Monthly Archives: June 2012

PhD Comics – an unusual reasonable humor

There’s nothing which we can be sure about life. That’s exactly what happened to the creator of PhD comics. Before coming to Stanford, Jorge Cham didn’t even imagine that something like this could be an important part of his life.

PHD comics

Start as a graduate student, now become successful and famous as a professional cartoonist. No one can ever know when the wheel of fate turns!

Let’s view some of his best works:

You can take a lot more here.

Piled Higher and Deeper!

Model Thinking – an after-course review

Model thinking icon

The “last last”(*) Sunday is the last date on my course “Model Thinking” from Michigan University. It’s such an enjoying experience, with a lot of materials that help looking our world in a brand new way. I’d love to address the some interesting topics of this wonderful course in a recent day. Here’s a short summary of what makes me remember about it.


1. Knowledge should be free

Yay, a slogan :) . Along with many many online courses out there, what makes this course stand out? The first thing, it’s free. Truly free. From the beginning to the end. No premium membership, no payment for extra lessons, no cost for materials (although they introduce some books in the course, but they are optional and can be skipped). I like it. I mean, premium membership is ok, but if a course claims that they are free, then it should be truly free. Asking people sign up for membership after a few trial lessons… well, I understand that the publisher needs money, too, but that brings a feeling of being tricked. The work of Professor Scotte is very impressive, too. Pulling such a lot of knowledge into the easiest-to-understand form is no easy-feat. He explains the concepts from a variety of theory: advanced statistics, automation… with a very clear and short style. It reminds me about the spirit of Wikipedia- a garden for high quality knowledge – but friendly with “often-poor” students. It brings students from a far-away countries (like me) a feeling of how people studies in the Michigan school. Isn’t that cool?

2. Organization matters. Simplicity rules.

I have joined several online courses with different way of interaction, but the “Model thinking” course is my best experience so far. One may argue that the content of the course is rather simple and general, but that’s only one thing. Actually, in the course there are some knowledge about high-level statistics, automat,… but they tackle from a very simple view, on the surface, and only what really matters to the main idea. There’s space for enthusiastic students to explore more by themselves, so don’t need to stuff all in the course :) The way by which knowledge is transferred matters. As you can see from the picture, the main learning interface is somewhat “plain and simple”. But it proves itself as a good way to eliminate distraction. I took part in several other courses with more-interactive learning interface, and surprisingly this interface is far more friendly than others.


A normal interface of the course

The quiz is quite good, too. There are small quiz attached after some parts of a lesson to confirm what we just learn. Although some minor odds, I can say that the teachers do their best to keep everything clean and make progress track-able. That’s a very well-placed effort. And yes, no advertising! I guess it’s just a problem of time… since I still not know about other ways that they can support a free course forever, but it’s great when there’s no distraction. I think this course will proceed far if it can live with donation money from the sponsors, not the advertisers.

3. Still lack of Interaction.

Although many improvements made, this course still not achieve the perfection – requires. Participating in forums and Facebook pages are fairly rare, and only a very few people are active. Mostly they only leave a “hello” message, then disappear (well, that includes some of me, too).

In the normal sense, we shouldn’t blame the organizers, since this is the problem that all the online courses struggled over years. People are busy, having different time frames and plans… But I think we should have the right to expect more from such a well-defined course. If Mr. Scott can come up with a way to engage people to a community (just like his lesson about Standing Ovation), I think he would be able to transform the way people learn from the Internet. For those who missed this course, I would recommend to wait a little to take that course again in September.


(*) Yep, this blog post was in my desk from 2 weeks ago.

(**) I would like to use this post as a thank one of my “big” friend, who showed me that age doesn’t have anything to do with the willing to learn. Hope some day you can read this.