Brilliant courses challenge and excite the mind

Posted on August 29th, 2015 in Driving Emotion by Julian Edgar

These days I seem to spend a lot of time flying from place to place, waiting in airports and so on. I used to read a lot of books (and still do) but with a smartphone, obviously your options are much broader.

One thing I’ve been spending a lot of that time doing is watching video courses. I initially thought I’d find plenty of free stuff online (you know, where professors have put their university lectures up) and while there is some of that around, very often the production is terrible and the lectures, well, pretty boring.

But there is one source of educational material that is proving to be a triumph. It’s not free and it’s not for everyone, but I thought I’d tell you about it. It’s the company ‘The Great Courses’, that sells video and audio material that comprises exactly what the name suggests – great courses.

I first bought one – Understanding the World’s Greatest Structures: Science and Innovation from Antiquity to Modernity – a few years ago and watched it with great enjoyment.

All the presenters for The Great Courses are university professors and the sections of the course are dubbed ‘lectures’. And in effect, that’s what they are. While there might occasionally be some video snippets and photos, the lectures are mostly the lecturers talking to camera in a studio. Boring? Nope! The World’s Greatest Structures has 24 half-hour lectures that cover everything from loads and structural systems to trusses, use of concrete and great bridges.

I thought it was pretty good but when I saw that my ten year old son was choosing to watch the same series that I’d dumped on his phone, I realised that the lectures were capable of working on all sorts of levels.

Another series, and from the same professor, is Understanding Greek and Roman Technology: From Catapult to the Pantheon. This course again has 24 half-hour lectures.

And I am not kidding in saying that this series has changed my life. I was never much of an ancient history scholar and to me, Greek and Roman ruins were basically just jumbles of old rocks. But interpreting Greek and Roman history through a mechanical and civil engineering perspective has made the history come alive. We’re aiming to go to Europe at the end of the year and we are now placing ancient technology sites on the itinerary, purely through having watched this course. (Yes, we’ve watched it as a family – it’s so interesting. And I have watched it all twice!).

Interestingly, having become excited about Roman times, I bought a book on it – but it was just as I remembered Roman history, a boring coverage of a sequence of emperors. Back to the technical videos!

Which brings me to the current course I am watching – Understanding Modern Electronics. It’s pitched at an interesting level. If you are a real beginner, I wouldn’t recommend it but if you know the basics of diodes, transistors, capacitors and circuits, it’s very good. For example, while I knew you could use circuit simulators, until the lecturer was constantly using them, I didn’t understand how effective they could be. (That is, free, online circuit simulators.) I am now up to the intricacies of op amps – while I previously understood them in general terms, I certainly couldn’t then have designed circuits with them. Now I can.

All the great courses are really expensive – until you get on the mailing list and buy them when on special. For example, as I write, one of the courses listed above is AUD$75 as a video download (AUD$85 in DVD form) and at those prices, it’s a bargain. (Normally, it’s $250 and $300, respectively.)

Especially if you travel a lot (or commute on public transport), I highly recommend these courses. No vested interest – just a happy customer.

One Response to 'Brilliant courses challenge and excite the mind'

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  1. FordMan said,

    on August 31st, 2015 at 9:20 am

    Audible has the audio available for many great courses for ~$15ea. I highly recommend “medical school for everyone”. Coursera runs “a brief history of mankind’ for free, a video course that I found altered my perspective on the world. Off topic – I just test drove a Tesla Model S. Just Amazing. After the drive getting back into mates C6 Corvette was like a trip back in time.