I am a big fan of MOOCs: they are a great way to present information and get involved in a learning community. I have taken a few over the past year, and even completed some of them. As the new year kicks off, I am enrolled in two classes that are starting this week, and I hope to give you updates as time goes on as to how they are progressing and what my thoughts are on them. Here I am going to preview the two courses before they start, and talk about my motivation for taking them.

I started taking this course last year when it was offered, and I didn’t finish it. I am hoping that it will go better this time around, since I am much more comfortable with programming and have some experience in the course. I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time on this one, so I may skip lightly through the first week and see how my schedule is looking. One of the big reasons why I didn’t finish the first time around is because the course only runs for four weeks, so If you miss a week, you really get behind in the discussion forums and for finishing in good standing.

This course in a nutshell is an introduction to R, a statistical programming language. R is becoming a much more popular tool in the sciences, in large part because it is open source and free. There is also a great IDE available, RStudio, which I highly recommend–I wish there were versions of this for all programming languages. SAS and SPSS (and even plain old Excel) are much more common in the business world, so learning R might not be the best for credentialing, but no doubt the course will have serve as a introduction to computing statistics. I had to use SPSS in college, and its much easier to pick up I think.

One of the advantages to R is its rich community and library of packages. I initially started to get into R because it had some tools for textual analysis, particularly in computing sentiment (although last time I checked, the package was deprecated, sadface). And RStudio, which I highly recommend, makes installing packages a breeze: you just go to the menu and search, point, and click to install them. Super Awesome!

This course is offered on Coursera and is free to sign up, but is also available for their Signature Track. I will be taking the free version. I am a big fan of Coursera’s platform, so I am expecting a good time, and will also be able to try out my new Coursera iPhone app. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I am taking this course on databases to get a more structured introduction to the topic, as opposed to the sort of piecemeal approach I have been using to explore website development so far. Here is the overview:

This course covers database design and the use of database management systems for applications. It includes extensive coverage of the relational model, relational algebra, and SQL. It also covers XML data including DTDs and XML Schema for validation, and the query and transformation languages XPath, XQuery, and XSLT. The course includes database design in UML, and relational design principles based on dependencies and normal forms. Many additional key database topics from the design and application-building perspective are also covered: indexes, views, transactions, authorization, integrity constraints, triggers, on-line analytical processing (OLAP), JSON, and emerging NoSQL systems. Working through the entire course provides comprehensive coverage of the field, but most of the topics are also well-suited for “a la carte” learning.

I am using several of those things in creating my Ancient Sports Atlas site, so taking a course on these topics just makes sense. The platform for the site is built using the OpenEdX, which obviously is a version of the edX platform. I’m not a huge fan of the edX platform: the discussion forums are, in my opinion, hard to navigate and counterintuitive in their functioning, which meant getting help was much harder and I think it cuts down on the community involvement. But this is the first time I will have taken a course on the open platform, so it may work out a bit differently. I’ll keep you updated on how the course goes.