U is for University-ish

One of the awesome things about the internet (all hail the internet) is that it opens up all sorts of opportunities to take classes online. Occasionally I sign up for something that would be useful for work, or because it seems like something I *ought* to learn how to do to enhance my existing skills, but lately I’ve been signing up for MOOCs, purely for the fun of it. The best part about them is that you can take the tests, or not, based on how you feel. You can cram all the coursework into one week if you don’t have time to do it spread out. Your level of involvement in the discussions is entirely up to you (and if you don’t post a single response, no one will care). And if life gets in the way (like with the Mobile Game Programming course I had to sadly let slide a couple months ago), eh, you just stop logging in.

In January I went through a really interesting course called Introduction to Forensic Science, which was offered by the University of Strythclyde via FutureLearn. Over the course of six weeks the instructors posted lectures (via video) and links to articles and other related reading material, and hosted lively discussions. Each week they provided a high level overview of some segment of forensic science (which is, of course, far more time consuming, and far less accurate than CSI and all of those other crime-of-the-week shows would have you believe), and throughout the course, we were also considering one particular murder case, and using what we learned to assess what we could now know about the evidence collected. As I’ve got a science background (as rusty as it is), most of what was covered wasn’t difficult for me (although I admit to being surprised by how many people seemed to struggle with DNA – didn’t everyone learn about Mendel and his peas back in grade school?). And what I appreciated most about the course is that the case study they used did *not* have a clear cut verdict. Our class poll was pretty evenly split; at the end, the ‘guilty’ votes only won out by a percentage point or two over the ‘not guilty’ votes.

Currently I am taking two separate ethics classes via EdX (a rather amusing coincidence, as I signed up for them at two completely separate times). The first is The Ethics of Eating (put on by a couple of philosophy professors via Cornell University), and if the first week is any indication, it’s going to be an interesting class, since we’ve already tackled Food, Inc. (hint – the film has a NOT REMOTELY SUBTLE agenda), and read an article that, if I hadn’t already been extremely uncomfortable with how they were prepared in the first place, would have been more than enough to convince me to never eat a lobster again. The second course is an Introduction to Bioethics, put on by the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown, and it also looks like it’s going to be really interesting. As of the first week we’ve discussed bodily autonomy; the slippery slope ethical discussions around patients making decisions to refuse treatment without which they will die, and the issue of doctors who do (or do not) honor those requests, and from the syllabus, it looks like we’ll be tackling some even more contentious issues later on.

The letter U is brought to you by the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.

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