Contributing to the Decline of the University

A bit off topic but not entirely.

A free online 8 week course in Python as a first computing language is being offered at Coursera by some Houston-based professors with enthusiastic support from the global Python community. I’m pleased to be among a few dozen volunteer assistants.

Tens of thousands of people have signed up, and at least 6000 are actively participating. The course scales (we hope) because of a few clever design decisions by the instructors.

As with most successful computing introductions, it will focus on interactive games.

There will be more science on this site eventually, and our preferred language will be python, because, well, because python! So if you have always wondered if you could learn to code, and want to be in on the ground floor of an amazing experiment in education, there is still time to get in and submit the first homework by Sunday.

Seasoned programmers will find the first few weeks tedious, but you may want to sign up anyway to develop your Python chops toward the second half. You will have to put in about ten hours a week. Don’t take it lightly – it’s the equivalent of a first-year course at Rice.

I have no idea what Coursera’s business model is, but to be honest I don’t know what Rice’s is at this point either.




  1. Looks jolly interesting. 10 hours a week a bit much right now, but I need something to make me get under Python's skin. I'm completely java-bound and need help escaping - keep on running up to python, doing some basic things, then running away again.

    So the course is free...? How's that going to work long term then?

  2. Dan: "...keep on running up to python, doing some basic things, then running away again."

    I suspect that's how many people learn a programming language. One day they find they're stuck and can no longer run away. 🙂

    A bunch of the Skeptical Science folks are doing an R course via Coursera more or less in companionship. As Michael suggests, gauge the time requirement carefully. I was in and then quickly out of the SkS R phalanx because of my stochastic schedule.

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