Course Review – The Ancient Greeks – Coursera #History #Learning

The Ancient Greeks 

This is another interesting free course run via Coursera, created by The Wesleyan University and presented by Professor Andrew Szegedy-Maszak. It’s a good starting point with which to learn about some of the battles, significant persons, and events of Ancient Greece.

Over 7 weeks the course covers:

Prehistory to Homer

The Archaic Age (ca. 800-500 BCE)

Two City-States: Sparta and Athens

Democracy. The Persian Wars

“The Great 50 Years” (ca. 480-431 BCE)

The Peloponnesian War I

The End of the War, the End of the Century

We learn about Homer, Socrates, Thucydides, Critias, Herotodus, and the major players in the array of battles, laws, political systems and arrangements and shenanigans which went on during this important period in European history.   There is one video on women in Greek society but other than fairly brief mentions women and the lower classes aren’t discussed in detail (to be fair this IS a short course and there is not a lot of info remaining about the common man and woman in Greek society).

The course comprises of informative videos and reading. I have to confess I didn’t do much of the reading (partly as I’ve done some in the past and partly because I didn’t have a lot of time) and I would have got more out of this had I done so – my bad.

I’d recommend doing at least some of the readings, and watching all the videos. There are quizzes to be completed at the end of each section – and these count as the grading for the course so MUST be completed.

The tutor was very engaging, easy to listen to and obviously is very well informed on this historical era.  There were a couple of issues with sound quality – but I have found this an issue with Coursera before (but to be fair the course is free).

Coursera is a good way to pick up cheap or free ‘taster’ courses (One can pay for the course and gain a certificate – otherwise you can an acknowledgement of completion but no actual certificate. The cost of this is not much.)

Overall I enjoyed this and would certainly look out for more courses from this university and tutor.

4 stars.

 

 

 

Magic in the Middle Ages – Course Review

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#Coursera #Fantasy #Medieval

https://www.coursera.org/learn/magic-middle-ages/

3.5 stars out of 5.

I’d been looking at this particular Coursera Course for a while, as it looked pretty interesting and good research for the books.

Here’s the summary from the Cousera website About this course: Magical thought has always attracted human imagination. In this course we will introduce you to the Middle Ages through a wide conception of magic. Students will have an approach to medieval culture, beliefs and practices from the perspective of History and History of Science. Popular magic, as well as learned magic (alchemy, geomancy and necromancy) will be addressed. Moreover, we will also deal with how eastern practices and texts influenced western culture. In July 2016, the course will contain a brand-new module devoted to astrology. Magic in the Middle Ages offers a captivating overview of medieval society and promotes reflection about certain stereotypes associated with this period.’

So did it fulfil this? Yes and no.

Let’s start with the ‘yes’. There was a lot of information to be learned in only 5 weeks – personally I would have liked another week or so. That said I was actually doing another, totally unrelated course at the same time and probably didn’t do this justice. The lectures were taught via video (and I’ll cover that later), with transcripts available, plus some selected reading, tests and two short assignments.

Each week covered a slightly different topic:

Unit 1 – Introduction to Medieval Magic

Unit 2 – Magic and Heresy

Unit 3 – From Magic to Witchcraft

Unit 4 – Magic in Islam

Unit 5 – Astrology and Geomancy

Of these the first three were the most interesting, although it was also interesting to see how Islam viewed magic – as opposed to the far more negative view of the Western Christian views. This particular module was probably the trickiest (not least because of the more unfamiliar names and terms) and I think more time could have been spent comparing the different cultural and religious outlooks, had the course been longer.

Magic permeated the Middle Ages, be it ‘healing’ magic, natural magic, or the more sinister type. In many ways it ran alongside religion, although it goes without saying that the religions of the day weren’t happy about it.  To us, in the modern world, much of it seems really odd, and for many secular societies or individual the whole concept of magic and religion is very outdated. Yet it was important to those who dwelt in a world not ordered by science and technology, where seasonal changes, illness, and belief could literally be a matter of life and death.  Magic was a way of trying to control what was often uncontrollable, to even the odds in a dangerous world. Religion and magic shared many aspects and Christianity itself (and Islam) hold many magical elements – including miracles, foresight and much more.

The topics were certainly engaging and thought provoking – especially the fact that many suffered imprisonment, torture and death for ‘heresy’ simply because of malice, ignorance or wishing to maintain older beliefs.  If the ‘magic’ wasn’t of the right sort, then people suffered. It was interesting to see the differing types of magic, and practitioners – from the wealthy intellectual court astronomers and magicians to the simple ‘cunning folk’. This builds on past study, at least for me. I’d agree it’s a good foundation for further research.

Was it useful  for writing fantasy? Yes, I think so as it gave a broad outline of medieval magical ideas to build on, and the prejudice surrounding them.

So the ‘no’.

The sound quality was bloody awful. The mix of tutors were all heavily accented and the recordings were of poor quality, with echoes, background noises, random volume changes and at one point a random question about King Arthur popped up on screen and froze the vid until it was answered. I found it far easier to just read the transcripts, but even then they were a little choppy.

As you’ve probably guessed I feel that the course should have been a bit longer – everything was a bit rushed. To be fair I didn’t utilise the discussion forum much.

The second assignment was a bit confusing – the grading questions were different to the points asked for discussion.

Overall a 3.5 for this – mostly because of the awful technical issues. Clean up the sound quality and this would be an engaging course.

 

Shaw Academy – Diploma in Social Media Marketing – Course Review

#SocialMedia #Shawsocial #Media

I’m the first person to admit I am not a fan of marketing, if a salesperson is pushy then I won’t buy on principle, unless I REALLY want that item. I’ve worked in retail, a call centre (never ever again – I lasted two weeks), and of course I have to market my books. Time and again there’s guidance on how to sell, what to do and not to do, and a lot of it is contradictory.

I actually find the marketing far more of a challenge than actually writing the books – as I am not especially confident and don’t like to be pushy. So, you ask, where is she going with this?

A good friend of mine recently put me onto Living Social – which is basically a coupon site for discount products. I was looking for an Excel course, I use it in my day job and I know the basics but that’s it. The chance of my work actually providing useful training is pretty low so I decided to look for a course myself, to do in my own time. Whilst wandering around the site I found the Online Social Media Marketing course – for £15 instead of £150 (or close to that). At that price I thought what the hell – it may help and if it doesn’t then I haven’t lost much.

The course itself is run by SHAW ACADEMY, who is one of the biggest online training providers. This is part one of their marketing training, the foundation diploma, and it’s worth doing. Run over 10 weeks there are two hour-long webinars, plus an ‘on-demand’ lecture a week, quizzes to test knowledge and a two hour assignment at the end. They have a You-Tube site, which has extra videos and interaction, plus an active Twitter feed.

http://www.shawacademy.com

The course covers a number of topics: Facebook pages and advertising, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, ORM (Online Reputation Management), You-Tube, Instagram, and a good deal about analytics. It goes without saying that the course is predominantly sales focused but there is a lot of excellent advice.

The tutor – Daniel Gilligan is informed, engaging and has a wicked Irish sense of humour.

Although due to the volume of students the webinars do not allow verbal participation student are encouraged to ask questions, and Daniel and his team are happy to answer emails and phone calls regarding the course. There were incentives to log in to the webinars live (prizes etc.) and as they were at 7pm UK time, that was useful. For a small fee one could buy the slides, notes and extra vids – although everyone got the basic pack. There is a certificate at the end (assuming one does the final assignment) and it is an accredited course.

Not all the aspects are useful for me – I still dislike Linkedin, and although I joined Instagram I’m yet to do much with it. The most useful aspects for me covered analytics, ORM and the discussion on target audience. Times of day are important too. I forget sometimes that my audience are not all in the same time zone, so scheduling a Tweet at 7 pm  my time might not be helpful as it could be 2am in the US, or 2pm when people are at work.

I find Pintrest more of a distraction than a useful marketing tool – that said I have set up a board for my own books (ADD LINK), and many people do like the very visual aspect. But I have, as a reader, looked at books based on the cover there.

I’m working on a companion website for the blog, and have quite a number of ideas, plus I am contemplating a Facebook ad, re-jigging the blog and it has given me the confidence to try some more approaches.

What I learned:

Keep it short and snappy, relevant and regular, new and nice is important. Don’t behave like an asshat – it will ruin your online reputation, and it’s hard to come back from that. We were shown examples of some unfortunate and ill-considered posts and Tweets. For example a particular company tweeting a brand and then #RIPPRINCE on the sad day the singer Prince died. Not only totally inappropriate to the brand this got hold of a twitter outpouring of grief at the death of an icon. Trending hashtags need to be used with care – is it relevant to the post, or is it just latching on to a trend? Think through what you post, keep it clean, and make sure it’s not filled with errors.

Don’t overload the sites with the same message.

Also it’s worth considering what’s working and what isn’t and why? Wrong target audience? Badly written promotion? Misunderstood promotion?

Be consistent.

Tailor content – what is appropriate for one platform/audience might not be for another

Engage.

This is the FOUNDATION diploma – and there is a second part – which currently I am not looking at (due to time, money and other commitments) but I would consider it in the future.

Oh and by the way I got a Merit 🙂

Greek and Roman Mythology – Course – Review

Greek and Roman Mythology – Coursera

Greek and Roman mythology is fascinating, in many ways it is at the core of many Western traditional stories.  Even today we are enchanted by such tales of heroes, monsters, errant gods, and the goings on of those far removed and yet ever close. Hercules, Odysseus, the Trojan horse, Oedipus, and much more. The terms have fallen into modern usages – An odyssey denoting an epic journey, a Herculean task, a Trojan horse for a gift which is not all it seems.  Such tales spawned others – and in many ways influence modern heroic fiction.

I’ve studied Classics in the past – although it was more for the historical perspective and so this course really appealed.  I’ve also studied with Coursera – an online organisation which offers courses from a variety of sources, including the University of Pennsylvania who provide this particular course.

Myths intrigue me, I read a lot of mythic fiction, and write it too in my Tales of Erana series.

https://www.coursera.org/course/mythology

This is what the Coursera site says about the course ‘Myths are traditional stories that have endured over a long time. Some of them have to do with events of great importance, such as the founding of a nation. Others tell the stories of great heroes and heroines and their exploits and courage in the face of adversity. Still others are simple tales about otherwise unremarkable people who get into trouble or do some great deed. What are we to make of all these tales, and why do people seem to like to hear them? This course will focus on the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, as a way of exploring the nature of myth and the function it plays for individuals, societies, and nations. We will also pay some attention to the way the Greeks and Romans themselves understood their own myths. Are myths subtle codes that contain some universal truth? Are they a window on the deep recesses of a particular culture? Are they a set of blinders that all of us wear, though we do not realize it? Or are they just entertaining stories that people like to tell over and over? This course will investigate these questions through a variety of topics, including the creation of the universe, the relationship between gods and mortals, human nature, religion, the family, sex, love, madness, and death.’ (Coursera Website)

Does the course deliver? Yes it does. The tutor Peter Stuck is engaging, obviously knows his subject and is enthusiastic. The course is presented through a combination of videos, reading materials, quizzes, two essays and some discussion forums. The course recommends 10 hours a week of study – in truth it’s probably slightly more as some of the reading is quite long.

The subjects covered range from how the myths were perceived, the notion of pietas (duty, honour, loyalty) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pietas to religion, to food, to concept of the hero, what it meant to be a man in that society, the notion of how to treat one’s guests (or not) and familial ties. The reading includes The Odyssey – possibly THE epic adventure of antiquity and one of my first introductions to ancient Greek literature during my Diploma in Classics – so this was a very welcome re-read; The Aeneid – the tale of Aeneas and the struggle of the survivors of Troy and their quest for a new homeland – which lead (apparently) to the founding of Rome. Julius Caesar and Augustus traced their ancestry back to Aeneas and through him back to his immortal mother Venus; to the Oresteia (the tragic tale of Agamemnon after he returns from Troy); Oedipus the King (the tragic play so famous in which fate and prophecy play such a terrible role). Plus several more.

The video lectures made me think about some of the books in a new way, by focusing on aspects I may not have initially seen, and seeing the greater whole of the stories. Homer was incredibly influential and the later works often copy (or attempt to) his style and incredible narrative versatility. The books cover a period far removed from ideals and ideas of today, yet still something resonates – the challenge, the struggle and the emotions of the characters, the fight to be something more, and in some cases to survive. Of course much is different – Hesiod’s Theogony is not favourable to women, there are of course slaves in these societies, the gods are many and walk with humans, often begetting offspring in one form or another, and playing with the lives of mortals, ritual is important and there is violence – a lot of it. Actually that’s not so different from today and for much the same reasons – greed, honour, territory, religion etc.

These are not books for the faint hearted, or for those who are shocked by violence, sex, double crossing, murder, betrayal and such like. Themes in fact which tend to pervade our media – watch any soap opera and these themes are there in abundance. The influence of these authors and their work is monumental and this course helps to show why. Why this works need to be preserved and celebrated and why these cultures are so important to our own. These books are real heroic fiction, they are at the core of heroes and monsters, and of fantasy as we know it.

So, you ask, is it expensive? No it’s free. You can pay a small fee and get a certificate of completion (assuming you’ve done all the quizzes to an acceptable standard and one of the assignments) but it can be completed simply for the pleasure of it.

Is there anything I didn’t like? I did find the workload quite heavy – with work, writing, and family life commitments can be difficult to find the time and energy to put it but others may find that easier. I also didn’t use the forums much, although that was personal choice.

The course does not require any prior experience in the subject (but it helps) and assumes a level of literacy and intelligence in order to discuss and appreciate the themes and topics.

Would I recommend this? Yes, without a doubt to anyone interested in mythology, Greek and Roman literature or religion, fans of heroic fiction, and historians of the period.

#Mythology #Coursera #HeroicFiction #Fantasy #GreekandRoman