Venturing into a MOOC: Intro, Lesson 1 and 2

At last, I’ve finally been able to take some time this week and dive into the first two lessons of my MOOC.  If you haven’t, read the prior post that talks about what a MOOC is and why I’m dong this.   To recap, I’m taking A History of the World Since 1300 through Coursera.  The instructor is Dr. Jeremy Adelman of Princeton University.  Princeton is offering the course for free through Coursera alongside, I imagine, a class which is occurring locally in New Jersey.

As an aside, these posts, where applicable, are my own intellectual property.  I am taking screenshots of the Coursera interface, which might not be covered under my effective property, but would be under Coursera’s.  Last, I ask that you do not copy my posts but rather link to this website so the integrity of the content can be maintained.

Orientation and Navigation

As I’ve navigated through Coursera and the course syllabus, I’ve noted a few things in regards to the site and how it “orients” me to prepare for this course.  First, while Coursera itself is a relatively easy to navigate website, there is no orientation about how this course fits into any other facet of education for me, aside from the ones I assign to it myself.  In other words, there is no distinct curriculum for which this course fits easily into and the reason I am taking it is my own – not because it leads to a a credential, a learning outcome, etc.  However, there is a “Terms of Use” type document that indicates that the intellectual property is of their respective owner, that I need to do my own work (Coursera Honor Code).

Introduction Lecture (picture of Dr. Adelman)

Second, the course website is easy to find and navigate.  The main pane of the website is a blog where Dr. Adelman has noted any announcements, where to begin, etc.  The left pane of the website (navigation pane) has the following, understandable links:

  • Home
  • Course Schedule
  • Video Lectures
  • Discussion Forums
  • Guide to Writing & Evaluation Assignments
  • Global Dialogues
  • About the Course
  • Help with Subtitles
  • Join a Meetup

During the introduction lecture to the course itself, Dr. Adelman has coordinated with to support local student meetings to discuss the course (hence the link, “Join a Meetup”).  The remainder of the links that might be less understandable are covered in the introduction lecture.

Format & Assessment

As indicated, this course is online.  The primary methods of content delivery are video lecture, assigned readings, and forum discussions.  Secondary methods of content delivery are local meetups and “Global Dialogues,” where students pose questions to be responded to by Dr. Adelman and a guest speaker.  Assessment comes through two forms: quizzes at the end of each video lecture and essays, which are assigned every two weeks and must be turned in prior to the next assignment.  No grades are given.  Importantly, Dr. Adelman is extremely open with the fact that this course is an experiment in education (and feedback is crucial).

The assigned text for this course is Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the World from the Beginnings of Humankind to the Present (Second Edition) (Vol. 2: The Mongol Empire to the Present), authored by Tignor, Adelman, Aron, Kotkin, Marchand, Prakash, and Tsin.  Unfortunately, the text is expensive new ($120 USD) for a physical copy and 50$ for an e-book version.  Interestingly, it’s only $15 for the e-book version if you are not a North American.  I ended up buying a used edition through  Let’s hope it arrives before the first assignment is handed out!

As mentioned, primary content delivery is partially through video lectures.  These lectures are neat in that they can be paused, played at slower and faster rates, subtitled, etc.  They total to two hours of lecture per week, but are broken up into smaller segments.

Video Lectures

Diving in: Lecture Time (but only a snippet)!

While I won’t cover everything that is in this course, I thought it’d be useful to know how I feel about the lecture and what content is actually being delivered.  If you have questions – once again, ask! – that’s what comments are for!  Last, these are organized from my notes and are not transcriptions – so read with that context in mind.  The good news is that if you want to learn about the course itself, you can always enroll (for free)!

A Video Lecture in Coursera

Immediately, Adelman asks us to think historically.  How did people live differently from how we live now, and why? What is our societal precedence?  In models of globalization – what are the explaining factors?  How did different societies respond to global pressures?  Governments, societies, and economies all have alternative tracts.  What were the ‘units’ of the world before the nation-state?  How did the world interact with each other?  What were the categories of social life?

Adelman notes that he is going to have to gloss over much of history in order to cover such a vast period of the world’s development for 700 years and then continues to frame the lecture.  Societal paradigms were different in many different ways. One is that everyone thought that the world was created by a god or gods, and two is that villages were common denominators – not cities or megacities.  Furthermore, while many great things happened from “the beginning” until the present, the relative standard of life was simple.  People were shorter and lives were shorter – and any exceptions were for the few social elite .

A Lecture Quiz (got it wrong the first time!)

Wealth is defined as the ability for society to produce above and beyond what it needs to survive.  Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations in noted for its observation of societies’ exchange of surplus as an important mechanism for change and growth.  The primal exchange was between the city and the countryside.  Importantly, many of the world’s villages did not grow at the same rate, and linearity does not coexist necessarily alongside world history.

Alongside the development of wealth, Adelman notes the development of luxury goods as an important facet in trade and exchange.  Wealth, furthermore, is concentrated and is translated to become a force of power.  Wealth drew upon agrarian sources and therefore geography becomes an important force in development – particularly through trade and contact.  Last, this creates a relationship of interdependence – and this is what we might define most closely as globalization in its earliest forms.


While I haven’t completed all of lectures 1 and 2 (yet), and that I don’t even have the book yet, it seems overall to be accessible.  Importantly, I think accessibility is the key to success in the future of any MOOC due to the requirement for people everywhere to be able to navigate the system!  Furthermore, the course content is more than understandable and I think I’ll have fun learning and re-learning about some concepts of history in this Princeton course.

did note that there were some key themes that I’d like to discuss as an outcome for this venture – but of course I left them at work!  I’ll update the blog later this week with some reflections on those thoughts as well as lectures 3 and 4.


3 thoughts on “Venturing into a MOOC: Intro, Lesson 1 and 2

  1. Great question – there is, of course, Khan Academy, but that is not a MOOC. I would look into ed. tech startups and see if innovators have been searching for funding.

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