Coursera and Me!

coursera_logoI don’t remember when and where I first heard about Coursera. But I do remember that I was enjoying the WiFi access at a Delta lounge in an airport on my way to somewhere when I decided to enroll in the course of Dr. Charles SeveranceInternet History, Technology & Security.

The course was 13 weeks long. I had to watch a series of videos and take a quiz weekly. It was very interesting to see the pioneers of the Internet talking about how things were back then when the World Wide Web was born. It definitely beats just reading it in a book, and doubly exciting to be learning it online! Dr. Chuck will offer the course again in March 2013 – with new videos! He has also promised to beef up the “security” part of the course. I might just take it again, why not? πŸ™‚

I also submitted an essay for peer assessment. I appreciated the comments I received from my peers and got a perfect score of ten – hurray!

What follows are the Assignment Instructions then my essay.

Instructions

In many ways, the Internet is the result of experts exploring how people, information, and technology connect.

Describe one example of these areas (people, information, and technology) intersecting, and how that connection ultimately helped form the Internet. Your example should be taken from the time periods we covered in the first two weeks of course (Week 1: 1930-1990).

Write 200-400 words (about 2-4 paragraphs) and keep your answer focused. Don’t make your answer overly long. In your answer connect back to concepts covered in the lecture. You can also make use of sources outside the course material. If you use material from outside the course to support your essay, please include a URL or other reference to the material that you use.

My Essay

There are competing theories regarding the origins of the Internet (http://www.nethistory.info/History%20of%20the%20Internet/origins.html). Was the Internet solely an artifact of technology? Then the birth of the Internet can be traced either to the development of packet switching or the invention of the TCP/IP protocol. Or did the Internet arise from the activities of companies? Then the Internet may have emerged from either AT&T Bell Labs (digital transmission and switching) or Xerox Palo Alto (development of the Ethernet). Or should the inception of the Internet be viewed as “applications layer-led?” It is this last theory that appeals to me the most as this best demonstrates the intersection of people, information and technology – the very essence of the Internet today.

If I were to think of an application from 1930-1990 that exemplified the interaction between people, information and technology, it would be email.

Email may have started out as a digital Post-It note in the Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1961. The CTSS allowed users to log into the IBM 7094 from remote dial-up terminals and store files on disk. Much like a Post-It note left on someone’s desk, a user can create a file called TO IRIS and put it in the common file directories for the recipient to see and retrieve later on log-in. Such communication was however happening only on one computer though users may be connecting through many terminals.

With the advent of computer networks, the Post-It note now needed to be put in a digital addressed envelope. Ray Tomlinson (working for Bolt Beranek and Newman as an ARPANET contractor) is credited for inventing email when he picked the @ symbol to denote an address – name-of-the-user@name-of-the-computer. This email convention persists today.

Before long, email was being sent across different operating systems in a variety of ways. The need to connect these different systems led to the “protocol wars,” which was eventually won by TCP-IP. The World Wide Web emerged soon after. Let me conclude with Dave Crocker (http://www.livinginternet.com/e/ei.htm) who said,

Email is a natural and perhaps inevitable use of networked communication technology that developed along with the evolution of the Internet.

2 thoughts on “Coursera and Me!”

  1. Hi Doctor Tan! I am interested in taking a Coursera course but my A-Type brain wants to know everything before plunging into something that it considers as “foreign”, like an online course that is free! Haha. I stumbled upon your post and I decided to be bold and ask you a few things. If you don’t mind. Hee.

    1. Do you have to go online at a certain specified time of the day, for the duration of your course?

    2. Are there any other time constraints/limitations to homeworks, etc?

    3. If you signed up for a course that’s 2 months away and then suddenly something came up, and you aren’t able to commit to it after all, what happens then? Do you get fined or something?

    4. Do you need high-speed internet?

    5. Did you get a certificate of sorts for the courses you took?

    6. Anything else that you think I might need to know?

    I apologize for the length of this comment and for um, asking. Hahaha.

    Thanks! Have a Nice Day!

    1. endocrine-witch

      Hi thanks for leaving a comment πŸ™‚ always happy to interact with a reader!

      1. You generally do NOT have to go online at a specified time of the day to view the lecture videos. However, there are times when the professor may hold a “live” consultation and you may wish to attend.

      2. Yes, there are set deadlines for homework.

      3. There is no fine if you do not participate in a course you previously signed up for.

      4. You may need high-speed internet if you will watch the videos online. For those at lower speeds, there is the option to download the video in its entirety so you can watch it off line without the waiting required while video is still loading. In the courses I have joined, a Word document transcript is provided together with the slide presentations as well.

      5. Yes, you get a certificate of accomplishment or completion though this is usually not valid yet for employment purposes. It is also not valid for academic credit in the university offering the course. Recently, Coursera has offered the Signature Track option where there is verification if YOU are truly the one who finished the course. This however is not free. More information here.

      6. Just take the plunge and enjoy learning!

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