Passing notes in the back of Coursera

The University of Maryland plans to offer four popular courses free this spring via Coursera - the international platform that hosts "MOOCs," massive open online courses.

Last fall, in the grip of a self-improvement fit, I realized that a MOOC was just the thing to turn me into a fascinating -- and sought-after -- dinner party guest. But which MOOC? Should I become insufferable on the topic of global poverty? Folklore? The human genome? Plant life? Algebra? Or, better yet -- the entire world!

I registered for “The History of the World Since 1300.” It was taught by a Princeton professor, and I imagined the new me dropping references to the Mongol invasion, and the role the environment played in the crises of the 14th century. 

I had just decided to buy a Princeton scrunchy -- they sell those -- when a small problem emerged. Namely, the class started, and suddenly there was a textbook I was supposed to read, lectures I needed to watch, essays I had to write.

It was like college all over again, but this time complicated by a full-time job, my children -- and Netflix. I never did manage to catch that first lecture, or any subsequent ones. The weekly letters from the professor sat in my inbox, haunting me, like a thank you note I  hadn’t written.

After a semester of pain, the emails ceased, and I decided to scale back my goals: maybe I’d try Pilates. But last week, there it was: another email from Coursera, the online education company. “Beth Teitell, we have recommended courses for you!"

I should have hit delete, I thought as I found myself pondering a class in climate literacy. But I’m not that strong. No -- I’m Al Pacino in "The Godfather III": “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

About the author

Beth Teitell writes for the Boston Globe. Her most recent book is called "Drinking Problems at the Fountain of Youth."

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