Complexity Explorer! MOOC classes opening 9/29

Photo of Joshua Garland, Assistant for Nonlinear Dynamics: Mathematical and Computational Approaches course. Joshua will patiently answer any questions you have in this course.

What would you say if I told you you could learn all about Complexity science, even the difficult bits like mathematical modeling, from Santa Fe Institute faculty without having to leave your living room? The Massive Open Online Course (or MOOC) produced by SFI in tandem with the Templeton Foundation provides just that. While MOOCs have had relative degrees of success, the SFI MOOC has high rankings and has been highly successful. Here’s a short preview on our thoughts on these great courses.

First, the website for the MOOC is

There are three courses offered this fall: Introduction to Complexity, Nonlinear Dynamics, and Mathematics for Complex Systems.

Introduction to Complexity is taught by Melanie Mitchell, professor at Portland State. Professor Mitchell is a fantastic lecturer, and transfers her passion to teaching seamlessly into the online format. Unlike old-style online lecture (a talking head at a screen), Professor Mitchell uses multimeadia, multiple shots, and doesn’t just lecture at the screen but sometimes even walks around with the camera. Mitchell says that she has now moved all of her lectures for her live courses at PSU to the online format–her students watch the lectures as homework, and then use classtime to do projects. Her students enjoy it, and it clears class up for discussion. Also, this tells you the high quality of the lectures–she’s using the exact same ones for the MOOC.

Nonlinear Dynamics: Mathematical and Computational Approaches is being taught by Liz Bradley, from the department of Computer Science at CU Boulder. Aiding her will be Joshua Garland (who, incidentally, was my TA at the Santa Fe Institute’s summer school). Liz is an engaging lecturer, and while this is her first time teaching this course, it is sure to elucidate how to model nonlinear dynamics, be exciting, and helpful for all of us trying to understand complex processes. These are complex topics, but she lectured while I was at the SFI summer school, and her lectures were always easy to follow.  The bonus is the infinite patience of Joshua Garland, who, I am sure, will answer all the questions from boggled students with the same patience he answered my questions at SFI.

The last class is Mathematics for Complex Systems and will be taught by a variety of star lecturers, most (if not all) of them having given lectures at the Santa Fe Institute Complex Systems Summer School. It seems that you can either attend all of those lectures, or just pick and choose which of the lectures you want to attend.  I plan on taking this one to beef up some of my weaker mathematics skills.

Taking a MOOC is similar to auditing a course: you don’t have to take the exams if you don’t want to. You “attend” what you want by watching the videos in your own time. No, you don’t get a grade for taking them (though you can get a certificate for finishing if you take all of the tests). And what if you get lost? You email the professor and they reply, or you can use the discussion boards to work things out with fellow students.

Each lecture has a different prerequisite, but, as you won’t be turning in  homework per se, you can at least watch the videos and see if you’re lost even if you don’t have the required math background.

These courses provide a way for you to be exposed to the top minds in complexity science, get the required background knowledge needed, expand your thoughts, and get you on track for the required math for modeling complex systems.

Enroll in the courses and join me in the discussion boards as we all learn complexity together!

(And Professor Mitchell would love it if you’d take the survey at the end of the course so she can continue collecting data on student experience).

Enroll now here:


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