Featured class: Microsoft Excel – Lessons & Training

The class

Microsoft Excel – Lessons & Training by URedditor cobainbc15 is a series of video lectures on Microsoft Excel. Individual lectures are not lists on the class page and are instead listed on the teacher’s website. It takes the student from zero familiarity with the software to a nontrivial degree of proficiency. Each lesson consists of a video along with supplementary material such as downloadable Excel workbooks.

Microsoft Excel is, of course, very widely used, especially in business environments. Proficiency in this software is useful to have in general, and especially if it is relevant to one’s work. The lectures are well executed; if you have been meaning to learn Excel or are otherwise interested, we suggest you check out the class.

Student quotes

“These training modules are fantastic! I’ve been using Excel for years without really tapping into any of it’s more advanced features, and your training does a terrific job of providing quick, simple modules that are enormously helpful. Many thanks and great job!”
- Bob Thomas

“What a great course. I have been looking for something just like this.”
- JD

“I have an intermediate Excel test coming soon and I am hoping that by going over all of this, it will help me pass. I thought I knew Excel until I started going over this information. This has really helped me a lot.”
- chip

… and many more.

On potential improvements

The teacher set up his own website to use for this UReddit class. He has been consistently expanding the available lessons for over a year. He has put together a great series of videos that have helped very many people. However, the class is spread out over several different places: UReddit, where the individual lessons aren’t listed; his website, which serves as a homebase; and Vimeo, for lecture hosting. Furthermore, new lessons have not been announced to the UReddit community; updates must be posted manually by the teacher.

The UReddit team is working on putting together a platform that can combine everything a teacher needs to run a successful course in one place and that makes keeping up to date with additions to a class easy. We are trying to raise funds to be able to push our prototype into public beta; if you see how this class and how our community could benefit from a fully featured platform that offers everything available, we invite you to our Kickstarter page and ask for your support.

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Featured class: Programming in PHP

The class

Programming in PHP is a video lecture based course by URedditor recck whose goal is to introduce new programmers to the PHP programming language. In the teacher’s own words:

“In this course I would be developing an easy to follow syllabus starting off with the bare essentials, gradually working our way up to Object Oriented Programming (OOP) in PHP and eventually developing our first application that users can interact with.”

In each lesson, recck makes available a video lecture from his YouTube channel and  a discussion thread in his Google Group, along with supplementary materials that vary from lecture notes to code samples to quizzes. Furthermore he encourages students to submit code for feedback, as well as questions in general.

The teacher

In the Teacher Qualifications field on UReddit, recck writes:

>7 years experience using PHP
>6 years experience teaching PHP
>~1.8 million views on my PHP video tutorials

The potential benefit of localization

As mentioned above, recck’s class is spread over a number of platforms: YouTube, Google Groups, UReddit, GitHub, and other services. This fragments discussion and lowers user engagement. In an ideal situation, all the class materials could be hosted (or at least organized) in one place, along with a centralized area for discussion.

The UReddit team is working on a platform for open online education that offers just that combination by giving hosting space, course management software, and centralized discussion. We are trying to get our prototype of this platform online, but we need support to get it into public beta. If you are interested in supporting our efforts and helping further the efforts to perfect online education, we invite you to visit our Kickstarter page.

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The Future of UReddit

We are currently halfway through our two week long series of featured classes. We’ve already seen examples of great classes that were offered by passionate teachers through UReddit on photography, programming, mathematics, psychology, and more, and we have more than enough to talk about over the next week. In fact, we feel guilty that we won’t be able to explicitly feature every class that deserves it.

UReddit began over two years ago with a very modest website and a small subreddit. The community now consists of nearly 75,000 people that all share the same values of open education. The UReddit website itself, however, is very minimal, serving mostly as a point of coordination for classes that happen off-site.

Open Compass, Inc is a non-profit organization founded by the UReddit team, along with help from a few new people, and its goal is create a new, better successor to UReddit. We founded Open Compass on the same ideals behind UReddit – the freedom to teach and the freedom to learn – but we are creating a platform that cohesively integrates all the tools a teacher could need, and that automates away the busy work of teaching a class.

We already have a prototype of this platform:

  • Full course management software: hosting and organization of material, assignments, quizzes, gradebooks, live chat, a direct line to the teacher(s), the ability to assign multiple teachers and teaching assistants, and more.
  • Live lecture streaming with the ability to share a camera feed, slides, and the instructor’s desktop, and with the option to automatically record the lecture, process it, and make it available to students via the course management software.
  • Integration between the course management software and lecture streaming – scheduled lectures will show up in your calendar with a link that takes you there.
  • Automatic speech-to-text analysis of recorded lectures, with the transcripts automatcally posted as a wiki for any necessary corrections.
  • An Android mobile client for the course management software and the live lecture streaming, allowing you to take a quiz and tune into a live lecture from your phone at a cafe, if you like.
  • An instance of the open-source Reddit platform. Two subreddits will be automatically created for each class: one to which assignments, recorded lectures, and so on will be automatically posted so as to be open for  discussion, and a second subreddit for general discussion related to the class. (Of course, you’ll be free to create other subreddits on any topic you choose.
  • And more.

We also have plans in place to be able to offer proctored exams around the country so that you can take a class at Open Compass and use what you’ve learned to earn college credit!

We want to create a place around which a community based on the same ideals as UReddit can form. We need to be able to fund the necessary development costs, however.

We have one week left to reach our fundraising goal, and we ask for your support. If you see the value in truly open education, please support our Kickstarter campaign, and please share it with friends, family, anyone that would like to see this happen. And to everyone that has already pledged: thank you!

Help us bring this vision to life!

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Featured class: Game Theory

The class

Game Theory 101 is a UReddit class offered by William Spanel , a PhD student in political science specializing in formal modeling who has been teaching game theory since 2009. The material for the course is divided into three units - the basics, extensive form games, and advanced strategic form games – each consisting of 10+ individual video lectures. The material is hosted both on YouTube and on Udemy, where there are quizzes available as well. With over 300 enrolled students

Game theory is a very interesting field that has applications in many areas such as economics and political science, in addition to being of theoretical interest. It is rife with interesting examples and scenarios subject to rigorous analysis; all in all, it is fascinating, and we suggest you watch at least a couple videos.

A couple student comments on the class:

“Thanks for the game theory class!… The videos offer great clarification.”

“Thanks for the course! Much appreciated and I would look forward to a 102 class on the voting subject, if you ever do such a class. Thanks again man, you rock!”

Towards better coordination

William listed his class on UReddit to make it easily accessible to the UReddit community. He has also posted it on Udemy, YouTube, and on its own website. These different locations offer different functionalities: YouTube is optimized for sharing videos, but lacks a good platform for discussion and no teaching tools; Udemy does allow some teaching tools such as giving quizzes, but does not have a strong community behind it; and UReddit has a large community of over 70k users but no automated system to upload and embed video.

A complete class such as this would benefit greatly from a platform that offers all the tools necessary to teach a class while also providing an efficient platform for discussion amongst a large userbase. The UReddit team has a prototype of exactly such a platform: video hosting, embedding, and linking; complete course management software, including grades, quizzes, and indexing of material; and a place for both discussion in general and discussion of individual portions of the class. We need some help to be able to fund the development necessary to push it into public beta, however; if you are interested in learning more, we invite you to take a look at our Kickstarter page.

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Featured class: Psyc 101

The class

Psyc 101 is an introductory psychology class taught by two Redditors: Series_of_Accidents, who has an M.A. in Psychology from Appalachian State University (verified here), and Comicspedia, who has a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology (verified here). The class consists of a series of thirty lectures, each of which is a video lecture (all lecture slides are available online, along with notes on each slide) and a discussion post on /r/IntroPsych. As of this writing, there are over 1,000 students subscribed on the UReddit website and nearly 1,400 subscribers to the subreddit.

There are too many topics to list here, but the class begins with a general introduction to psychology and goes on to include topics including behavioral genetics and evolutionary psychology, conditioning, memory,  drugs and consciousness, social influence, psychological disorders, and more.

The class presupposes no background in psychology and covers quite a bit of interesting material in a very accessible manner, and the teachers are available for discussion; we encourage anyone with an interest in psychology to visit the class page and check out the comprehensive set of lectures offered by these two teachers.

Commentary

Psyc 101 is a great example of what can come of opening a platform to allow anyone to teach. These two teachers are not drawing a salary for this class despite their credentials (graduate and doctoral degrees) and have made all this material (30 lectures!) available out of their own interest in and passion for their fields. Accordingly, that passion shows in their well executed lectures. As anyone that has tried to put together a single lecture knows, this is a lot of work – and there’s thirty of them.

The only aspect of this class that could be significantly improved is due to the minimalism of the UReddit platform. The video lectures are hosted on YouTube, the class page is on UReddit, and the discussion threads are on Reddit. This means that there are three different places for students to place comments or questions, and none of these places is integrated into a larger community.

Again, this is due to weakness in the architecture of UReddit. The UReddit team has a prototype of a new platform that seeks to offer everything an online community built around free sharing of knowledge could need by integrating lecture streaming, video hosting and annotation, and a discussion area (as well as fully-featured course management software) into a single place in order to make the process of teaching more streamlined and better organized. However, we need some support to get our prototype into public beta; if you are interested in learning more about what we have in mind and potentially in helping us bring it to life for classes such as Psyc 101 to benefit from, we invite you to check out our Kickstarter campaign.

 A thank you

It’s obvious that a lot of work and passion went into all this great work. Thank you, Series_of_Accidents and Comicspedia, for sharing your knowledge with us!

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Featured class: Intro to Group Theory

The class

Intro to Group Theory is a fourteen week-long UReddit class that is at the level of a semester long undergraduate course on group theory. Each week includes at least one main lecture video (hosted on YouTube), often along with supplementary videos of either worked examples or on background material the viewer might need, as well as problem and solution sets.

The teacher

“Robert Donley received his doctorate in Mathematics from Stony Brook University and has over a decade of teaching experience at the high school, undergraduate, and graduate levels. He has been cited twice as a Most Influential Professor by his students.”
[source]

In fact, this series of videos constituted a small portion of the over 700 lectures that Dr. Donley has uploaded over the past several years. We would point anyone with the desire for self-study in mathematics in that direction.

Student comments

“This course is absolutely fantastic!

I have a final in Group Theory in 3 weeks, my lecturer’s course follows the topics you explore almost exactly, only it is very algebra heavy and he only explores the general cases without going through examples with us and then expects us to be able to follow through and work out problems. I’ve gone through your entire course as revision and you working through the examples has helped me enormously! Thank you for saving my degree!”
- square13 on Reddit

“I was looking through your youtube channel. It is awesome. Thank you for all the work you put into it.”
- namer98 on Reddit

“Your teaching is very engaging and precise. Thank you!”
- mspivak on Reddit

“I like your style of teaching on the videos. Very clear and concise.”
- tomvatreddit on Reddit

 Commentary

This class is taught by an experienced and dedicated teacher who has devoted quite a lot of time in composing well-executed videos, problem/solution sets, and to response to student questions and comments.

Unfortunately, commenting on Reddit posts is disabled after a couple months, and the YouTube comment system is not well-suited for discussion. Furthermore, there is no systematized way for students to submit their solutions to the given exercises for grading and feedback.

The UReddit team is working on a platform that will offer the functionality to address these comments in full by including a custom Reddit instance that never closes commenting and encourages open discussion, full course management software including a gradebook and live chat with the teacher, and more. We have a prototype of this platform but need a boost from the online community to get it into public beta; if you would like to read more and perhaps help us come to life, please visit our Kickstarter page.

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Featured class: Introduction to C++

The class

One of the largest UReddit classes to date, Introduction to C++ by user Skyeshatter (sarevok9 on Reddit) consists of a series of 46 video lectures on the C++ programming language, aimed at the novice programmer. In the teacher’s own words,

 ”I’ve found myself educating a lot of my friends on a 1-to-1 basis and I really enjoy helping them learn the joys of programming. Now I’m putting together a YouTube series and trying to help people learn the basics of c++ program design.”

The video lectures are hosted on YouTube, having anywhere from a few hundred to nearly 7,000 views each, and the teacher has put up a website to better organize his material and make it easier to get in touch with him. He continues to answer questions from students despite the class being over a year old.

Student comments

“Your tutorials are great. Thanks for the help!”
- Kamil

“This is helping so much, I find I learn a lot better and have a thorough understanding of everything you go through, this entire course has really given me a foothold”
- Carwyn

“This video was the most helpful C++ tutorial I could find. Because of this, I am passing my current CS courses. Skyshatter does a better job at teaching his subject than my current professor.”
- Sayhi2urmawm

These three are only a few of many more.

To be online

It has been well over a year since this class was started, but thank-yous and new questions for the teacher continue to come in. Obviously, very many people have benefitted from the recordings that the teacher created and uploaded online.

However, UReddit is very minimal, and there are now three places where people post comments: on the UReddit class page, on the instructor’s website, and on the instructor’s YouTube channel. The inability to consolidate everything on the UReddit website forces this to be the case, and this is suboptimal.

The UReddit team is working to create a better platform that provides all the tools a teacher needs to run an online class and that allows efficient organization of an entire class in order to improve the educational process. If you are interested in learning more, you can read more about this project on its Kickstarter page.

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Featured class: Neural Basis of Cognition

The Class

One of the earliest classes offered on UReddit was Neural Basis of Cognition. It consisted of a series of eight lectures covering an introduction, methods in neuroscience, hemispheric specialization, motor control, learning and memory, and attention; each 45-60 minute lecture was given live and questions from listeners were answered. Five to fifteen live viewers tuned into each lecture, which was recorded and hosted on the UReddit site (click the link to the class page above for to access all class materials).

Unfortunately, the audio quality in the first few lectures isn’t very good and the recording of the first lecture suffered from a technical glitch, though these issues were resolved halfway through the class.

Some of the material given is truly fascinating, as neuroscience itself is. Here’s an example from Lecture 8: Attention. Look at the two faces below. Which one looks happier to you?

Chimeric Face

Chimeric Face

Most right-handed people say that the face on the left looks happier. This is just one of the many interesting things covered in this class.

Although the class is only eight lectures long, the material that is given is at the collegiate level and is, in fact, based on an upper level neuroscience class at the University of Pittsburgh.

A Comment from a Student

“I took part in a University of Reddit class on neuroscience. The tutor clearly had a passion for the subject and was eager to share his knowledge with the students, and the fact that they were all taking part out of interest meant that the discussions were lively and useful. It’s the simple idea of bringing together people who want to learn something with people who are willing to teach, and it works!”

- William Whistler, Autodidact and PhD student

Online Teaching Breaching the Real World

Although all participants were interested in this class, one in particular struck up a conversation with the teacher. It turned out, entirely by coincidence, that Will (who was quoted above) and the teacher were going to be visiting Montreal at the same time; they ended up having a long discussion about neuroscience and computational neuroscience over a couple beers, and still stay in touch after over two years. An unexpected connection!

Strengths as an Online Class

UReddit was used as a point of coordination for this class. Although the lecture recordings and class materials are being hosted on the filehosting UReddit makes available to teachers, the live lectures were conducted via third party services. The live lectures garnered from five to fifteen viewers each, some of which consistently asked great questions and inspired discussion. The students came from all over the world and the teacher, living in the United States, and a student, living in England, struck up a friendship after meeting in Montreal. Online education has the power not only to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and passion but also to connect people with similar interests that may have otherwise never have met.

Improvements

Unfortunately, the first video lecture recording suffered from a technical glitch halfway through, and the first few lectures suffer from inconsistent and imperfect audio quality (although the later lectures are just fine). The live lectures were conducted via a third-party service and recorded using desktop recording software, meaning that everyone was subject to the quality of service available and that each lecture had to be manually recorded, which was subject to both technical and user error.

The UReddit team is working on a new platform that will offer live lecture streaming (including a mobile client) and automated recording and indexing of live lectures in order to make conducting such a class easier and more effective in the future. We are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to help us polish off our prototype; if you see how much better this class could have been given the right tools, please consider supporting us. More information can be found on fundraising campaign page.

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Featured class: Introduction to Haskell

The Class

Nishant Shukla is a third year and computer science and mathematics student at the University of Virginia, where he is teaching a one-credit introductory class on the functional programming language Haskell with the supervision of Professor Jack W. Davidson. Nishant has opted to make his class material public as a UReddit class, posting his detailed lecture slides every week.

Haskell is a relatively new programming language that, though gaining in popularity, is not nearly as widespread as C or Java. As such, very few universities offer any classes on Haskell and, unfortunately, a small portion of computer science students are exposed to this beautiful language that has a strong basis in theoretical mathematics. Nishant is offering material at the college level, publicly and for free. At this time, there are 150 students signed up for the class.

Introduction to Haskell is currently at lecture six of twelve and it is not too late to join. If you are interested in learning Haskell, take a look!

Strengths as an Online Class

Although there are many tutorials about Haskell available online, Nishant is actively teaching this class at the University of Virginia, which means that not only is it at the collegiate level but that he answers questions from his students. This is a great example of taking advantage of the open nature of the internet to reach a wide audience: our web statistics show that the class is being accessed by visitors from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, India, France, Italy, Poland, and a number of other countries. And it’s free.

Furthermore, this class is being taught at a university at the same time. This shows that free and open online education doesn’t have to complete with traditional education – and can, in fact work with it to improve education worldwide.

Potential

Nishant took advantage of the UReddit platform to coordinate this class and show it to a community of people interested in learning. The UReddit platform is very minimal, however. What if we had live lecture streaming and live chat built into UReddit so that Nishant could easily offer office hours for student questions and so that students could more easily and freely discuss with one another? What if there were a centralized area for students to submit code samples for feedback, or even a gradebook to record grades on assignments?

We are, in fact, looking to create a platform that offers all these things and more in order to make open, online, crowd-sourced education everything it can be. We need help getting it off the ground, though; if you are interested in helping us, please check out our Kickstarter for further information on what we’re trying to do.

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Featured class: Intro to Photography

One of the first classes offered via UReddit was Introduction to Photography:

My name is Alexandre Buisse and I am slowly transitioning into full time photographer. My main emphasis is on adventure (specifically alpine climbing) and landscape images, but I do a bit of everything. I have also written a book on hiking and climbing photography (to be published next spring by Rocky Nook). My portfolio is visible on my website, Alexandre Buisse Photography.

The Class

The class was conducted on a subreddit, at /r/photoclass by Alexandre Buisse, whose UReddit username is nattfodd. It consisted of seven parts: The Gear, Exposure, Focus, Using the Camera, Post-processing, Vision, and conclusion. The subreddit has over 6,000 subscribers and was a great example of what an online class could be like.

Alexandre is clearly passionate about photography and put this class together of his own free time. He shared his knowledge publicly and, using UReddit as a point of coordination, led a group of people to pursue their own interests in photography. This led to a community of people sharing their photographs with each other, exchanging comments and advice, and receiving feedback from the instructor.

With the internet and the ease of uploading and sharing media on the internet, this class was not hampered by being entirely online. In fact, the online nature of this class facilitated the sharing of one passionate teacher’s efforts with a huge group of people, more than can fit into most rooms. Furthermore, the fact that the students were spread over a large geographical area meant that there was larger than usual variety in the photographs being shared by students, much larger than if, say, half of the students in college photography class took photos in the local park.

A Revival

In a traditional photography class, the teacher would lecture in person. Once the lecture is over, it is gone. In this case, since the class was conducted online, the material and the entire experience were recorded and available to newcomers. This was taken advantage of by the Redditor doing_donuts, who used the online material to lead a resurrection of the Alexandre’s photograph class.

All thirty lessons were done again, in sequence, in accordance with Alexandre’s original vision and exposition. The revived class was conducted again on Reddit, in the subreddit, /r/photoclass2012a, with nearly 2,000 subscribers.

 

(Update) Another Revival!

A comment on Reddit let us know that this class is, in fact, being revived yet again at /r/PhotoClass2013, and Alexandre is part of the team running it. It is, at this time, at lesson 9 of 30. It goes on!

Conclusions

This is a great example of not only the strengths of online education, but of crowdsourcing that education. This class was offered by a passionate teacher who left the accumulation of his efforts publicly available after offering it to thousands of people, and the material was taken advantage of again by another motivated individual in order to benefit further thousands of people. How many people with an interest of photography learned from this experience and furthered their own passions? Probably more than the subscriber count. This is a great thing, and it came from the UReddit community.

Improvements

The only question is whether this experience could have been improved. One of the shortcomings is that Reddit disabled commenting on posts in a subreddit after a certain amount of time passes because Reddit received so much traffic. Furthermore, the entirety of the class was conducted in Reddit posts; although this was great for encouraging discussion, a Reddit post is perhaps not the best place to format and present educational material.

UReddit served as a point of coordination for this Reddit-based class, and the UReddit team is currently working on a new project that is UReddit’s spiritual successor. After the success of the sort exemplified by Alexandre’s class, we want to create a fully-featured platform that offers all of the tools necessary to conduct a class. Imagine if this class could have included weekly live, webcam-enabled discussions between students and with the instructor for faster communication, if there were a centralized area for students to upload their photographs and receive critique, if there were no expiration date on the columns, and if there were a formalized way of another user resurrecting a class to benefit more people.

(Update: We didn’t even know that the class was being conducted a third time, someone let us know in response to this post. Wouldn’t a centralized platform and community work so much better?)

Well, the platform we are working on, which is being conducted via the non-profit organization Open Compass the UReddit team has established, will offer all this and more. We are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the development of this platform. If you see the merits in Alexandre’s class, see how it could have been even better given the right tools, and think that this project is worth supporting, please check out our Kickstarter page for more details about our new project and for how to help us. Here’s the link again.

A Thank You

It is worth it to take the time to thank Alexandre for this class. The effort he put forth in his own free time to share his passion has led literally thousands of people to pursue their own interests and to learn from him, and that is a great accomplishment.

Thank you, Alexandre!

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