role of environment in the structure and descriptions used by English writers. We also learn a bit about the history and culture of the city and country. This is all shown using excerpts from poetry, fiction and non-fiction work from the period. This is offered further context by the weekly videos being filmed in a related country house. The discussions were lively and the teaching staff were active on both the forums and social media.

Weaknesses: I am currently being haunted by some English duke that passed on during the 16th century. #migrantghosts

Conclusion: During this course, I was reintroduced to some of the written works studied in high school English. It was quite a neat journey, made even more interesting by the new material that I was exposed to as well as the settings used for the videos. The team successfully placed the material into context; and I found myself gaining real insight into the time periods mentioned. Last but not least is the gaining of an appreciation for the literature and further interest in reading and revisiting the texts mentioned.
I highly recommend this course to anyone with an interest in literature, writing and history. Even if you don’t immediately meet those criteria, I suggest that you check out future intakes to see if it inspires you to look into the material.


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Course Review: SW12.3x China Part 3

Provider: HarvardX @EdX [course page]
Lecturers: Peter K. Bol and William C. Kirby + others
Subject: Humanities / History
Delivery: self-paced asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 2-4 hrs/week over 4 weeks
Completion Date: 07/16/2014

Tang Dynasty circa 700 AD. Derived from Territ...

Tang Dynasty circa 700 AD. Derived from Territories_of_Dynasties_in_China.gif. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: This third part of the ChinaX series discusses the arts developed in China around the Tang Dynasty and how this influenced other cultures. This course covers Poetry, Calligraphy and Story-telling in the context of the part each played in Tang society and vice versa.

Strengths: Many of us have likely seen calligraphy and poetry offered as mood for various films and documentaries set in Asia. This course not only goes into detail on the structure and form of poetry and calligraphy, but it discusses the story-telling established during this period by looking into a single notable work. As mentioned earlier, these were placed into a social context, each playing an unique role in Chinese society. There is also a commercial value for such things, with varying forms of paper, brushes and inks leading to the sale of various goods and services, such as ink grinding.

Weaknesses: No free cake.

Conclusion: This course offers a logical and chronological progression of Chinese history following from the period discussed in the second part of the series. I found the material on poetry, calligraphy and story-telling of real value as I now have more of an understanding of what it meant to have been a poet, calligrapher and story-teller during the period. It follows logically from the previous instalments that dealt with religion and philosophy, offering students a rounded view of the various elements that have shaped China, Asia and beyond.
I continue to enjoy the series and highly recommend it to anyone with either curiosity about China and Asia, and/or those researching the area for something they’re working on.


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New Releases: The Only Living Boy

Publisher: Bottled Lightning
Creators: David Gallaher & Steve Ellis
Links: Official Website, Facebook page, Twitter, OLB Comixology store page

I opened up my email last night and saw a message from Noisetrade Books. Given that I haven’t read much of late, I nearly didn’t open it. However, I am sure glad that I did. Why? Because it contained a listing for the first installment of the YA graphic novel series The Only Living Boy by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis.
The series is now into its second issue and follows a young boy that finds himself in a dystopian world after running away from home. It is a world with its share of monsters, weird non-human races, and at least one scientist that enjoys his share of experimentation. Young Erik Farrell must learn who to trust, how to fight and the art of bluffing in order to survive a world far removed from the world that we are familiar with. There are some awesome side characters as well. However, I don’t want to spoil things for you guys.
Seriously, just check it out for yourself. If you like what you read, spread the world and send some money the direction of David and Steve. They’ve put together a fine product in The Only Living Boy and deserve the kudos. Check out the official website for more details about the series.

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