This fall I accepted a project that required knowledge that I knew I didn’t quite fully posses yet. A bit of a ditz move. And I knew that if I didn’t do something to gain the knowledge and capabilities that I would need to accomplish my assignment, then I’d be pretty screwed. In essence, I had just a few months over the summer to become at least sufficient, if not proficient, in programming. I had a little experience from my bachelors when I received direct assistance in Python from a colleague in Minnesota, but it just wasn’t enough for what I needed to do in the fall. So I had to find some way to learn. And learn fast. Then I remembered that another friend and colleague form my old lab once told me about a site called coursera. I had my chance! I went on and search their site for Python and found my answer.
If you haven’t yet discovered coursera or edX I strongly encourage you to do so. Both sites (coursera.org and edx.org) offer dozens or even hundreds of MOOCs (Massive online open courses) in all sorts of fields including science, mathematics, history, culture, and more. And the best part? It’s all free! Completely open access! For the small price of entering an email and registering an account, you can have free tutelage in almost anything you could want. I mean, that’s less than what Facebook asks for. And they don’t teach you squat!
For me, the course I was looking for was Learn to Program: The Fundamentals from University of Toronto, just one course offering from one of several different schools that offer MOOCs. Starting at a reasonable and slow pace to allow for true beginners in the field of computer programming, they gradually cranked up the intensity of the material until you developed a nuanced understanding of the language and it’s inner workings.
Along with video lectures, the edx and coursera sites also provide assessments in the form of small exercises, assignments, and even exams, as well as assistance in the form of in site forums where you can ask your questions and answer others. And many courses will offer a certificate of completion upon finishing your course. Of course there is an academic integrity agreement that you must agree to before you are allowed into each class. But hey, let’s face it, if you try to cheat, you won’t learn anything and all you will have done is waste your own time. They don’t offer degrees. Just information.
In partial summary, MOOCs are amazing!
After I got my refresher in Python, I was able to understand the language enough to make full use of the base language, secondary assembled libraries, and google help results (mainly from Stack Overflow) :). The combination of coursera, coffee, and courage have helped me to do quite a bit of learning in quite a short time. I encourage you… No, I challenge you, the person reading this right now to go to https://www.edx.org/ or https://www.coursera.org/ right now and see what cool things they can teach you.