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8 great (and free!) free online courses  November 10, 2018 – 11:28 am

Bob Daly

WHETHER YOU’RE A COLLEGE STUDENT or a lifelong learner, the emergence of MOOCs — Massive Online Open Courses — has been good news for your brain and your wallet. MOOCs let thousands of students at a time enroll in courses at some of the world’s top institutions, requiring little more than an Internet connection and a spirit of curiosity. Here, some of the most interesting MOOCs and other online courses you can take that were born in and around America’s college town.


ANTH207X, Wellesley College

This class in paleoanthropology will feature a virtual lab in which users will get to analyze 3-D fossils such as skulls and drop in on simulated excavations using images and video of archeological sites, including in places like Kazakhstan, Dmanisi in Georgia, and the Great Rift Valley in Africa, many of them visited in person, Indiana Jones-style, by professor Adam Van Arsdale. Next taught September 25.


7.00X, MITx

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Yeah, it’s kind of a big topic, but it’s also taught by someone who can actually explain it all: Eric Lander, one of the scientists who decoded the human genome. The 11-week course covers the basics of biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, and other topics in the same introductory format used to teach MIT undergrads. And if you pass, you get a free “certificate of mastery” from MIT’s online offshoot, MITx. Next taught September 10.


HKS211.1x, HarvardX

Such a hot topic that access to discussion boards will be restricted, this is a right-out-of-the-headlines course taught by some of the people behind those headlines. National security analyst Graham Allison, a former assistant secretary of defense who served as an adviser to both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, will be joined at the blackboard by David E. Sanger, chief Washington correspondent of The New York Times. By looking at examples, including WikiLeaks — and, likely, Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency — students will learn how to analyze and develop strategies to contend with everything from the Iranian nuclear program to the Arab Awakening in an all-too-real-world environment of leaks, internal discord, and policy blunders. Next taught September 10.


24.00x, MITx

“You’re watching this on a machine of some sort. It isn’t conscious. You are conscious.” That’s how Caspar Hare begins this course, at one of the world’s foremost science universities, about life’s greatest mysteries, which is designed to help develop the ability to make strong arguments. “Some things have free will, ” Hare says on the course video in a gripping lecture style and obligatory English accent. “You have free will. Or at least you think you do. But how exactly can you have free will, given that the matter in your body is pushed around by the immutable iron laws of physics?” Find out here. Next taught October 1.


SPU27X, HarvardX

Taught by an unlikely team of physicists, mathematicians, and international chefs, this course includes a weekly lab assignment you can eat: a recipe you make at home after learning some of the science behind the culinary creations of the likes of Ferran Adria, who ran the legendary Spanish restaurant elBulli, Boston’s Joanne Chang of Flour and Myers + Chang, White House executive pastry chef Bill Yosses, and David Chang, chef and owner of New York’s Momofuku Ko. The syllabus might not sound that tasty, with its references to elasticity, emulsions, and diffusions, but the demonstrations, often in the chefs’ own kitchens, definitely are. Next taught October 1.

8.01x, MITx

An oldie but goodie by online education standards, this is the famous course in introductory physics taught by MIT professor Walter Lewin, who got robust cheers from his students for his dramatic demonstrations of the laws of physics that made Lecture Hall 26-100 famous. Videotaped in 1999, the lecture series is still riveting; Lewin releases a heavy pendulum from his own chin, for example, to prove he can predict its trajectory to within a fraction of a centimeter and propels himself on a tricycle using a fire extinguisher to show Newton’s third law of action and reaction. “Whether you like it or not, I’m going to make you love physics, ” Lewin says from beneath his wild mane of hair. And he will. Next taught September 9.


AI12.1x, HarvardX

How can you do better than a course about the work of 17th-century New England poets, such as Anne Bradstreet and Edward Taylor, from the place where many of them went to college? Literature professor Elisa New uses original manuscripts from Harvard’s massive library collections, plus video of where the poets once lived and wrote and students “singing” verses from pews in the university’s Memorial Church. This is the first of a series of online courses canvassing 400 years of poetry in America, starting where American poetry did. Next taught in October. (And then you can move on to the next in the series: Walt Whitman, starting in November.)


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