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Education Science

Ask Slashdot. Best Online Science Course? 166

First time accepted submitter blubadger writes "Having slept through chemistry at school, I'm looking to fill in the gaps in my science education by following a short online course or two. I've been searching for 'Chemistry 101,' 'Basics of Physics,' 'Biology Primer,' and so on. There's some high-quality stuff on offer – from Academic Earth, MIT and others – but it tends to take the form of videos of traditional university lectures. I was hoping to cut through the chit-chat and blackboards and get straight into the infographics and animations that will help me understand complex ideas. Flash and HTML5 Canvas seem wasted on videos of lectures. If the quality were high enough I would be willing to pay. Have Slashdotters seen anything that fits the bill?"
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Ask Slashdot. Best Online Science Course?

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  • by demachina ( 71715 ) on Monday June 04, 2012 @12:32PM (#40209999)

    Feynman's Lectures on Physics is probably as good or better than any online course you will find.

  • /. ads with sound (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SoupGuru ( 723634 ) on Monday June 04, 2012 @12:53PM (#40210277)

    Here's my ask Slashdot:

    Are you actively trying to disgust long term users?

    I used to check Slashdot daily. Maybe I'll just check in on Rob Malda's Google+ stream from now on.

  • Re:Oh waaa (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 04, 2012 @12:55PM (#40210311)

    but seriously, this stuff is too complicated

    That kind of defeatist attitude angers me.

    It's the job of educators to make complicated material straightforward to understand.

    If it can be done with simple infographics and animation, then that's great.

    If it can't be done that way YET, then people with more imagination than you will figure out how to do it. All I ask is that you don't stand in their way, or denigrate them as they accomplish what you cannot imagine.

  • Re:Oh waaa (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LF11 ( 18760 ) on Monday June 04, 2012 @12:56PM (#40210317) Homepage

    To a certain extent, you are correct.

    However, there are many ways to learn. Classroom learning is just one. Traditionally, humans learn by imitation, experience, and storytelling in small groups. For many modern young people, it appears that YouTube is taking the role of storyteller.

    There are a LOT of students who struggle through a lecture, then promptly go on YouTube to find videos recorded by instructors who are actually interested in teaching. This applies to all levels of classes, from introductory classes to my current head-asploder; biochemistry.

    You may have suffered through traditional "higher education," but a new generation is learning a different way. Some of them are learning it better. We have made tremendous progress in many fields, why do we not study the process of academic instruction just as intensely as, say, nuclear physics? Because people like you seem to think that just because you suffered through it, everyone else must suffer as well. It's only fair, right?

    Sorry. You were being obtuse. :)

    Khan Academy is good, a lot of people use those videos!


  • Open University (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 04, 2012 @01:08PM (#40210491)

    Open University. UK/European. Being going for years now. You pay for it though and earn real UK diploma/degree qualifications.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 04, 2012 @02:10PM (#40211309)

    You are looking for something called a "textbook."

    A textbook does not have any fancy flash videos, but it does (usually) have helpful illustrations, sample problems and solutions, and good introductory material on a variety of topics.

    The lectures are often superfluous for introductory science concepts. The books usually aren't. Sorry, you probably won't be able to find quality textbooks in eBook formats for your Nook or Kindle, either. I can assure you that, for physics, there are no fancy video shortcuts to understanding the concepts. It's a very heavily math-based field, so you need to sit down and wade through equations if you want to understand anything. Otherwise, it's a bunch of magical-looking directives handed down from on high.

    If you visit a local college bookstore, you'll probably find many used textbooks for all fields of science at moderately crazy prices. Once you've written down the relevant author names and book titles, bring up Amazon on your smartphone and order them online for a saner price. Many college courses list books on the course web site, so you could draw inspiration from that as well.

    Since I have no idea what you are interested in, I will recommend some physics books that I liked as an undergrad.

    Fundamentals of Physics by Halliday, Resnick, and Walker is a good introductory physics text book.

    Introduction to Nuclear and Particle Physics by Das Ferbel is a relatively lighthearted and humorous discussion of basic ideas behind nuclear physics and high-energy physics (quarks, etc.).

    Introduction to Quantum Mechanics by Griffiths is my favorite quantum physics text book (square wells, etc.).

    The Art of Electronics by Horowitz and Hill is an excellent and practical electronics book. It will teach you how to make a circuit board. It's not exactly a beginner's book, so get something else first if you don't have a grasp of basic E&M (if you don't know what V=IR means, this book isn't really for you).

    You will need a basic understanding of mathematics before anything in physics makes any sense to you at all. Calculus will get you pretty far by itself. I recommend a calculus book by Larson, Hostetler, and Edwards for that; it has a lovely integration table in the back. Linear algebra is required if you want an undergraduate-level understanding of physics. Complex analysis, probability, and computer programming are also very useful subjects.

    Oh, it's useful to note that there are no "nice" textbooks for graduate level physics. There are many textbooks, but they usually need to be accompanied by a lecturer who can translate the darned thing for you, because we can't be bothered to agree on basic terms. So, as a warning, stay away from grad-level physics text books as anything other than a sleeping aide or door stop.

  • Re:Dear Slashdot, (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Altrag ( 195300 ) on Monday June 04, 2012 @04:03PM (#40212813)

    I'm only a bit started on the second book, but the first book did require some minimal calculus -- mostly stuff you'd find in an average first year calculus course.

    What gave me trouble here and there was the way he wrote calculus stuff right into his prose. Its just not the way I'd ever been taught to deal with calculus (or really, any maths.) Even with a full two years of university-level calculus and no shortage of other mathematics classes, I'd always only seen the equations and problems split off in a very obvious and segmented manner. It was a little eye-opening to see that stuff embedded right into the text and written out in words!

    He also tends to skip a few steps (again, probably a reasonable thing to do given the target audience) which can occasionally make following the equations a bit tricky if you don't happen to immediately notice the steps he's skipped.

    Of course, if you're willing to fore-go the maths all together and just try to absorb the more general ideas, you'll probably do all right.

    And finally, you'll have to keep in mind that these books were published in the 1960s and I don't think have ever really been brought up to date (which would be hard to do without changing the nature of the text, given that they're mostly a transcript of his actual lectures.) So there's a little bit of outdated information in there that we've since shown to be.. if not incorrect, at least not entirely accurate. I'm sure I'll see more of that when I finally hit the third book (quantum mechanics), but even in the first book he makes the occasional reference to things that turned out to be not quite as they appeared back in 1964.

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