I think I have found my current fountain of youth.
I certainly feel much younger lately.
Not in the naive, don't know what I am doing sense, but in the sense that I have rediscovered my joy for learning.
Which sounds very weird coming from a life long learner like I consider myself. But let's face it as I approach my sixth year since becoming a mother and as my third child has now traveled half way around the sun, I realize that the learning I have been doing for the past six years has been learning to be a mother, keep a house, live on one income and all the various things that come with that. And while that has been necessary, fascinating, awe-inspiring, and at times difficult and challenging, apparently it has not really been using all of my brain. At least not the way I used my brain as a teenager. I didn't even know I was missing it. Not really.
Then a few months ago I heard something interesting. I think it started on Facebook, but I'm really not sure. I know it was after I found TED Talks. I heard that both MIT and Harvard were going to start to offer free online university level courses. I think all I really heard was free and university level and online and well I was off searching the web to find more information. What I found was MIT was doing engineering courses and Harvard was going to start up this fall. While I was browsing I found another site that was offering free university courses, but not just from one university like MIT and Harvard but from 4 universities (Princeton, Standford, U of Michigan and U of Pennsylvania). So I signed up for three courses, the first two starting in July figuring that by that point I would have my brain back from having baby B.
In the middle of July I got an email from Coursera letting me know that 12 more universities had joined them including Duke, University of Edinburgh, John Hopkins, Georgia Tech, and Cal Tech. I was busy at the time and so it wasn't until I started my first two courses this week that I went to see what else was available, and I have to tell you with over 100 courses to choose from there really is something for everyone.
So what are the courses like you ask? Right now I am taking two, Listening to World Music and Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. I know that Listening to World Music has just about 30,000 students signed up. So how do you run an online class with that many students? The answer appears to be with peer to peer grading.
Each class has a series of videos (length and number vary between classes) some have imbedded quizzes and some classes have extra curricular things you can take if you want. Then each class has some kind of a writing assignment (and every class I have taken gives you at least 5 days to do it in) that you submit. After the submission deadline you get a random selection of your fellow classmates assignments to grade (so far it appears to be about four, but only one of my classes have given a number) and each class has directions on how to grade your peer's assignments. Providing that you grade all the assignments in the two day window, then at the end of that time you will get your assignment returned to you having been graded.
Most classes offer certificates of completion at the end of the class (class length seems to run from 5 - 12 weeks in the classes I have checked out) with Princeton being an exception to that rule. Some classes have midterms and finals, others do not. Some have knowledge they expect you to already have, but all of that information is provided on the course information page. Almost all classes are self contained, meaning you do not need to buy text books, though many have that option if you want more information they are not required. My Fantasy and Science Fiction class has us reading 10 different books, all but two of them are public domain and readily available online, and the two that are not should be available at most libraries.
Some of the classes I have signed up for in the future (you can sign up for them even if they have not picked a date for the class yet, remember they are free and you can un-enroll at any time) include: Model Thinking, Introduction to Sustainability, A Beginner's Guide to Irrational Behaviour, Think Again: How to Reason and Argue just to name a few.
The wonderfulness of these courses being online is that you can do them anytime and anywhere you have internet access. Which works very well around small children. You can decide how much of the course you want to complete (for instance my mom isn't planning on doing the writing assignments for Listening to World Music because at her point in life she doesn't care about the certificate). This also fills my need to never stop learning and to keep learning something new. As a generalist this is my version of the candy store.
I have been amazed at how excited I have become while doing these courses. How much I have been enjoying the work (each course gives you an estimate of the time needed each week so you can make sure you have enough time in your life) and how much I suddenly feel like a teenager again. I just wish this had been available when I was homeschooling my high school! I can't wait to see what will be out there by the time my girls will be at that age.