Coursera, Code Academy, and Why I Love MOOCs

I’m two weeks from finishing my third Coursera course. Even though it’s meant extra time management, I’ve had a lot of fun. This most recent course, Music’s Big Bang: The Genesis of Rock ‘n’ Roll, has turned me on to a lot of music and taught me some interesting history. I found out that I’m not a fan of old, guttural blues, but Fats Domino is pleasing to my ear. I know why Chess and Sun records were such big deals, and I realize that Led Zeppelin, one of my favorite bands, owes a great deal of their catalog to artists who predated them by a few decades.

Before this, I took a course about nutrition and diet trends. Before that, my first course was one about irrational behavior. From each of these, I came away with knowledge that changed some of my thinking and some of my behaviors. I took the classes at my own pace, and it didn’t cost a thing.

I love MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).

I have no desire to go back to school, but I like to learn new things. The structure of weekly lessons, videos, tests, and the occasional assignment is just my speed. Coursera has certified options for those looking to have something more official, but you can receive a certificate of accomplishment just for taking the tests. Different classes have different requirements for earning a certificate. You can do as little or as much work as you want.

Coursera also offers message boards where you can interact with other students, and some classes count your interactions as part of your final grade. Because I’m not a message board person, I generally opt for just watching the videos and the taking the tests. For people who tend to be group learners, this feature is awesome.

Another learning opportunity I’ve recently started is Code Academy. Jon clued me in to this site when I told him I wanted to learn more about coding. I’m not the best at wrapping my mind around tech concepts, but I think if I focused and put time into it, I could be. In fact, were I to go back to school, it would probably be to get a degree in coding or programming.

Code Academy gives you points and badges for getting through step-by-step lessons and learning the building blocks of code. I did three fun ones before starting the actual course. It’s fun, though it’s a little bit harder for me than the Coursera courses.

There are other sites on the web that allow you to sign up for courses and lessons. Some are free, some have a fee, and some are a mix of both. If you’re looking for an actual degree, you still have look into classes from an accredited school, but I think the implications of MOOCs as other avenues of learning are exciting.

Plus, if you’re a geek like me, learning for the sake of learning is a blast.

Question: Have you ever tried a MOOC?
Bonus question: Do you think MOOCs could ever replace a college classroom setting?

*I haven’t been asked by either Coursera or Code Academy to do this post. I really just wanted to share something cool with my readers. 


Day 2: Becoming an Outdoors Woman 2013

I was awake at 5:30 on Saturday morning, but after getting dressed I laid back down for awhile. They brought coffee to the camp at 6:15, so I got down and dirty with some caffeine and Aleve to give myself a little extra pain protection.

My first class was GPS for beginners. Even though Jon and I geocache, we use our phones to find the coordinates. I was curious about the actual GPS handhelds and how they differed from what we used and from our auto GPS. We walked around and played with the devices for a bit. I really liked it and am hoping to get one soon. I’ll probably start out cheap and move up later. For now, I’m good with something basic.

Need to get me one of these bad boys...
Need to get me one of these bad boys…

After lunch, my afternoon class was nature journaling. The class talked a little about what it was and what we were hoping to get out of it. Most of the others wanted something physical to keep. I wanted to know how I could do a better job at conveying my outdoors experiences online.

To put the whole nature journaling thing into practice, we went to one of the picnic areas to observe and take notes for awhile. We had tools to draw or collect things, but I took pictures and wrote, and the note taking ended up being mostly a free writing experience. The exercise was really relaxing, almost meditative. Even if I don’t start doing it on a regular basis, I’ll definitely be posting a journal blog from that session.

This little stream was one of my favorite journaling spots. So relaxing...
This little stream was one of my favorite journaling spots. So relaxing…

I chilled at the dining hall lounge for a little bit, using the Wi-Fi to do some updates and visiting with another attendee of both the weekend event and the nature journaling class. I’d been going back and forth about doing the mini Race for the Cure that BOW was holding to support the Susan G. Komen foundation. I was going to support it with a donation, but I couldn’t decide if I was up for the walk yet. It was 1.25 miles, which isn’t a lot, but more than I’ve done all at once in several years.

I finally decided to do it, figuring I’d be late for dinner, probably, but really wanting to push myself. So I committed. Jami, the BOW coordinator, offered to walk with me. I warned her we might miss dinner but she came anyway. I’m glad she did. The company and motivation were great. I don’t know if I would have given up if she hasn’t been there. Maybe, but maybe not.

The walk was hard, mostly because of the hills I think. But each hill was a small accomplishment inside the big accomplishment of the walk itself.  In the last stretch, two sisters, older women who’d finished their walk, joined us to finish the lap. The support and friendliness was overwhelming and totally worth the hills.  We made it right as dinner was starting. As we got closer to the end, I warned the others I was going to collapse on a bench the minute we got back. But when we got there, I stayed upright. Here’s the thing…once the walk itself was over, my recovery was really quick. Yeah, I was fatigued and hot, but I don’t think it even took 30 seconds for my breathing and heart rate to go back to normal, and I was nowhere near as exhausted as I’d expected to be.

After dinner, I went to another mini session. This one was about photo editing in Picasa. I’ve had Picasa for awhile now, but haven’t done anything with it, so it was nice to see some of the nifty little things I could do.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to the campfire. By that time I was exhausted and a little unsure about walking that long stretch to the fire and then back to cabin in the dark. However, some of the volunteers gave me a ride to the fire, and Jami gave me a ride to the cabin later. I got to experience the campfire and even had a s’more.

The second night’s shower was much better thanks to the learning curve. I was in bed a little later than the night before, but I slept through the night and actually ended up sleeping in on Sunday morning.


Day 1: Becoming an Outdoors Woman 2013

What a weekend! I’m tired and a little bit sunburnt, but the BOW experience was definitely worth it.  Like I did with Gen Con, I’m going to break these down into day posts because it seems like a lot to put into one long blog post.

I got to Rock Springs a little before 10 on Friday morning, after dropping Jon off to work and grabbing a quick breakfast sandwich. I had a little trouble finding check in, but eventually found parking.

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Almost everyone else in my cabin was there, but thankfully I scored a bottom bunk. The ladies were so nice and welcoming. They helped me bring my stuff in and gave me some newbie pointers.

We had lunch (the food was great all weekend, and there was a lot of it), then the welcome meeting, then our first class. Mine was Intro to Fishing. We started out learning about the more popular fish native to Kansas. Then we learned about different poles and how to tie a hook, lead, and bobber. I caught on to making the knot fairly quickly, so now I kind of want to go fishing so I can show off.

Learning about fish!
Learning about fish!

Once we had our poles ready, we headed down to a small fishing hole and stream. The area was beautiful, but I was feeling tired and a little shaky. Standing on the edge was making me nervous. I still caught several fish, including the only large mouth bass of the day.

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The anglers in my family should also take note that I put a nightcrawler on the hook by myself and didn’t get too grossed out. And I unhooked my own fish. Next year, I might even take the advanced course or the course where I learn to filet and cook a fish.

The mini Walk for the Cure was originally scheduled for that night, but they switched it up since we were getting a visit from Theresa Vail, also known as Miss Kansas 2013. Instead, we did a Chuck-A-Duck (I didn’t win), and later I went and visited with Theresa for a little bit.  She was genuinely sweet, and in case anyone was unsure if her love of the outdoors was genuine or not, it is.

After dinner, I attended a mini session called Kansas Critters that was taught by the same instructor who taught my fishing class. The session went long, but it was really interesting, and I actually learned and retained several outdoor facts. I debated going to the campfire afterwards, but I ended up just heading back to the cabin instead. I was tired, and the walk back itself was even more exhausting. It was uphill, over several rocky, uneven steps. I made that trek many times over the weekend, and it never got easier.

Not gonna lie, that night I felt a little homesick. My shower experience might have had something to do with that. I’d been given a pair of shower shoes by my friend, but I hadn’t tried them on first, and they ended up hurting my feet. The showers themselves weren’t horrible, but they had the hard rubber mats inside the stalls, and those hurt my feet even more. Because I’ve never actually showered in a camp setting (at least that I can remember), I was ill prepared all around, and so by the time I got back to bed, I was hurting and exhausted, and even though I’d had a great day, I still missed Jon and my own bed.

However, I slept fairly well, and when I woke up the next morning, I was refreshed and feeling good and optimistic.

To be continued…


Sittin’ and Sweatin’

Last Friday morning (against my first choice of just staying home) I took the Sit and Be Fit class at my gym.

Pic from via Google Images
My endurance is still not great, and even though it’s improving, it’s improving slowly.   I can take the Zumba Tone class if I sit down every so often, but I was excited to try a class where sitting was part of the deal. I figured I’d have a different sense of accomplishment in getting through the whole class, and  even though I won’t be able to take the class on a regular basis, I was hoping to get some ideas for home and travel exercise sessions.

I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy class,  but knowing something and experiencing it are two different things.

The class started at 10 and  I was the youngest person in there. There were several other men and women, most of whom were clearly regulars. There was a rapport between the instructor and the others in the class that was really comforting.

Though I had nothing to add to the conversation, everyone was really nice. Many of the women approached me and introduced themselves and chatted with me, asking if I was going to come back on a regular basis. One woman even helped me with my ankle weights due to some flexibility issues and just general unfamiliarity with the things.

As for the workout, one might not think chair exercises are going to be intense, but this workout kicked my tail. In some areas, the chairs were optional, so there was still a lot of standing and moving around. The instructor incorporated walks down the hall into the routine, and I came in on a day where the focus was lower body. It was low impact, but effective, and I felt it the rest of the day.

I’m going to recommend this first to anyone with mobility problems, because it really is a good workout for anyone with limitations. I’ve heard of these classes before, so I’m guessing there are other places they’re held. Having said that, I think it’s a good workout for anyone. This includes people who kick it with hardcore classes because it’s something different, it’s low stress on the joints, and it’s inspiring. During the aforementioned rapport, some people talked about how they no longer had knee pain since taking the class, and one woman who had previously used a walker to get around could now walk without one.

My work schedule doesn’t allow me to take this class regularly. However, I do get a Friday off every once in awhile, and if I’m in town, I definitely plan on taking this one again.

My Fifteen Minutes of Salsa

This past Sunday afternoon, I tried to salsa dance.

My gym has lessons on Sundays, so SV and I decided to give it a try. I was coming off a Zumba “I can do anything” high and thought it would be fun. Sure, it was an hour long class and I can only manage fifteen to twenty minutes upright at a stretch, but that’s what benches are for, right?

Turns out, salsa is not for me.

It started out okay, and the basic steps aren’t that difficult for the most part, at least in execution. I can do the basic and side steps. I can even do the little 45 degree half turn. I couldn’t do the pivot, but with practice I could  figure it out.

At some point in the future, I could probably get the hang of some light salsa dancing with someone I liked…like my husband. Right now there’s still some physical pain to contend with, mostly in the ankles and knees. While zumba makes it easy to sit down if I need to, salsa lessons felt different. I felt like I had to be engaged at all times…or else*.

Beyond the bodily pain is something stronger…my aversion to physical contact.

I don’t know when I developed this aversion. In college and high school I was all about the hugging. I’d invade anyone’s personal space if they let me. But somewhere between then and now I started getting kind of squicky about people touching me.

Family and friends are fine, as long as they’re close family or friends.  There are some people I talk to on a regular basis that I’m not comfortable touching, and when it comes to strangers, unless I’m drunk and in that “I love the world” frame of mind, there’s no way I’m getting close.

Part of the reason I love the thought of salsa is because it’s so lively and intimate, but I can’t get my own psyche to allow me to engage in that intimacy. I’m sure part of that is my size,  but I think much of it is just my own aversion to being held or being lead by people I don’t know.**  So when I realized that we were going to have to dance with other people, that this wasn’t just a fitness class (which is what I was kind of expecting),  my anxiety surged, and I checked out mentally before the physical pain even really set in.

This could change. I know the physical part will get easier the more I workout, and maybe the mental part will too. It would be fun to learn some new dance steps if I could do it with a partner that I was comfortable with. The instructor did mention that salsa is a very social dance and that at the club you can dance with multiple people. I’m not sure that’s for me. Besides the fact I never go to any clubs, that’s a lot of touching.

That’s okay, though. I’m okay with being a person who’s not into physical contact, and I did try the class, even if technically I didn’t “give it my all.”  Like Zumba, I might give it a few months and then try again to see if anything’s changed. But if not, I’ll just be happy that I ventured out of my comfort zone to try something new.


*I don’t know what’s included in that “or else.” I’d like to think the instructor wouldn’t boot me out of the class or kick me in the leg, but one never knows.

**Not to mention the fact that I have no concept of how to be “led” when dancing. I know it has something to do with giving up control, but even when dancing while goofing off I’ve never been able to follow.

Just (Zumba) Dance

Last night I took another Zumba class.

Back in September, I tried one for the first time and it was pretty horrible.  I knew that at some point I would try again, but I was planning on that some point to be a long way off.

This class was a Zumba Tone class, which was supposed to be less cardio intense and more fun with weights.  I thought that maybe I’d improved a little bit where an exercise class was concerned so decided to go ahead and give it another go.

We were told to pick either 1, 2, or 3 lb weights, so I went total lightweight and did the one pounds. The warm-up was alot of moving around but not as much as I remember from the first class. From there, a couple of the songs were more dance while others were more focused on arms and using the weights.

I improved a little bit. In the first go round, I left the class completely after 10 minutes, in too much pain to keep trying and way too embarrassed to just sit there. This time though, I’m happy to say I stayed for the whole thing. I sat down several times but always got back up again. Even when I was sitting down I still moved my legs or lifted the weights.

I didn’t try to keep up with every little move the instructor did. Most of the time I improvised. I mentioned on my FB that I kind of looked like a flailing sea monkey. My knees are improving but they’re still not great and they’re definitely not in lunge or squat shape. There’s also no way I’m going to do all the hopping and running. Instead, I did kicks or lifts, just something to stay going.

Breathing was fine. It was the pain in my back and ankles that was the hardest to take.  The ankle stuff was likely the result of moving in ways I’m not used to. The back stuff is just more of the same pain I’ve been dealing with and not having been to the chiropractor in a couple months. I also realize both ankle and back problems are weight related as well and another reason to not jump around any more than is healthy for me.

I’m proud of my progress, but I was also really frustrated. Everyone else seemed to be having a good time, and everyone I talk to about Zumba seems to find this magical glorious fun time when they do it. I did not have the magical glorious fun time moment. For me, it was about trying to stay caught up and not falling on my face. It was about pushing through the pain and saying that I did something that I didn’t think I could do a year ago.

During FB comment chat, a friend said that she found that it got more fun each time she went, so I’m going to hold on to that hope since I do plan on going back in a couple weeks and then trying it a few more times on an every other week basis.  If I end up hating it, then I’ll at least know I gave it a good try.

Right now, the goal isn’t even to look like I’m really dancing. It’s just to finish a class without sitting down.




Keep On Dancin’

Today, I tried Zumba.

Let me note here that I completely failed at the class itself.

I don’t know where the moment of insanity came from, but earlier today I asked SV about it and told her I thought I’d try it. She goes once a week and loves it, and it’s dancing, so I figured I’d like it too. I was trying to be realistic about what I could and couldn’t do, but I thought maybe I could push myself a little bit and that the different movements wouldn’t hurt too much. SV warned me about some knee stress, but my knees have been feeling pretty good, so I thought maybe I’d just roll with it and change things up to keep from hurting them.

I spent most of the day being nervous about it, and came close to just calling the whole thing off, but when I get “brave” like that, I tend to roll with it because it doesn’t happen on a regular basis. I knew I had the option to leave, and there were balance balls in the room itself, so I had somewhere to sit if I wanted to take a break.

It started out okay. I could at least follow what the instructor was doing.

I made it to the second “warm up.” The first one kicked my butt. The second one was lunges and squats, things I thought I could just fake it through and really couldn’t. Needless to say, I lasted about ten minutes and was out of there (and I did have to sit down in those ten minutes).

Honestly? I felt horrible about leaving. I felt like a loser. I felt every single pound and inch of being out of shape and fat and unable to move like other people move. The fact that I’m improving with every workout and seeing good things happening in other areas of my life (breathing, mobility, etc.) was completely forgotten because I couldn’t  dance for 45 freakin’  minutes.

One of the issues I have is my ankles. They’re not strong and the side to side Zumba moves really put some stress on them. Coming out of the class, I had it in my head I was going to do my regular machine, but I was in too much pain and I didn’t have the enthusiasm to push through, so I went to my car. On the way out, I asked the girls at the front desk to tell SV I would wait for her outside.  I was doing okay until they were nice to me and asked if I was okay and if I wanted a glass of water and a banana.

When I’m already upset, people being nice to me sends me to that place where I just cry. So I made it to the car (took the water, declined the banana) and had a small tear fest. I felt better afterwards, though I’m still a little bummed about not being able to do the class. However, I’m not going to give up. I’m going to keep going to the gym and moving more, and eventually, I’ll go back to a Zumba class and try again.

This isn’t over, Zumba. We will meet again someday.