Back in Intermediate Algebra After All These Years; Or, Why I Love Online Courses


I’m very bad at not being enrolled in classes. Until I graduated with my Master’s degree last May, the longest that I hadn’t been enrolled at some school or another since I was three was a full semester.

Yep, I’m a nerd. I’m even really tempted to go back and get a doctorate. I’d really like to be enrolled in some sort of program right now. As a plus for all of us who work at home, attending classes usually means that you have to leave the house at least once a week.

But I’ve got a lot on my plate right now and I haven’t found a doctoral program that I like. What’s a nerd to do?

Currently, I’m enrolled in an online class through Coursera. I don’t get the benefit of being forced to leave the house, but I’m getting my lecture hall and homework-fix. I’ve decided to start over with math classes, because I know math is one of my weakest areas (I changed majors in college just to limit the number of math classes I had to take).

Right now, I’m taking Intermediate Algebra. I don’t know if I want to admit this, but it’s kicking my butt. It’s been a long time — more than ten years — since I took algebra. But it’s low stress: no one would even know if I stopped taking the class. That’s important to me as I’m coming back to a topic I’m bad at. I’m that girl that cried in calculus class and I would greatly prefer to never put myself in that position again.

That’s part of the benefit of online classes. With Coursera, at least, there’s a forum where I can get help from classmates and teaching assistants. I would love to have a little more access to the actual professors, but I understand that offering classes on this scale make that entirely impossible. But I can also sit and read and try to figure things out on my own.

Learning in this sort of way is very different that traditional classes. I’m always a fan of anything that teaches people to be more self-directed, which this certainly does. I’ve already gotten sucked into a few Wikipedia binges on math concepts as a result of taking this class. It is hard — just deciding when you need to ask for help can be difficult. But if we’re trained to learn by watching and reading material at our own pace and then asking questions when they’re actually necessary, learning may very well become a more practical process.

Some of us will always be enrolled in yet another academic program. That’s good, because continuous learning is valuable. But as more options for learning (particularly those that don’t require student loans), we may actually see more people being able to become life-long students and, just maybe, as nerdy as I am.

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