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Charles King

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  • 6 reviews
  • 4 completed
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It's definitely helpful to have some background in astronomy, but this need not be formal in any way. A basic understanding of high-school physics and maths is all that's needed. The course is an excellent source of material for those who want to go beyond the more basic astronomy courses. It teaches not only the state of current knowledge, but how that knowledge was gained, which as Mike Brown points out in the last lecture is far more important. The only downside is that there's only so much that can be packed into 9 weeks, so many topics could not be covered in the depth they deserved. But it provides a good foundation for further exploration of the subject. Definitely worth taking for anyone who wants to find out more about what's happening with Curiosity, Cassini, etc. The one real problem with the course is that the quizzes are a bit of a mess, with some obvious errors, and still need a lot of work. But the real value lies in the material covered in the lectures.
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I suppose even Stanford needs some EZ-PASS courses for the athletes. This course is long on grandiose claims, but short on any real meat, and the pacing is glacial. It certainly is *not* a course for anyone with any prior experience of maths or science at even an advanced high school level, and is better suited for those needing remedial help with the basic concepts of propositional logic. Devlin's approach may be useful for those who need a lot of hand-holding, but his waffling method of presentation and failure to present formal definitions with the clarity they require just became irritating. Towards the end I would just let the lecture run in the background while I was doing something else and check in every couple of minutes to see if he'd got to something interesting. For those hoping for a course that covers elements of real analysis (as he advertises at the start), look elsewhere. He doesn't get beyond the basic definition of a series.
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A really fun and engaging course. Jim Fowler is a great teacher whose enthusiasm for maths is highly infective. In stark contrast to the sterile, professionally-produced videos that some courses provide, Jim shows you how maths can be done by pushing around little pieces of paper. It is an amazingly effective approach and contributes a lot to the charm of the course. To be honest, I wasn't that interested in the material, but started it just to take a look. But I got hooked and ended up thoroughly enjoying it.
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This is the Gold Standard, the shining example by which all other MOOCs should be judged. It is seldom that one encounters such a superb example of educational excellence. The material was challenging, yet explained in a clear and logical manner. The quizzes were no pushover, but demonstrated how such problems could be solved by a rational and methodical approach. This course was the result of years of work, with  the material already having been refined for classroom delivery. The transition to a MOOC was nearly flawless, largely because of the unstinting efforts of the TAs. Everyone involved with the course should feel proud of their work here.
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This course seems to be aimed at VERY low level. Don't take it expecting to learn much about Carl Woese's work, despite his prominence in the advert. All the references to him covered were the fact that he discovered Archaea and is a Great Man (really, all they managed to do was convey the idea that someone has a chip on his shoulder). It would have been much more useful if, instead of talking about how many grants he was refused, they covered things like horizontal gene transfer or RNAWorld with more than a passing mention. The videos are certainly quite professional and smart, but the content is severely lacking.
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You definitely need a basic understanding of astronomy, physics and maths to at least a first-year level. There are several introductory courses available that should be done before this one. But if you want to move on from the basics, this is the course for you. It provides a thorough survey of the investigations being performed by cosmologists and the methodology used. As always, 9 weeks is not really enough to provide all the detail the material deserves, but the course gives you a foundation for further reading. Most online science courses are aimed at a fairly novice audience and it was very enjoyable to find one that wasn't repeating the same old stuff I've heard before. Prof. Djorgovski can come across as a bit grumpy at times on the fora, but he makes a concerted effort to interact with the students and help the discussions.