Jottings: Digging up a king and other adventures
The archaeologist's excitement could be felt through my computer screen as I watched while they carefully scraped away a section of parking lot near Bosworth, England. I was taking a free university "Massive Open Online Course" (MOOC) about King Richard III through the University of Leicester in the UK and this was the filming of a possible discovery of the king's burial place.
On the site of an ancient priory, now a car park in town, a skeleton was being unearthed in what would have been an entrance to the priory, where a king might have been buried. It was long assumed that King Richard's body had been thrown in the river in 1485, as his death signaled the end of the Plantagenet dynasty. Could this be his burial place instead? Mesmerized, I watched as the dirt was swept away to reveal a skeleton with battle scars … and with a curved spine, as King Richard was known to have had! Later DNA testing would reveal that this was, indeed, the long missing king, and I had watched it being discovered, to see history being made as though I was there instead of home in Oregon.
It was the same excitement I felt watching an Australian university team discover a new species of ancient man in the hidden rooms of an Indonesian cave or exploring the backstage of a London opera house by computer. I was there but not there, like magic.
Some friends listen to podcasts, some stream shows and others follow social media; I do these, but my passion is MOOCs, especially those through FutureLearn.com. These free, short (usually 4-6 weeks) classes primarily from universities all over the UK give me the chance to sit comfortably at home while learning about the world. In past years I've discovered how Hadrian's Wall was built across England, learned about Robert Burns and Scottish clan history from the University of Glasgow, forensic psychology from the Open University, as well as "Japanese Culture Through Rare Books" from Keio University, and "Literature of the English Country House," among many other topics.
Another source of free classes is Coursera.org, which has mostly American university classes, especially regarding business and computer science, and edX.org, offering even more. These are all free, but one can pay a small fee to receive a certificate, or even work towards an advance degree in some cases. I can sign on whenever my chosen lecture topic is available, fitting in lectures as I have time.
Quite often the most interesting part of each class is the discussion printed out after each lecture from those of us, around the world, who have watched. Sometimes a class lecturer will ask in the beginning for those taking the class to introduce themselves by email if they wish. The parade of exotic names shows that this is a conversation of thousands from around the world, many saying they are taking a class to improve their English. One popular class I took announced at its completion that 10,000 of us had been learning about the history of fairy tales together. In fact, we are called "learners" by the lecturers, who join the discussion as it unfolds after each lecture, and so we are. At age 87 Michelangelo said, "I never stop learning" and that too is my goal.
All of these courses can be discovered through a free frequent newsletter called OpenCulture.com, which provides links to 1,700 free online courses, 1,150 free old movies as well as free language lessons, ebooks, music (all of Bach), art and even 9,000 Grateful Dead concerts, should that be your passion. You can link to hearing Joyce read Ulysses if you have trouble sleeping.
Classes by computer are indeed a magical portal to the world, like being happily locked into the world's libraries while holding your cup of coffee and wearing comfortable clothes. Why waste time on social media only to parrot someone else's opinions or find you have FOMO? Instead, satisfy a curiosity you might not even know you have; there is a wonderful real world out there, just waiting to tell you about itself. Come learn with me!
Peggy Keonjian is a member of the Jottings Group of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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