Tim Banks, a learner currently residing in Singapore, shares how he uses edX courses to explore his personal interests and stay current in his field of work.
EdX offers access to wonderful teachers at top grade universities. It would almost be criminal to not make the most of this opportunity, one that would otherwise be impossible (who can believe you can learn one month from Caltech, and another month from Harvard?).
I have found EdX to be an important “ally” in three areas:
1. Improving professional knowledge.
EdX helps me upgrade my “toolkit” of methods and knowledge, so that I can keep up with my area of work.
I’m a data scientist, so I work in a field of constant change. There are always new methods and new tools to be learned and applied. It can be hard to keep up, and there might not be any courses on these topics at local universities or training schools. If there are, they might be at the wrong level or offered at the wrong time.
EdX is my first stop when looking to update skills, as I can study the topics I need at times that work for me.
Indeed, the first EdX course I took, way back in 2012, was MIT’s excellent Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python. Another excellent course was the Data Science and Engineering with Apache Spark series from Berkeley.
Not only did these courses provide me with the knowledge that I needed, but I could also study in my weekends and free evenings so that my job was not disrupted.
2. Becoming more well-rounded.
Professor Nagy’s course, The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, is an absolute rock star! It introduces you to the Ancient Greek people and how they saw the world, something that underpins much of the modern western world. It’s a challenging course. I don’t think I’ve read so much in years, but it certainly lives up to its goal of giving insights into what it means to be human.
Being an EdX course, you’re learning together with fellow students, which leads to an even more enriching experience through the lively discussions on the boards. I’ve made good friends through this course, to the point that we regularly catch up via Google Hangouts for discussions about the ancient world. We’re even talking of a study tour to Greece next year!
3. Revisiting past studies.
Although I haven’t practiced it for years, I’m an astronomer by training. I wasn’t sure if my knowledge was still up to date, but through EdX courses like those from Caltech and Australian National University (ANU), I’ve been able to catch up on the basics; so much so that last year I was admitted to the global professional body for astronomers, the International Astronomy Union.
The ANU courses have a “mystery” assignment, where week by week the lecturers release a bit more information about an astronomy puzzle. Quite a lot of data are made available, and it is up to students to go as deep as they like in their analyses.
I learned a lot from my fellow students, as they analyzed the data, shared their methods and results, and then entered into vigorous debate over what it could mean. This assignment in the ANU exoplanets course piqued my interest. I was able to dive right in because NASA generously made the data sets from the Kepler mission available online.
Since that start a couple of years back, I’ve moved on to where I’ve supervised two research theses at National University of Singapore on exoplanets and optimization techniques, a research paper is in peer review, and another paper in writing. Next week, I’m even attending a week long workshop at Caltech on exoplanets, something I would never have dreamed of a couple of years ago.
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