March MOOCs
Written by Sue Gee   
Monday, 07 March 2016

March is now in full swing and so are some of this month's MOOCs. Here are some of the ones we've noticed that are likely to be of interest to some of you.

One March MOOC that has already started is Physics-Based Sound Synthesis For Games And Interactive Systems on the Kadenze platform. It introduces the basics of Digital Signal Processing and computational acoustics and is taught by Julius Smith of the Stanford Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics and Perry Cook, Emeritus Professor of Computer Science (also Music) at Princeton University, one of the authors of Programming for Musicians and Digital Artists (aka the ChucK book). One of its prerequisites is familiarity with the ChucK programming language, something that can be acquired either from the ChucK book or the ChucK course, Introduction to Programming for Musicians and Digital Artists, currently in session on Kadenze.

Server-side Development with NodeJS, which starts today March 7, 2016 was listed as one of Class Central's ten most popular MOOCs starting this month. This completely new course from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology is the fifth in the Full Stack Web Development Specialization that we recently looked at, see Coursera Web Specializations.

Its blurb states:

This course deals with all things server-side. We base the entire course around the NodeJS platform. We start with a brief overview of the Web protocols: HTTP and HTTPS. We examine NodeJS and NodeJS modules: Express for building web servers. On the database side, we review basic CRUD operations, NoSQL databases, in particular MongoDB and Mongoose for accessing MongoDB from NodeJS. We examine the REST concepts and building a RESTful API. We touch upon authentication and security. Finally we review backend as a service (BaaS) approaches, including mobile BaaS, both open-source and commercial BaaS services.

As this is the first presentation of this course there are no student review of it yet, but students have been positive about other courses in the series, also taught by Jogesh K. Muppala. For example,  Front-End Web UI Frameworks and Tools, which re-starts today, March 7 and again on March 21, has a rating of 4.7 out of 5 based on 1,279 ratings with comments including "Great course" and "the teacher is excellent". 

Courses that are part of a Coursera Specialization can be audited for free, giving you access to all course materials but not eligible for graded assignments.

Class Central's list of courses that are Trending Now includes Andrew Ng's Machine Learning class which has a rating of 4.9 out of 5 on the basis of 13,522 opinions. One of the detailed reviews on Class Central from a student who submitted the review 9 months ago and found the course difficulty to be medium states:

Machine Learning is one of the first programming MOOCs Coursera put online by Coursera founder and Stanford Professor Andrew Ng. Although Machine learning has run several times since its first offering and it doesn’t seem to have been changed or updated much since then, it holds up quite well. This course assumes that you have basic programming skills. Assignments also require many vector and matrix operations and slides include some long formulas expressed in summation notation so it is recommended to have some familiarity with linear algebra. You don't need to know calculus or statistics to take this course, but you may gain deeper insight into some of the material if you do. The course uses the Octave programming language, a free clone of MATLAB.

With over a million student enrollments, this course currently ranks in seconds place on the Online Course Report's Top 50 MOOCs of All Time, see Top CS MOOCs By the Numbers. Having completed this course myself I can vouch for it being one of the best MOOCs ever.


The most highly rated of the  top-trending MOOCs is An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python Part 1, which re-opens on March 7 and is the first course in the Fundamentals of Computing Specialization on Coursera taught by by Scott Rixner and Joe Warren of Rice University. This course has 2717 reviews on ClassCentral with almost every student giving it 5 stars. 

Two courses in the Data Science Specialization from John Hopkins University are also listed  among the trending now courses but without such rave reviews.  is seen by many students as too easy to be included in the specialization while the R Programming course is criticized for being poorly designed.

Big Data is certainly a hot topic for MOOCs currently with courses available at various levels. Cousera has a specialization consisting of a series of courses based on the Hadoop ecosystem which is designed to equip you with a skills to process, analyze, and extract meaningful information from large amounts of complex data. It includes hands-on instruction and assignments using tools including Spark, Pig, and Hive, along with instruction on strategies for processing massive datasets using the map/reduce framework. For more details see Coursera Intro To Big Data

Another option for gaining a certificate in this area comes from MIT Professional Education as one of its Online X Programs that have been designed to provide companies and organizations the ability to offer training and education to their employees on relevant topics. Tackling the Challenges of Big Data next runs from on March 15. It consists of five modules covering 18 topic areas in 20 hours of video plus case studies and sets out to:

survey state-of-the-art topics in Big Data, looking at data collection (smartphones, sensors, the Web), data storage and processing (scalable relational databases, Hadoop, Spark, etc.), extracting structured data from unstructured data, systems issues (exploiting multicore, security), analytics (machine learning, data compression, efficient algorithms), visualization, and a range of applications. 

At a less demanding level, and starting on March 7, Future Learn is re-running the University of Warwick Business School's 9-week course  Big Data: Measuring and Predicting Human Behaviour which is designed to be accessible to all, and is from a social science perspective as indicated in its it aim:

to explore how the vast amounts of data generated today can help us understand and even predict how humans behave.

Participants are expected to gain an overview of the state of the art in big data research across a range of domains, including economics, crime and health. As an optional part of the course, they can download and install R and R Studio to create basic data visualisations and carry out simple analyses.

Over 16,000 learners from across the world have previously joined this course and it has had positive reviews including this comment:

“A thought-provoking course. I liked it because it exposed me to aspects and applications of Big Data that I hadn’t thought of.”


More Information

Physics-Based Sound Synthesis For Games And Interactive Systems 

Big Data: Measuring and Predicting Human Behaviour

Tackling the Challenges of Big Data

Related Articles

Stanford Online MOOC For Sound Synthesis 

Coursera Web Specializations

Top CS MOOCs By the Numbers

Coursera Intro To Big Data

MIT Professional Education MOOC on Big Data

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