My role in Mindshift


"Mindshift" by Barbara Oakley

By Pat Bowden, published September 12, 2017.

“Mindshift” is a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) that was launched in April 2017 and is now on several Top MOOC lists. I am proud to have a small role in this MOOC.

My Introduction to MOOCs

After I retired from the paid workforce in late 2012, my husband, who had recently discovered Andrew Ng’s “Machine Learning” MOOC, suggested I investigate Coursera. When I looked, a MOOC about astronomy caught my eye.

As a child, I loved watching the night sky and badgered my parents into buying a small telescope and numerous astronomy books. Here, at last, was my chance to really sink my teeth into astronomy!

I Failed my First Astronomy MOOC

Well, I crashed and burned in “Introduction to Astronomy”, which is no longer available on Coursera.  By the second week I was utterly lost as calculations of forces, gravity and sending a rocket to Mars swirled around me. My high school physics was 40 years old and I just wasn’t prepared to spend my retirement doing hours of complicated maths. I enjoyed watching the lecture videos, however, and enrolled in more courses such as “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behaviour” and “Nutrition and Physical Activity for Health” which are also no longer available.

MOOC Obsession

One thing led to another, as they say, and soon I was doing courses in a range of subjects, from biology to writing to history to climate change and more. Most were through Coursera, but I also studied with FutureLearn and Open2Study plus one or two edX. Despite the rocky start, I was keen to complete as many courses as I could. By the middle of 2016, I had finished more than sixty MOOCs. As of August 2017, I am up to my eighty-fifth, having attempted but not completed about fifteen others.

Having done so many MOOCs, it was a natural progression to want to be involved in creating one. Sadly, I couldn’t imagine what to make a MOOC about.

The Seeds of Mindshift

In 2016, I discovered Class Central and wrote a short review of “The Science of the Solar System”, a fascinating astronomy course that I had managed to pass. I was asked to write an in-depth review, which I did. Then I received an invitation to join a MOOC Club. One day, an email from Barbara Oakley, creator of “Learning How to Learn”, was distributed to the MOOC Club, asking for “super-MOOCers” who had done multiple courses and were willing to share their stories for an upcoming book she was planning.

Was I willing? Do dogs bark? Does the sun come up every morning? I wrote a long email to Barb, detailing my experiences of MOOCs. I had already completed her “Learning How to Learn”. This is the most popular MOOC in the world, with nearly two million enrolments since it was introduced in 2014.

Barb was delighted. We had a comprehensive email conversation and eventually my long email was edited down to a whole two short paragraphs in “Mindshift” which was published in April 2017. Before publication, however, I found myself proofreading the final draft, chapter by chapter. Barb sent the chapter where I was mentioned, asking for me to check my bit for errors, and, if I wanted to, to read the rest of the chapter as well. I noticed a few typos and sent it back. Again, Barb was delighted. She asked if I would be willing to read a few more chapters, as I had picked up a few minor things she had missed.


I was having a quiet week and was happy to read the chapters. It was a great chance to have a sneak peek at a not-yet-published book. Again, I found occasional typos, and offered to read more chapters. By the end of a week I had proofread the whole book, then Barb asked me if I would like to make a short video about my MOOC experiences that she could incorporate into her upcoming “Mindshift” MOOC that would be released simultaneously with the book.

Here was a wonderful chance to be involved in a MOOC without all the hard work of deciding the subject and making a long series of videos. Barb and I co-wrote my script and I made and sent off a few short videos. You can see the final result in video 1-5 of “Mindshift”.

So, what started as a retirement hobby led to being mentioned in both a book and a MOOC. What will the future bring?

A Final Thought

Do you have experience of doing a MOOC which then led to something new? I would love to hear your story.