The 14 new free online courses from Stanford University are getting underway this month at a website called Coursera. For those who missed the initial announcement, these are non-credit courses, which let you watch short videos and take embedded quizzes. If you sign up, do the homework and take exams, you will also a letter of completion signed by the course’s instructors.
The new website doesn’t use the Stanford logo, although most of the instructors are from Stanford. Some online reports say that Coursera is part of a new company founded by Stanford professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, a lot like the Udacity site founded by Stanford computer scientist Sebastian Thrun.
You can get a taste of what will be on offer at Coursera by looking at these preview videos from the course on Model Thinking, taught by political scientists Scott Page of the University of Michigan. The course is an introduction to the kinds of models used by social scientists to help manage and analyze data. The first lesson gives an overview of the course, and the second lesson looks a few models that help make sense of segregation in cities and how social revolutions can seem to come out of nowhere.
Each lesson is made up of 5 or 6 short videos, 6 to 12 minutes in length, which makes it easy to get a chunk of learning done on your coffee break, or between other activities. I find Page to be an engaging instructor, and the illustrations in the videos are helpful in understanding his explanations. I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the course will bring.
Here’s the promo video for Page’s course.