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MOOC 2013 review

I have been a devotee of Coursera since it has launched in 2012. 2013 is the second year I am really engaged in online learning. I've completed 13 courses in one year alone. It is time to look back to the year.

The year start with Calculus: Single Variable from Robert Ghrist of UPenn. I have revisited many calculus topics, some I have learned in the past and some are new. It was so long ago when I have last done it. I am very delighted to reconnect with them. Of course calculus is required in many other courses, so this has great practical importance also. Ghrist's lucid presentation, his enthusiasm in mathematics, and the presentation full of animations really brings the math alive. This is an exemplary online course, a hard act to follow. I am eagerly awaiting for Ghrist's follow up course on multivariable calculus!

The other accomplishment is I have learned to write mathematical formula using Latex. Being able to author math formula is an empowering skill, much like when I have learned to input Chinese a while back. It is a quintessential literacy skill in the digital environment.

I like to mix technical classes with humanity class for variety. In this case it is The Modern World: Global History since 1760 from Philip Zelikow of University of Virginia. Rather than recounting historical events that leads to the modern world, Zelikow put us in the shoes of the people in the era, showing us the challenges they are facing in the time and their responses to those challenges. It gives me new perspective for these societies in many ways. This is a highly enjoyable 14 weeks journey.

Coding the Matrix from Philip Klein of Brown University teaches linear algebra by programming. I have previous studied linear algebra from textbook from a more mathematical perspective. Klein show us the many practical applications and how we can program them. This is an exciting skill to learn. This eight week course is rather short though and does not cover many important topics.

Hong Kong's institutions have also begin offering MOOC classes. I have enrolled in James Lee of HKUST's A New History for a New China. His approach eschews the chronological narrative for an analytic approach, using historical statistics to understand social aspect like wealth distribution in the past. It may sound dry but I find it very refreshing. One accomplishment is that I have initiated a translation project in the class. There is a class reading, an extract of a book's manuscript that's only available in Chinese. I invited volunteers to translate it into English for the larger audience. With about 10 contributors, we manage to translate much of it in 2 weeks, just in time for other students to learn.

One new strand of study I have started in 2013 is bioinformatics and genetics. I was rather fascinated with microbiology and how it can be approached as a computation problem. I finally got my start, first by working through the algorithm problems from the rosalind.info website. The Rosalind.info team has subsequently developed the UCSD MOOC course Bioinformatics Algorithms. As the same time I also enrolled in University of British Columbia's Useful Genetic to gain a biological perspective. My background is much stronger in algorithm than genetics. Still I get an appreciation in biology and learned that there are much more about life science yet to be discovered.

Other honorable mention are Data Analysis from Jeff Leek of Johns Hopkins University and Functional Programming Principles in Scala by Martin Odersky of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. It was a great year. I highly appreciate all the wonderful courses they put together and offered to the world for free.

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