Shed a tear: UCLA erases courses

Yes, it’s happened again. UCLA did some housecleaning on its podcast website, and erased all courses prior to fall quarter 2011. That means some great content has faded into the ether, but it’s also a timely reminder to download online courses before they disappear.

And it also gives me another chance to plug one of my all-time favorite courses, UCLA psychologist Thomas Bradbury’s Close Relationships (website). My initial review of this course was back in 2010, but thankfully there is a 2012 version of the course still online. Bradbury does his own research on intimate relationships, what makes them survive and what makes them fall apart. The course is full of great insights, and some entertaining video clips as well.

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Interpreting the Bible

The Bible is one of the foundational texts of the Western tradition and Harvard historian Shaye Cohen’s course The Hebrew Scriptures in Judaism and Christianity (iTunes) gives a lively introduction to the different ways believing Christians and Jews have interpreted the Bible since ancient times.

A course like this could be a minefield, given the possible sensitivities of his students and of the wider Internet audience. But Cohen does a great job of treating everyone’s truth claims respectfully. He emphasizes that his course seeks to understand the ways in which believers have read the Bible – without judging the validity of interpretations.

Cohen, who has written extensively about the period in which Christianity and Judaism went their separate ways, brings his vast erudition and good humor to the topic in the 26 lectures of this course. He explains how Christians came to view the Hebrew Bible through the lens of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, while Jews viewed it as the story of their special relationship with God.

Of particular interest are lectures 13 and 14, where Cohen explains how the Jewish Sabbath lost relevance for Christians as they began to celebrate Sunday as Lord’ s Day, and the last two lectures that deal with the contentious concept of the “chosen people.”

This course is a great sequel to the Yale open courses Introduction to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (website) and Introduction to New Testament History and Literature (website), although Cohen provides enough background to let you jump right in, even if you haven’t listened to the Yale courses.

Posted in Bible, Courses, Five-star professors, History, iTunesU, Jewish studies, Religion | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Faculty Project

This year the world seems awash with new venues for free online courses. It’s not just universities anymore. Stanford birthed the startups Udacity and Coursera. MIT and Harvard are collaborating to create Edx.

And then there’s the Faculty Project. It’s a less ambitious but still interesting venue for free short courses, hosted by the for-profit site, which mainly hosts fee-based courses.

Right now the Faculty Project is home to 13 free short courses on a variety of topics, some by professors at namebrand institutions like Duke University and Dartmouth College. Subjects tend to be in the humanities and social sciences and include topics like Modern China and Economics of Energy and Environment. To participate, you create a username and password, and then you get the opportunity to watch short streaming lectures, ranging from 4 to 20 min. in length. Some are spiced with videos and other visuals. For example, the course on China starts out with early 20th century newsreel style video clips Chinese people working, marching, rioting and otherwise living their lives.

Although the site includes no obvious download links to allow you to capture the lectures, you can download them using software like Downloadhelper, a plug-in for Firefox. See: How to download streaming audio and video/ Part 1.

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New courses from Harvard

Until recently, Harvard University course offerings on iTunesU were limited to computer science courses from Harvard Extension. But now Harvard University has posted three courses on its own iTunesU page. They are:

Introduction to Computer Science (iTunes) David Malan

The Hebrew Scriptures in Judaism and Christianity (iTunes) Shaye Cohen

Probability (iTunes) Joseph Blitzstein

If you have an Apple idevice, you can subscribe to these courses using Apple’s iTunesU app, which gives easy access to additional materials such as syllabi, course notes and web links. But if you’re not an Apple acolyte, most of these materials are also available through the iTunes store software.

All of the above courses have gotten high marks from reviewers on iTunes, and I am currently listening to the Hebrew Scriptures course, which I am enjoying greatly and will talk about in a future post.

Posted in Bible, Computers, Courses, iTunesU, Math, Religion | 1 Comment

Coursera announces new courses announced an impressive slate of new free courses this week, along with $16 million in venture capital funding. Coursera, which began as a free course initiative at Stanford University, is now offering courses taught by instructors from UC Berkeley, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan, along with Stanford instructors.

Unlike its Silicon Valley neighbor Udacity, that also had its start at Stanford, Coursera is branching out from computer science and technology to include free courses in the humanities and social sciences as well. Some of the new courses start as early as April 23, with other slated to begin in the summer and the fall.

Both Coursera and Udacity are moving beyond the open courseware model of iTunes U and other providers to offer exams, grades and certificates of completion, that for now are all free of charge. It’s unclear how Coursera and Udacity will be able to make money for their investors since all of the courses are free. The Wall Street Journal blog Venture Capital Dispatch mentions the possibility that Coursera may eventually charge for certificates or for job matching.

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Spring classes now underway

Spring quarter classes are now underway at UCSD and UCLA. As usual, the UCSD podcast page offers an impressive array of courses (I count 89), but in a new and troubling development, some of the courses are hidden behind a password barrier. Let’s hope this does not become a trend.

Some previous UCSD favorites are back.

MMW 13 New Ideas/ Cultural Encounters ( feed) Matthew Herbst.
MMW (Making of the Modern World) is a 6-part course that covers world history, from the earliest hominids to the present day. Matthew Herbst, a masterful teacher, leads this tour through world history from 1200 to 1750.    (See earlier post Making of the Modern World at UCSD.)

U.S. Religion & Law: Civil War to Present (feed) Michael Parrish.
Historian Michael Parrish teaches this survey of religion and law in America since the Civil War.  Emphasis is on legal history, with discussion of cases about religion.

UCLA keeps most of its courses behind a password wall, but two great courses are open to the public.

Western Civilization, 1715-Present (2009 Youtube, current audio feed), Lynn Hunt.
Hunt brings new insights to this subject and helps me think about history in new ways. She usually begins each lecture with a musical selection, and describes how the arts are bound up with the political and social histories of each era.  See post: A great Western Civ course from UCLA.

Sociology of Mass Communication (feed) Gabriel Rossman.
How does the American entertainment industry work and why does it work that way?  Why are media conglomerates getting bigger and bigger? You’ll find the answers in this course. Rossman has an entertaining, conversational style and peppers his lectures with lots of examples. The 2008 syllabus has links to many of the assigned readings, which are available for free on the web.

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Take a class from Prof. Bernanke

Ben Bernanke, formerly a Princeton professor of economics, and now doing some kind of government job in Washington DC, is making a well publicized return to the classroom, giving a series of four 1-hour lectures to students at George Washington University, starting today.

To check out the first lecture, entitled  “Origins and Mission of the Federal Reserve” click here.

(Via the New York Times.)

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Class Central: a great resource

If you want to keep track of the new breed of online courses now being offered by MIT’s MITx, Stanford’s Coursera and the independent site Udacity, you should check out Class Central. The website keeps track of starting dates and stays on top of the latest announcements and rumors. Its feed is definitely a great addition to your RSS reader.

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The epic of the epic

The grand tale known as the epic is an ancient genre that goes back to the dawn of literature.  Think of the heroes battling for glory in the Aeneid, or the fall of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost. To get an overview of these grand tales in western literature and see how they reflected their cultures, check out The Epic (iTunes), a UC Berkeley course co-taught by Maura Bridget Nolan and Charles Altieri.

John Milton, author of the epic poem Paradise Lost.*

This course moves along briskly. So far, in seven weeks it has covered the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid and the first part of Dante’s Divine Comedy.  If you were enrolled and trying to keep up with the reading you would probably be up late many nights.  Fortunately, with podcasts you can take things more leisurely.  Nolan and Altieri take turns lecturing, sometimes in alternate class sessions and sometimes within the same session.  I confess a great preference for Nolan, who provides cultural background and close readings that show how the poets refer to each other in a grand conversation that crosses the centuries.  I’m not as fond of Altieri, but give him a try.  Your mileage may vary.

The class will also cover Milton’s Paradise Lost and then jumps into modernity with James Joyce’s Ulysses.

*Image credit: Wikipedia, public domain.
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Free MITx course offers grade and certificate

You can get a piece of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) brand for free if you sign up for Circuits and Electronics (website) a prototype online course which will run from March 5 to June 8.

The course is the first offering of MITx, MIT’s new online initiative that will offer more free MIT content on the web in the fall of 2012. For this first course, students will take exams on the honor system and will not have to pay for a certificate of completion. In the future there will be identity checks and probably a fee.

Here is what MIT’s press release says about the course:

To access the course, registered students will log in at, where they will find a course schedule, an e-textbook for the course, and a discussion board. Each week, students will watch video lectures and demonstrations, work with practice exercises, complete homework assignments, and participate in an online interactive lab specifically designed to replicate its real-world counterpart. Students will also take exams and be able to check their grades as they progress in the course. Overall, students can expect to spend approximately 10 hours each week on the course.

This is an introductory course in electrical engineering, so you should have taken an AP level physics course in electricity and magnetism. You should also know basic calculus and linear algebra and have some background in differential equations.


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