Free online intro to genetics and evolution

| 25 Comments

Course page here. Course description:

Introduction to Genetics and Evolution gives interested people a very basic overview of the principles behind these very fundamental areas of biology. We often hear about new “genome sequences,” commercial kits that can tell you about your ancestry (including pre-human) from your DNA or disease predispositions, debates about the truth of evolution, and why animals behave the way they do. This course provides the basic biology you need to understand all of these issues better and tries to clarify some misconceptions. No prior coursework is assumed.

Topic outline:

*Evidence for evolution
*Introduction to basic genetics
*Recombination and genetic mapping simple traits
*Complications to genetic mapping
*Genes vs. environment
*Basic population genetics and Hardy-Weinberg
*Gene flow, differentiation, inbreeding
*Natural selection and genetic drift
*Molecular evolution
*Evolutionary applications and misapplications
*Adaptive behaviors and species formation

Taught by Mohamed Noor, Earl D. McLean Professor of Biology at Duke and (IIRC) Jerry Coyne Ph.D. Ten weeks, 5-6 hours per week workload. Free!

25 Comments

Floyd, Steve, Byers and IBIGOT need to learn this material. I know they won’t but, but that alone tells you everything you need to know about them.

I just took this course based on the original listing here a few months ago. It was awesome and Prof Noor is a great instructor. The focus is on genetics and how that ties into evolution rather than a course on evolution. Very little time is spent on proving evolution…mostly it is showing how it works at the genetic level. The course consists of about 6 ten to 15 minute videos a week along with a practice quiz and an actual open book quiz that you can take as many times as you like before the deadline. There is also an open book midterm and final…but don’t think it is easy…it is not for most…BUT…it is full of info…well worth the 8 hours a week or so you will put into it and there are discussion forums with other students and Prof Noor and his TA’s to help in understanding. This was my first ON Line course…and I’m afraid that anything else I take will be a let down! Highly recommended if you have an interest and are willing to do the work. NO prior college science required. No books to buy. Everything is free.

I took it, too.

Gotta warn the biology neophytes out there: it’s technical. I have a BS in physics, and my final grade was just under the 80% threshold for a “certificate of distinction,” though I did earn a “statement of accomplishment.”

To me, this course was more about looking “under the hood” of the car (the car of evolution?) and learning how the various parts work than an overview of what a car (evolution) is and what it does. Hope that makes sense.

Also, someone from the Great Spinning Ball of Disco-whatever took the course as well, tried to pull the ol’ “Dr. Noor gets several things wrong!” gag in the forums, and left after a few weeks without finishing.

It was a fantastic course. Like the Masked Panda said, it’s focus was really on genetics and how that provides the basis for evolution. It was a challenge with some very thought-provoking assessments.

It was fun playing with the IDiots in the discussions, but they did disappear after a while–I don’t think they had any intention of finishing.

I stopped by Duke today to meet Mohamed (I’m not far away from Duke). He showed me around the lab a bit and I met some of the other people involved. I also met with the director of Duke’s Coursera initiative and it really seems they are committed to the MOOC concept.

I took it as well, and finished lower than I’d intended - see Masked Panda up there ;-)

Not only is the emphasis on genetics, especially selective algorithms, it is structured so that you are not fed the answers - you’re going to have to recognize the implications of the info, because the exam questions will come at the topic from the back side, as it were. Definitely take advantage of the forums discussing the exam questions.

It didn’t help that I absolutely suck at math, and had to get outside help for understanding population change rates. But, from the change in grading requirements right at the end, I suspect they may be examining the structure for future courses.

The general discussion forums are definitely interesting, however, and plenty of new articles are posted within, just from interested students. There were indeed some evolution deniers, but they generally got trounced thoroughly and couldn’t find supporters. The same is taking place at the ‘Think Again’ course on formulating and recognizing arguments, which presently has the largest enrollment they’ve seen (170,000+, in comparison to the Gene Evo’s 30,000+).

It’s going to be interesting to see where online courses go. They certainly reach a lot of people with minimal investment, but can they work reasonably for credit hours?

And Lynn, did you see a pic of a fruit fly on a mirror when you were there? I sent that over to Dr. Noor several weeks ago ;-)

I just finished the course this week. I’ll echo some of the commenters in that 1) it was a great course, 2) it is a bit technical and I had to crack open a genetic textbook for one of the lectures (mapping) to follow the math.

I was also worried that it was setting a high bar for other courses to meet, but I’m part way through two more courses now and they’re also done well (although one prof isn’t as adept at explaining difficult concepts as Dr. Noor was).

If anyone is wondering if they should take, then don’t think about it, just do it. Also, take a look at the other courses.…there might be something there that interests you (I’m signed up for another half dozen courses next year, most TBA at the moment). Dan

Al Denelsbeck said:

And Lynn, did you see a pic of a fruit fly on a mirror when you were there? I sent that over to Dr. Noor several weeks ago ;-)

Was it the large painting we saw behind him in some of his videos? I didn’t notice that was a mirror. I might have missed it. He has a nice office in a gorgeous newish building.

Will there be scientific evidence presented to verify hypothesis that biological organisms are related by DNA trails ? Evidence and not lines of reasoning from presumptions however strongly presumed? I’m not asking for the evidence but only will it be presented!

Byers, you know and we know that nothing less than an affidavit signed by Almighty God before your eyes would ever convince you of the fact of evolution.

Dave Luckett said:

Byers, you know and we know that nothing less than an affidavit signed by Almighty God before your eyes would ever convince you of the fact of evolution.

I doubt if even that would work with these guys. It would be seen as a satanic deception. Actually, it would probably reinforce their anti-evolution beliefs, since if Satan would go to all that trouble, then he must really love evolution.

Can you imagine how folks like Byers or Steve P or the turd would react to the REAL Jesus, as he was in real life, if they met him today? With no shining clouds, angelic trumpets or anything, just the real, human Jesus – saying things that they mostly don’t want to hear?

I know for sure what Biggy - who appears to have disappeared - would say. He’d tell the dirty hippy to get a haircut and a job. Probably so would Byers, only incoherently. FL would misquote him and then tell him he’s wrong, and he did so say that. With StevieP, it would be a meaningless puff of hot air with a sneer at the end of it.

Oh, they’re a varied bunch, all right.

So, Dave L and Just Bob, have YOU taken this online course? Completed it? Are you taking it now?

If your answer to any of the above is “Yes”, what are your thoughts about the course material? How did it benefit you? What did you get out of the course (if anything)?

If you have not taken the course, why not?

FL

DS said:

Floyd, Steve, Byers and IBIGOT need to learn this material. I know they won’t but, but that alone tells you everything you need to know about them.

Robert Byers said:

Will there be scientific evidence presented to verify hypothesis that biological organisms are related by DNA trails ? Evidence and not lines of reasoning from presumptions however strongly presumed? I’m not asking for the evidence but only will it be presented!

You mean, other than the basic principles of meiotic production of gametes and the remarkable similarity of genomes largely reflecting both the cladistic and the phenotypical distinctions of ‘species’? No. In fact, I’m not sure why anyone would need something more than that, unless they were emotionally wedded to some other concept.

But I’ll tell you what else was missing: not one of the creationists in the forums was able to explain why we have such processes as recombination, retention of recessive detrimental alleles, varying penetrance, or even epistasis. Mind you, I mean evidence and not lines of reasoning from presumptions however strongly presumed.

I know, right? I thought I might get some answers from those who are so convinced, but it seems almost as if they haven’t the faintest clue what they’re talking about. I guess I’ll stick with what routinely gives the best explanations, and predicts with remarkable accuracy, and allows us to perform genetic mapping and modifications, and doesn’t look like it stems from self-absorbed denialism. I’m quirky that way ;-)

Taught by Mohamed Noor, Earl D. McLean Professor of Biology at Duke and (IIRC) Jerry Coyne Ph.D.

Small correction: While Coyne appears in a video interview and is responsible for some portions of the material, it is only Noor teaching the course. Ably assisted in the forums by several TAs, I must add.

Lynn Wilhelm said: Was it the large painting we saw behind him in some of his videos?

No, that was what prompted me to send it. I snagged a fruit fly on the bathroom mirror that produced an interesting set of primary and secondary reflections, and linked him to it. What I thought was serendipitous was how the secondary reflection (off the mirrored backing, off the back of the glass internally, and off the mirrored surface again) lined up perfectly with the fly itself.

Oh hell, see http://wading-in.net/Add/Drosophila-s.jpg - not the sharpest thing I’ve ever taken, I just liked the effect.

Robert Byers said:

Will there be scientific evidence presented to verify hypothesis that biological organisms are related by DNA trails ? Evidence and not lines of reasoning from presumptions however strongly presumed? I’m not asking for the evidence but only will it be presented!

Take the course and find out. Until then STFU.

I am glad that I read through these comments before launching into the course. I am currently in my first year of law school and though I am very tempted to take this course, I will sit it out for now. I have a little bit of biology in my undergrad, but that was a decade ago. I’ll just have to wait until I can devote a real amount of time to the course.

I also took this course and loved it. Prof. Noor is wonderful–and hilarious, without trying to be funny. His manner is very warm and enthusiastic, and despite the delivery through technology, very personable, I thought. I felt a real connection to the course and could easily imagine all the many hundreds of “students” like me around the world, engaged in an amazing learning opportunity. I can’t say enough good about it.

And this despite the fact that I did not get the certificate and struggled with the material. It was indeed challenging, and as someone else mentioned about themselves, I suck at math. The one “WTF” moment I had during the lectures was when Dr. Noor said something about using the “natural logarithm.” Wait, what now? Oh, that…that’s just “e.” You know—the number “e.” Like pi, sort of.

I did a little Googling and Wikipediaing around and found a textbook at the library that was among those listed as possible course supplements. I was able to figure out what was going on—my proudest accomplishment in the class was when I got the question that used “e” to figure it out correct, and not by chance. But that reference did show me that, as a biblical studies major, I was out of my depth in hard, math-driven science.

Which is precisely why I needed this course. And the best takeaway from it is that evolution is a FACT, a mathematical fact! Well. Very nearly. The Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium formula can be used to help demonstrate with quantifiable precision that adaptive change is taking place. The more I learn about evolution—not just from popular books, which has been great enough, but from ever more advanced technical sources—the more I feel like the creationists who taught me understood next to nothing about the theory they were so sure couldn’t be correct. I might not have the skillz needed to go toe-to-toe with the more sophisticated ID proponents (read, “grifters”), but in my own mind, at least, a solid, unshakeable foundation has been erected. The likes of this course are directly responsible, and the more people who learn in this way, the less demon-haunted the world must become.

Al Denelsbeck said:

Robert Byers said:

Will there be scientific evidence presented to verify hypothesis that biological organisms are related by DNA trails ? Evidence and not lines of reasoning from presumptions however strongly presumed? I’m not asking for the evidence but only will it be presented!

You mean, other than the basic principles of meiotic production of gametes and the remarkable similarity of genomes largely reflecting both the cladistic and the phenotypical distinctions of ‘species’? No. In fact, I’m not sure why anyone would need something more than that, unless they were emotionally wedded to some other concept.

But I’ll tell you what else was missing: not one of the creationists in the forums was able to explain why we have such processes as recombination, retention of recessive detrimental alleles, varying penetrance, or even epistasis. Mind you, I mean evidence and not lines of reasoning from presumptions however strongly presumed.

I know, right? I thought I might get some answers from those who are so convinced, but it seems almost as if they haven’t the faintest clue what they’re talking about. I guess I’ll stick with what routinely gives the best explanations, and predicts with remarkable accuracy, and allows us to perform genetic mapping and modifications, and doesn’t look like it stems from self-absorbed denialism. I’m quirky that way ;-)

i wasn’t asking for it as its too much for this thread. I was only asking if there would be SCIENTIFIC evidence for genetic likeness as a trail of genetic heritage. Similarity is not scientific evidence but only a line of reasoning!! Evolutionists always misunderstand this. likewise these other items only are lines of reasoning however, seemly, reasonable. They are not evidence of common descent but only evidence of common detail. It would be that way anyways.

If one wishes to persuade creationists one must demonstrate scientific evidence from scientific methodology for conclusions about genetiuc trails.

Sincerely these courses don’t show me they understand this. They misunderstand the hunch relative to methodology “proving” the hunch.

Show me/us our error here! Start by retracting these lines of reasoning as scientific evidence.

Sorry Robert. wrong again. The assumptions of phylogenetics have been tested extensively in every way possible. Organisms are related by common descent and it is possible to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships reliable. To pretend otherwise is simply ignorant reality denial. But then that’s all you’ve got isn’t it Robert?

Robert Byers said:

I was only asking if there would be SCIENTIFIC evidence for genetic likeness as a trail of genetic heritage. Similarity is not scientific evidence but only a line of reasoning!! Evolutionists always misunderstand this.

First off, since this is a ten-week online course on teaching genetics, no, they are not going to present all of the papers ever produced on why we know evolution works. They’re going to use their time wisely. Creationists always misunderstand that nobody has any reason to cater to their self-important whims.

If a ‘line of reasoning’ that is proven true with every example already named above, and many more besides, isn’t enough, it’s hard to imagine what would be. Because it looks like you’re being rather selective about the definition of ‘evidence.’ Funny that.

If one wishes to persuade creationists one must demonstrate scientific evidence from scientific methodology for conclusions about genetiuc [sic] trails.

The issue is that creationism doesn’t have jack to do with handling evidence - as I not-so-subtly-yet-too-subtly-for-you-to-catch said above, creationism isn’t even remotely close to holding any standard of evidence whatsoever, so it’s rather obvious that creationists possess their views for reasons quite unrelated to making sense. Science doesn’t achieve anything by patting the heads of whiny neurotics - it accomplishes more than enough without stooping to such levels.

Show me/us our error here! Start by retracting these lines of reasoning as scientific evidence.

Why would anyone waste their time? What we have works just ducky, every second of every day - there’s really not much more that can be done to prove it works. Except, perhaps, no longer falling for the idea that stupid emotional blinders deserve some form of respect or even recognition beyond, “Idiotic rantings provide no function and no benefit, so get over it or keep it to yourself.”

If you want to continue this thread in any way, you can start by explaining how creationism handles the points I previously mentioned. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for creationism to be considered a valid theory. Until that occurs, you’re in no position to be setting arbitrary requirements, because natural selection explains them quite well. That’s what I require to consider this a discussion worth any time at all.

Al Denelsbeck said:

Robert Byers said:

I was only asking if there would be SCIENTIFIC evidence for genetic likeness as a trail of genetic heritage. Similarity is not scientific evidence but only a line of reasoning!! Evolutionists always misunderstand this.

First off, since this is a ten-week online course on teaching genetics, no, they are not going to present all of the papers ever produced on why we know evolution works. They’re going to use their time wisely. Creationists always misunderstand that nobody has any reason to cater to their self-important whims.

If a ‘line of reasoning’ that is proven true with every example already named above, and many more besides, isn’t enough, it’s hard to imagine what would be. Because it looks like you’re being rather selective about the definition of ‘evidence.’ Funny that.

If one wishes to persuade creationists one must demonstrate scientific evidence from scientific methodology for conclusions about genetiuc [sic] trails.

The issue is that creationism doesn’t have jack to do with handling evidence - as I not-so-subtly-yet-too-subtly-for-you-to-catch said above, creationism isn’t even remotely close to holding any standard of evidence whatsoever, so it’s rather obvious that creationists possess their views for reasons quite unrelated to making sense. Science doesn’t achieve anything by patting the heads of whiny neurotics - it accomplishes more than enough without stooping to such levels.

Show me/us our error here! Start by retracting these lines of reasoning as scientific evidence.

Why would anyone waste their time? What we have works just ducky, every second of every day - there’s really not much more that can be done to prove it works. Except, perhaps, no longer falling for the idea that stupid emotional blinders deserve some form of respect or even recognition beyond, “Idiotic rantings provide no function and no benefit, so get over it or keep it to yourself.”

If you want to continue this thread in any way, you can start by explaining how creationism handles the points I previously mentioned. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for creationism to be considered a valid theory. Until that occurs, you’re in no position to be setting arbitrary requirements, because natural selection explains them quite well. That’s what I require to consider this a discussion worth any time at all.

You misunderstood. I was entirely referring to the study here of genetics and whether scientific evidence would BE presented to back up conclusions that DNA is a trail of biological relationship. Actual scientific evidence as opposed to a hunch/presumption and lines of reasoning.

Saying my DNA proof of my connection to my dad, which is clear by other evidence, is not proof of mans connection to primates. Even if true its not evidence but a mere line of reasoning. Its not scientific evidence.

I don’t think its there and so ask if it will be presented. I gotta hunch it won’t.

Anyways Merry Christmas to everyone.

Take a course Robert.

Merry christmas.

Al Denelsbeck said:

Taught by Mohamed Noor, Earl D. McLean Professor of Biology at Duke and (IIRC) Jerry Coyne Ph.D.

Small correction: While Coyne appears in a video interview and is responsible for some portions of the material, it is only Noor teaching the course.

I guess I phrased that confusingly. I meant that Noor was (IIRC) a Ph.D. student of Coyne, not that Coyne co-taught the course.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on December 17, 2012 2:05 PM.

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