Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What Do I Do All Day? I Attend Courses at Top Universities (sort of)

images This is the fourth in a series of posts about how a disabled person like me passes the time at home, now that I no longer work.

It’s true. Some of the top universities in the United States and around the world now allow you to view their courses online, for free. You don’t earn the college credits, and you are almost never invited to fraternity parties. But neither do you have to suffer through midterms and finals or part with $50,000 a year.

Note: some programs do have quizzes and assignments, and in return you can earn a certificate of completion.

I’ve viewed three courses so far, all from Yale University. None of these particular courses had assignments or provided certificates of completion, which is just fine with me. My resume building days are behind me.

Each of the three courses I viewed consisted of twenty-six, fifty minute lectures. One convenient aspect of this method of learning is that you can either cherry pick the lectures that interest you the most, and skip the others, or decide to watch the course from beginning to end. Here are the courses I’ve completed so far:

Philosophy 176: Death
Spring 2007
Shelly Kagen

As a society, we have an understandable fascination with death and dying. As an atheist, I don’t have doctrine or scripture to guide me on how I should think about the subject.
“This course will examine a number of issues that arise once we begin to reflect on our mortality. The possibility that death may not actually be the end is considered. Are we, in some sense, immortal? Would immortality be desirable?...and, finally, different attitudes to death are evaluated. Is death an evil? How? Why? Is suicide morally permissible? Is it rational? How should the knowledge that I am going to die affect the way I live my life?”
images (1)Religious Studies 145: Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible)
Fall 2006
Christine Hayes

This is not a theological study of the Bible. That would occur in the Divinity School (which Yale has, but not online). I did not attend this class for spiritual reasons, but rather to better understand the origins of this culturally significant (to say the least) collection of ancient writings. As Professor Hayes said, “The Bible is not a book. It is a library.”
“This course examines the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) as an expression of the religious life and thought of ancient Israel, and a foundational document of Western civilization…Special emphasis is placed on the Bible against the backdrop of its historical and cultural setting in the Ancient Near East.”
Religious Studies 152: Introduction to the New Testament History and Literature
Spring 2009
Dale B. Martin
“This course provides a historical study of the origins of Christianity by analyzing the literature of the earliest Christian movements in historical context, concentrating on the New Testament...the importance of the New Testament and other early Christian documents as ancient literature and as sources for historical study will be emphasized.”
I enjoyed all three courses, and am now contemplating what my next class will be. Maybe I’ll stray from the humanities and take something more technical in nature. Website design?

Although I’ve tended towards Yale University offerings, there are so many other options available. Here are a few links:

Here is another form of online learning, with short videos instead of full-length lectures.

I encourage everyone to consider participating in this new online opportunity. There is no particular time commitment, other than watching a one hour lecture whenever you feel inclined to do so. For example, I spread out the 26 lectures in my Old Testament course over a year and a half. I made a renewed commitment for my New Testament course, and watched those 26 lectures in only three months. Either way works.

I find that I don’t retain the course material as well as I did when I attended college many years ago. I comprehend the material well enough while it is being presented. However, I’m not able to later explain what it is I learned. This happened at lunch a couple of weeks ago, after I had completed my New Testament course. I described to my lunch companion how interesting the course had been for me, and how much I had learned from it. He asked me for some specifics, but I struggled to come up with many examples, even though I had just spent almost 26 hours over a three month period absorbing the material.

I’m confident that I improve my understanding of the subject matter by taking these courses, but it’s difficult for me to provide concrete evidence of that. The same thing happens to me when I attempt to describe a good book to someone. Is this failing the result of normal aging or cognitive deficit from MS? Who knows? And really, who cares? I’m going to keep on learning either way.

Here are my other posts in this series:

1. I Watch (mostly) Quality Television
2. I Digitize and Archive Family Photos and Videos
3. I Read Books
5. I Nap
6. I Blog
7. I Read Other People's Blogs


  1. As the mom of Greek who just died, I am overwhelmed with thoughts of what does happen when one dies. A pastor in the newspaper today stated that belief allows one to not suffer alone because there is more after this life. I have no answers, just the pain of knowing I miss my son in this life. Keep up the writing..I never miss your blog.

  2. George's Mom,

    Once again, I'm so sorry for your loss. I know that it will take time before your pain subsides. You and your family remain in my thoughts, and I'm so pleased that you are a reader of this blog. (for my readers who are not aware, "The Greek from Detroit" was a fellow MS blogger who left us recently after suffering terribly from his disease)

  3. Mitch,
    A study of the Old and New Testament for you?
    I found this both interesting and surprising.
    After you "came out of the closet" I wouldn't think this 'word of God' based material would peak your interest. Just curious why you'd pick these studies.
    I confess- I hold on to these teachings of the Bible even though I don't remotely understand how it all works.
    But it's my life raft and I just trust that God knows what He's doing.
    No disrespect intended.

  4. Mitch, Thank you so much for this! I have been wanting to learn more about American History. Reading about it is just too dry and boring. I'm not computer savvy enough to figure out how to find a podcast. I already found one course on your list on the American Revolution, so I'm off....thank you!

  5. Dee,

    No disrespect taken, and a fair question. I don't have enough room here to give a thorough explanation of my interest in the Bible, but I will say this. The Bible, and Christianity in general, are so pervasive in Western culture that it behooves me to understand the historical origin of the Bible, the content of this collection of documents, and the setting in which the books were written (to the extent that historians can even piece it together). The Bible has both historical and cultural significance. I'm definitely not studying it to connect with a supreme being.


    I'm glad I was able to help. I have my eye on a World War II history class at Harvard.

  6. Mitch,

    My fellow nerd, I praise your character. To spend over 26 hours learning about "the bible" (although I wonder how one can claim one bible superior to the other) even though the conclusions or creations from it embodied in various flavors of Christian faith go against your core belief system. I've spent enough of my life studying "the bible" by now. My online education focuses on quantum mechanics and mathematics.

    Always great to read your posts!

  7. Darren,

    Actually it was more like 52 hours if you count the old and new Testaments!

  8. Being unable to explain the plot of the book you just finished and enjoyed is one of MS's many evil tricks, IMO.

    Being unable to come up with two or three things you learned in three months of listening to a course is ... just wrong.

    But I know that you know it, even so. (As if that makes you feel any better.)