Networked Life MOOC – Week One

Week one is just getting us started with four videos totalling just over an hour of lecture.  The format is surprisingly similar to the traditional lecture – slides on the screen, and the lecturer’s voice accompanying note-writing.  It feels strangely out-of-touch – it’s odd to think that the person speaking is a genuine professor (you can look him up at UPenn!) and that there are actual students taking the course in an actual lecture hall (as part of a degree in Market and Social Systems Engineering, in case you’re interested).  There are also a few pond differences – no lecturer has ever started off with “greetings and salutations”, as far as I can recall, and there’s something uncomfortably American-Idol-ish about the opening “I’m Michael Kearns, and this… (dramatic pause) …is Networked Life”.  I expect sequinned backing singers and dry ice any moment now.

Once we get into it, however, I’m rather impressed.  The distracting font aside (Comic sans?  Really?), the content is well-presented and engaging, with just the right balance of theory and demonstrations (modelling the spread of a forest fire, then explaining how to “mathematise”, sorry, “mathematize” the pattern of spread).  I particularly like the directions to empirical work and other applications – for example, the mathematicians’ Erdos Number (how many links via co-authored papers to the Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos – the lower the number, the higher the prestige –  getting harder as he died in 1996); or a six-degrees-of-separation experiment from the pre-email 1960s where participants had to get a letter to a named but unknown-to-them recipient via the fewest intermediaries.  Terrific stuff.

These examples were by way of explanation of the “navigation problem” – in an increasingly networked world, how to we gain an introduction to, for example, a particular expert without direct contact?  We know our immediate colleagues but colleagues-of-colleagues become increasingly distant and, without a view of the whole network, it is impossible to know who knows who, if you see what I mean.  Imagine an endless line of requests for retweets, hoping that the target person will eventually see the message but not knowing how it will get there.

There’s a reasonable amount of maths but if you can read the phrase “let p represent the proportion of area that is forested” without coming out in a rash, you’ll cope.  The quizzes at the end of each section of video do require a surprising amount of application – it helps if you’ve taken notes from the lectures – as you’re asked to apply your new-found knowledge to a set of problems.  The technology has the occasional hiccup – for example, the audio continues with a few seconds of freeze on the video – but nothing that gets in your way.  The lecturer also seems to have some kind of pointer/drawing tool which occasionally whizzes around the screen and does some etch-a-sketch-style additions to the slides – mostly underlining and the occasional slightly wonky arrow to reinforce a point.

Overall, I have two A4 pages of notes from week one, a smug quiz score of 31/31, and a feeling that although I’ve spent much of the afternoon watching internet videos, it’s all been rather worthwhile.


2 thoughts on “Networked Life MOOC – Week One

  1. rootmistress

    Hey, just having a browse through blogs mentioning networked life (as a co-courserian). Ever since I started watching the lectures (which was a late entry at week 3 – stated on Social Network Analysis first) I have been wondering about the ‘greetings and salutations…’ opening….Wondering whether I am the only one who finds it …unusual?

    So happy to find there are others out there! And yes, perhaps it is the ‘across the pond’ difference. But as the course progressed I have started wondering…perhaps it is ironic? surely It must be! The alternative invokes a feeling embarrassment for the man and a cringe – beyond the cultural one! (having said that I do think the materials are spotless)

    It might have been the contrast between Lada’s coursera SNA course and her continuous and extremely ‘authentic’ presence throughout the materials which made me start to wonder about Michael’s more strained intros…Perhaps not just the across the pond difference after all…

    Wondering if you fist impressions have changed since you posted this?


    1. hcperrin Post author

      Hello – and thank you for your comments! I did find the greetings a bit strange, although I did enjoy playing “name that backdrop” – one of which was the White Cliffs of Dover, not 10 mins from where I sit! It’s odd, I did actually sign up for Lada’s SNA course as well, just didn’t get round to actually starting it. As you’ve prob noticed by now, I gave up with Networked Life – it just didn’t seem to suit me. I haven’t abandoned the MOOC idea altogether though, on the to-do list for this weekend is having a look around to give something else a shot… Hannah


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