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15 Awesome Ivy League Classes You Can Take for Free Right Now

Photo Credit: Pixabay

I don’t know about you, but the idea of learning new things has become more appealing to me as I’ve aged – basically, now that I don’t have to go to school, I’d really like to go to school! If you find yourself thinking the same thing, then I have good news for you.

Eight Ivy League schools offer online courses for free (or for a small certificate charge of $50 or $100) – 396 different classes, currently. Most are conventional subjects (which is cool if you’re into that or want continuing education!), but others are just fun things to learn about in the event you ever need to crush someone at Trivial Pursuit.

There’s a list of 15 super fun sounding courses below, and – bonus! – you’ll get to say you attended (and aced, we assume) a class at Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, or Yale.

#15. “Crowdfunding” // University of Pennsylvania

Crowdfunding, the practice of raising small amounts of money from large numbers of people, has enabled people around the world to start new businesses, fund initiatives, and raise money for themselves and others. Yet, not all crowdfunding efforts reach their desired goal. Why do some succeed, while others fail? This course will reveal the science behind successful crowdfunding, drawing on data from hundreds of thousands of campaigns. You’ll learn different types of crowdfunding approaches, and receive detailed advice on what to do (and what not to do) when crowdfunding. You’ll also have the unique opportunity to go behind-the-scenes with key players in the field with exclusive interviews from the founder of Indiegogo to successful campaign creators, to get the information you need to set your crowdfunding initiative up for success.

#14. “Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science (Part 1)” // Harvard University

During each module of this course, chefs reveal the secrets behind some of their most famous culinary creations — often right in their own restaurants. Inspired by such cooking mastery, the Harvard team will then explain the science behind the recipe.

Topics will include:

How molecules influence flavor

The role of heat in cooking

Diffusion, revealed by the phenomenon of spherification, the culinary technique pioneered by Ferran Adrià.

You will also have the opportunity to become an experimental scientist in your very own laboratory — your kitchen. By following along with the engaging recipe of the week, taking precise measurements, and making skillful observations, you will learn to think like both a cook and a scientist. The lab is certainly one of the most unique components of this course — after all, in what other science course can you eat your experiments?

#13. “Lessons from Ebola: Preventing the Next Pandemic” // Harvard University

Like no other event in recent history, the 2014 Ebola outbreak has made clear the fragility of existing health systems. While responding to the current epidemic is critical, we also have an opportunity to learn lessons to prevent the next global health catastrophe, forge partnerships across borders and disciplines, and demonstrate our commitment to value all human lives.

This four-week course provides the context in which to understand the Ebola outbreak – why now, and why did so many people suffer and die? The course lays out the global governance structure – what was the global response supposed to look like, and where did it fail?

The course will feature practitioners, experts, and scholars who will focus on cultivating a better understanding of the Ebola epidemic and implications for future health systems to ensure that the world is more effective in preventing the next pandemic.

#12. “Modern Masterpieces of World Literature” // Harvard University

Based on the second half of the Masterpieces of World Literature edX MOOC, this short literature course examines how writers reach beyond national and linguistic boundaries as worldly readers and travelers, and how their modern fictions rise to the status of world literature.

These masterpieces of modern world literature take part in a tradition of weaving small stories into ambitious projects—one that reaches back to medieval tales and extends forward to contemporary novels. Throughout the course, you will learn how these writers use their fictions to engage directly with the political and social concerns of their present and of a globalized modernity, relating experiences of exploration, migration, international conflict, and cultural exchange.

#11. “Buddhism and Modern Psychology” // Princeton University

The Dalai Lama has said that Buddhism and science are deeply compatible and has encouraged Western scholars to critically examine both the meditative practice and Buddhist ideas about the human mind. A number of scientists and philosophers have taken up this challenge. There have been brain scans of meditators and philosophical examinations of Buddhist doctrines. There have even been discussions of Darwin and the Buddha: Do early Buddhist descriptions of the mind, and of the human condition, make particular sense in light of evolutionary psychology?

This course will examine how Buddhism is faring under this scrutiny. Are neuroscientists starting to understand how meditation “works”? Would such an understanding validate meditation—or might physical explanations of meditation undermine the spiritual significance attributed to it? And how are some of the basic Buddhist claims about the human mind holding up? We’ll pay special attention to some highly counterintuitive doctrines: that the self doesn’t exist, and that much of perceived reality is in some sense illusory. Do these claims, radical as they sound, make a certain kind of sense in light of modern psychology? And what are the implications of all this for how we should live our lives? Can meditation make us not just happier, but better people?

All the features of this course are available for free. It does not offer a certificate upon completion.

#10. “Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies” // Princeton University

To really understand what is special about Bitcoin, we need to understand how it works at a technical level. We’ll address the important questions about Bitcoin, such as:

How does Bitcoin work? What makes Bitcoin different? How secure are your Bitcoins? How anonymous are Bitcoin users? What determines the price of Bitcoins? Can cryptocurrencies be regulated? What might the future hold?

After this course, you’ll know everything you need to be able to separate fact from fiction when reading claims about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. You’ll have the conceptual foundations you need to engineer secure software that interacts with the Bitcoin network. And you’ll be able to integrate ideas from Bitcoin in your own projects.

Course Lecturers:
Arvind Narayanan, Princeton University

#9. “Viral Marketing and How to Craft Contagious Content” // University of Pennsylvania

Ever wondered why some things become popular, and other don’t? Why some products become hits while others flop? Why some ideas take off while others languish? What are the key ideas behind viral marketing? This course explains how things catch on and helps you apply these ideas to be more effective at marketing your ideas, brands, or products. You’ll learn how to make ideas stick, how to increase your influence, how to generate more word of mouth, and how to use the power of social networks to spread information and influence. Drawing on principles from his best-selling book, “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” Professor Jonah Berger illustrates successful strategies for you to use buzz to create virality so that your campaigns become more shareable on social media and elsewhere. By the end of this course, you’ll have a better understanding of how to craft contagious content, build stickier messages, and get any product, idea, or behavior to catch on.

#8. “Power and Responsibility: Doing Philosophy with Superheroes” // Harvard University

Pow! Bang! Kaboom! Superhero stories, first arriving on the scene in the late 1930s, are now among the most popular forms of global entertainment. The study of philosophy has been around for centuries.  Power and Responsibility: Doing Philosophy with Superheroes, a SmithsonianX and Harvard Division of Continuing Education course, blends these superheroes narratives with the core areas of philosophy.

SmithsonianX has partnered with the Harvard Division of Continuing Education to bring this course from the Harvard Extension School to edX. This introductory philosophy course, led by Professor Christopher Robichaud of the Harvard Kennedy School, offers an exciting lens to interpret key philosophical ideas — metaphysics and epistemology, social and political philosophy, ethics, philosophy of mind, existentialism, moral relativism, and much more.

From Superman’s embrace of truth, justice, and the American way to Wonder Woman’s efforts at promoting peace rather than war, from Spider-Man’s personal struggles at balancing his romantic life with his crime fighting exploits to the X-Men’s social struggles with combating prejudice, Power and Responsibility: Doing Philosophy with Superheroes will give you the chance to explore philosophy through the many superhero narratives via videos, readings, and a meaningful course community. We invite both those new to philosophy and philosophy lovers to join us on this journey!

#7. “Music and Social Action” // Yale University

What is a musician’s response to the condition of the world? Do musicians have an obligation and an opportunity to serve the needs of the world with their musicianship?

At a time of crisis for the classical music profession, with a changing commercial landscape, a shrinking audience base, and a contraction in the number of professional orchestras, how does a young musician construct a career today? Are we looking at a dying art form or a moment of reinvigoration?

In this course we will develop a response to these questions, and we will explore the notion that the classical musician, the artist, is an important public figure with a critical role to play in society.

The course will include inquiry into a set of ideas in philosophy of aesthetics; a discussion about freedom, civil society, and ways that art can play a role in readying people for democracy; discussion on philosophy of education as it relates to the question of positive social change; and an exploration of musical and artistic initiatives that have been particularly focused on a positive social impact.

Guiding questions for this course inquiry will include:

– How can classical music effect social change?
– How has music made positive change in communities around the globe?
– What can the field of classical music learn from other movements for social change?
– How have educators and philosophers thought about the arts and their connection to daily contemporary life?

Each class will explore one critical question through lectures, discussions, interviews, or documentaries.

#6. “The Ethics of Memory” // Brown University

What is memory? What’s the utility in exploring it and risking the activation of painful memories? What remembrance do we owe people we have lost and how is that reflected in the monuments we create to memorialize them? Why do different groups of people interpret the same event differently—even when the facts are not disputed?

In The Ethics of Memory, we will discuss these questions and more by exploring personal memory, collective memory and memorial culture, and conflicts of memory.

We begin early in the 20th century—the century of critical engagement with memory—when personal memory was plumbed as the basis of psychoanalysis and as a theme in the poetry and prose of World War I. Then we look at the ways in which a people, collectively, choose to memorialize those lost to war, injustice, or tragedy. Finally, we explore memory as a site of struggle, where the way we see ourselves currently implicated by a memory may depend on our group identity, such as in the case for reparations for slavery in the United States.

Throughout, we will share our own perspectives on personal and collective memory and wrestle with questions of ethical responsibility for remembrance and ownership of the narrative of a memory.

In this course, we will:

Discover in the writing of Freud how the exploration of memory gave birth to psychoanalysis, and in Proust how such exploration was elevated to an art form;
Examine poetry from WWI and the Harlem Renaissance that demonstrates the relevance of literature as a framework for understanding the ethics of memory;
Reflect on examples of the many ways we collectively memorialize our losses; and
Share examples of personal and public monuments to memory in order to reflect on the ethical responsibility that memorializing confers on us now.

#5. “Artificial Intelligence (AI)” // Columbia University

What do self-driving cars, face recognition, web search, industrial robots, missile guidance, and tumor detection have in common?

They are all complex real world problems being solved with applications of intelligence (AI).

This course will provide a broad understanding of the basic techniques for building intelligent computer systems and an understanding of how AI is applied to problems.

You will learn about the history of AI, intelligent agents, state-space problem representations, uninformed and heuristic search, game playing, logical agents, and constraint satisfaction problems.

Hands on experience will be gained by building a basic search agent. Adversarial search will be explored through the creation of a game and an introduction to machine learning includes work on linear regression.

This course is part of a MicroMasters program. If you complete all courses in the MicroMasters program in 2018, GE will guarantee you an interview in Boston for an internship or full-time role. Open to Massachusetts residents only.

#4. “Visualizing Japan (1850s-1930s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity” // Harvard University

This MITx course was developed in collaboration with HarvardX and is co-taught by MIT and Harvard historians. You will examine Japanese history in a new way—through the images created by those who were there—and the skills and questions involved in reading history through images in the digital format. The introductory module considers methodologies historians use to “visualize” the past, followed by three modules that explore the themes of Westernization, in Commodore Perry’s 1853-54 expedition to Japan; social protest, in Tokyo’s 1905 Hibiya Riot; and modernity, as seen in the archives of the major Japanese cosmetics company, Shiseido.

VJx will cover the following topics in four modules:

Module 0: Introduction: New Historical Sources for a Digital Age (Professors Dower, Gordon, Miyagawa). Digitization has dramatically altered historians’ access to primary sources, making large databases of the visual record readily accessible. How is historical methodology changing in response to this seismic shift? How can scholars, students, and the general public make optimal use of these new digital resources?

Module 1: Black Ships & Samurai (Professor Dower). Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853-54 expedition to force Japan to open its doors to the outside world is an extraordinary moment to look at by examining and comparing the visual representations left to us by both the American and Japanese sides of this encounter. This module also addresses the rapid Westernization undertaken by Japan in the half century following the Perry mission.

Module 2: Social Protest in Imperial Japan: The Hibiya Riot of 1905 (Professor Gordon). The dramatic daily reports from participants in the massive “Hibiya Riot” in 1905, the first major social protest in the age of “imperial democracy” in Japan, offer a vivid and fresh perspective on the contentious domestic politics of an emerging imperial power.

Module 3: Modernity in Interwar Japan: Shiseido & Consumer Culture (Professors Dower, Gordon, Weisenfeld). Exploring the vast archives of the Shiseido cosmetics company opens a fascinating window on the emergence of consumer culture, modern roles for women, and global cosmopolitanism from the ‘teens through the 1920s and even into the era of Japanese militarism and aggression in the 1930s. This module will also tap other Visualizing Cultures units on modernization and modernity.

#3. “Women Making History: Ten Objects, Many Stories” // Harvard University

As we approach the centennial of the passage of women’s suffrage in 1920, there has been a recent burst of activism among American women. Women are running for political office in record numbers. Women are organizing and taking to the streets to demand change. Women are grappling with inclusion and intersectionality.

While some of this activity may have been a response to the 2016 presidential elections, its roots lie deep in 20th-century history — a history richly preserved in Harvard’s Schlesinger Library building on the library’s 75th Anniversary Exhibit.

This course exemplifies the importance of archives in the making of history. Professors Laurel Ulrich and Jane Kamensky, along with colleagues from across Harvard University and beyond, show how women in the 20th-century United States pushed boundaries, fought for new rights, and challenged contemporary notions of what women could and should do.

Through the exploration of ten iconic objects from the Schlesinger collection, they demonstrate how women created change by embracing education, adopting new technologies, and creating innovative works of art; pushing against discrimination and stepping into new roles in public and in private.

#2. “The Science of Well-Being” // Yale University

“The Science of Well-Being” taught by Professor Laurie Santos overviews what psychological science says about happiness. The purpose of the course is to not only learn what psychological research says about what makes us happy but also to put those strategies into practice. The first part of the course reveals misconceptions we have about happiness and the annoying features of the mind that lead us to think the way we do. The next part of the course focuses on activities that have been proven to increase happiness along with strategies to build better habits. The last part of the course gives learners time, tips, and social support to work on the final assignment which asks learners to apply one wellness activity aka “Rewirement” into their lives for four weeks.

#1. “Everyday Parenting: The ABCs of Child Rearing” // Yale University

Everyday Parenting gives you access to a toolkit of behavior-change techniques that will make your typical day in the home easier as you develop the behaviors you would like to see in your child. The lessons provide step-by-step instructions and demonstrations to improve your course of action with both children and adolescents. Among many techniques, you will learn how even simple modifications to tone of voice and phrasing can lead to more compliance. The course will also shed light on many parenting misconceptions and ineffective strategies that are routinely used.

The key to the course is practice. It is not enough to know the strategies; you have to do them to reap the rewards. Using the techniques on a temporary basis will lead to permanent change.

Chances are your parenting is perfectly fine and working the way you would like. But if you have any frustrations with your child or would like improve your effectiveness in changing your child’s behavior, these videos will be a very useful guide.

Check out Class Central to find more free online offerings from the Ivys and other top schools.

See you in class!