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Tyler Devlin

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  • 4 reviews
  • 4 completed
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Prerequisites First a note on necessary background material. This is a review course, so prior experience with mechanics is expected. Although single variable calculus is also an official prerequisite, it's mostly just used to derive formulas. (I can only remember one or two problems in the whole course where calculus was used explicitly.) I had already taken a yearlong calculus-based physics course before this, and I certainly felt it was helpful. I can imagine that someone with no background in physics might be able to do well in the course, but it would likely be a long and frustrating experience--the course is not designed to be a first introduction to mechanics. On the other hand, don't assume you can't get anything out of this course if you've already had mechanics. The course teaches strong conceptual understanding as well as an effective approach to problem solving. Content I'll begin with my one and only complaint about the course: the presentation is very dry. In taking a no-nonsense approach to teaching physics, the coordinators have created a bare bones course that gets the job done but is devoid of excitement. Almost all of the material is presented in text form. There are a handful of instances where the course links to videos of Walter Lewin (look him up on YouTube if you haven't seen him before), and the contrast between his teaching style and that of this course is night and day. Lewin communicates the passion, power, and fun of physics. This course will give you a very strong foundation in mechanics, but it may not make you love the subject. The Bottom Line I'm very glad I found this course. Many of the classes I've taken through Coursera have been interesting but lacked rigor, so the challenge that 8.MRevX offered was welcome. You will need a decent amount of willpower to make it through this course, but when you come out the other side, you will have learned a lot.
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Professor The instructor, Ravi Iyengar, is clearly a distinguished researcher and current pioneer in the emerging field of systems biology. Unfortunately, his first-class skills as a researcher are not matched by his abilities as a teacher. The lectures are often too focused on the smaller details, making it easy for the learner to be overwhelmed, bored, and at a loss for understanding. Although the course is called Introduction to Systems Biology, it often feels more like a "topics" course in which papers from the current scientific literature are surveyed. While this approach works well at an advanced level, it is hardly appropriate for a first course in the field (and in my opinion it doesn't work too well with Coursera's current pedagogical model). To be fair, Iyengar has his high points, where his passion for the subject shines through and it becomes easier to grasp the bigger picture. Unfortunately this is the exception rather than the rule. Course Format As far as Coursera classes go, Intro to Sys. Bio follows a fairly standard approach: power points with audio narration, short weekly quizzes, one midterm exam, and a final. The course also includes four peer assessments, which require the student to read a scientific paper or two and then answer a series of peer-evaluated questions. The questions are often either too simplistic or confusingly worded, and the grading rubric can be arbitrary and strict. Nevertheless, the papers were a pleasure to read, and were it not for this course, I likely would never have stumbled upon them. Subject Matter I enjoyed biology, math, and computer science before this class, and I am strongly considering working in the field of systems biology as a result of this course, in spite of the professor. You should consider taking this class if you have both an interest and some prior experience in more than one of its related disciplines. Many students with engineering/math/CS backgrounds complained about the amount of biology required to understand the lectures. Likewise, many students from the life sciences struggled because the course required basic familiarity with differential equations and statistics. I was lucky enough to have had some exposure to both the computational and the biological foundations of this course, but I doubt I would have made it to the end without this prior knowledge. The Bottom Line Fascinating subject, mediocre professor, substandard course design… newcomers beware!
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Arnold Weinstein is a highly gifted professor and a very engaging lecturer. The course moves quickly, so be prepared to read aggressively, but the fast pace does not detract from the quality of the experience. Looking forward to another offering from Professor Weinstein!
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Professor was very enthusiastic and seemed knowledgeable, but the course suffered from software bugs, a lack of clear structure, and a sense of superficiality. The assessments were not challenging enough.