Teaching Online

Thanks to all who gave feedback on my idea about offering online instruction, in an online live classroom setting.

The bottom line seems to be this: that the cost (to enroll), although modest, was too much for most people. But what I’m considering is real education, and would take a lot of time away from other projects, so it’s a real drain on me.

I want to do it anyway; there are things I want to share. One of them is my knowledge and experience with time series analysis. Another is to teach Fourier analysis as a subject itself, rather than the “piecemeal” approach by which most people are introduced to it. Yet another is basic statistics, a subject which is too often neglected by youngsters who are headed for a career in science. I feel an obligation to the next generation, and I believe this is a way I can really help them. After all, if we want to save the world from the chaos of man-made climate change we need the next generation to be well-prepared; they are our best hope.

So, I’ve decided on a different course of action. Instead of having a “live” classroom experience (via streaming), I’ll develop an online course website (not this blog) with classes a combination of video lectures and blog posts, very much like “edX” courses. The advantage is that I can accomodate many more people, there’s no limit really, and the courses will be free for all who want to learn. The “comments” section will be for students to ask questions and “discuss among themselves.” And yes, there’ll be “homework” assignments.

Doing this is a big effort and will take time, so when it happens depends on how much funding I can get from donations. I got the idea when Hank Roberts very generously offered to donate to a “scholarship fund” for those who wanted to enroll in the “live” course but couldn’t affort it. The more generosity I get, the sooner it will come to pass. I’m hoping I can get the first course going before the end of this month.

If you think this is a worthwhile effort, please donate. That means it’s up to you when it starts, and which course comes first; donors can vote for which subject they want me to start with. You can make your donation at Peaseblossom’s Closet, and then email me your vote for your course selection. Send an email to the address “teachingfuturescientists”, followed by the ubiquitous “at” sign, followed by the domain which happens to be “gmail.com”. You vote with your dollars, whichever offering gets the most comes first.

I’ll also emulate public TV by offering rewards for donations. Those who donate at the $50 level will receive a free pdf-file copy (not hard copy) of one of my books — you can choose either “Understanding Statistics” or “Analyzing Light Curves: a Practical Guide.” The stats book has recently been re-formatted for easy reading on electronic devices, including e-readers (so if you’ve got a nook or kindle, the pdf will still be easy to read). When you email your vote for which course, be sure to let me know which book you’d like. Those who donate at the $100 level will receive free pdf-file copies of both my books. Do be aware, these works are copyrighted, so don’t distribute them or post them online.

Those who donate any amount, however small, and those who donate more than needed for a free gift, will get the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile. Those who object that such is no reward at all, fit Oscar Wilde’s definition of a “cynic” — someone who knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing.

I’ll announce when the first course begins, and I hope it’ll be soon. If it does happen to be basic stats, I hope readers here will help spread the word to everyone interested, especially those future scientists, the high school and junior high students who will be the backbone of scientific research in the decades to come.

Worry not, I won’t stop blogging here about global warming. That too is something worth doing.

7 responses to “Teaching Online

  1. My problem isn’t money (I think 200 bucks for a course like you were offering, is a bargain), it’s time.

    [Response: Another advantage of foregoing the live classroom, is that students can choose their own times.]

    • Its definitely a bargain. A one semester unit at an Australian university costs, I think, around $1000 (750 USD). The government pays half. But when you enrol in uni you don’t pay a cent up front, so it doesn’t seem to cost much.

    • Martin Smith

      Being in Norway, the video/website course makes a lot more sense.

  2. I like this idea better. And I’m wondering if you could license the content to interested universities. Universities are looking for better (and cheaper) ways to provide an education. They could use your content, but provide tutorial support, thus avoiding the huge dropout rate of pure online courses.

  3. Dan Andrews

    The donation site won’t accept my credit cards (tried Visa and Mastercard): “The card you entered cannot be used for this payment. Please enter a different credit or debit card number.”

    I’ve had this trouble before (can’t remember if it was here or another site).


  4. Good idea, will follow up as recommended. Grateful for your work.

    I did once try to do statistics, and got bogged down; though I rather like maths, I’m just not interested enough to do anything but get a rough idea of what the difference between expertise and lack of same is.

    I think laypeople like myself can be useful if they don’t get too up in the boughs with making unfounded accusations about flatearthers, paid work, and Dunning Kruger (not to mention intolerance of religion, which multiplies the problem), but rather keep it straightforward and avoid jargon. (This is OT, but since I started, I’d like to take the opportunity to mention that once someone has been told they are stupid and/or believe or do something they know they don’t, they’re gone; and we need people to think, not just hate.)

  5. I have some experience hosting the online learning platform Moodle (https://moodle.org/) and would consider hosting it for your course for free if you are interested.

    [Response: A very generous offer.]