Coursera: The Platform

Viewing archived courses on Coursera

Today I wanted to review some materials from one of my favorite Coursera courses – Introduction to Forensic Science from Nanyang Technological University. In the past, I’ve been able to access materials from completed courses by going to my “past” or “archived” courses page on my dashboard and selecting the name of the desired course.

But today I was only able to access the course information page (linked above), not the actual curriculum. I went into my internet history  and looked up the direct address for the course materials, which was This got me a page that looked like the curriculum page, but was devoid of any content.

I’m pretty bummed. Had I known my access to these materials would be removed, I would have downloaded them to my computer.

I decided to check on Foundational Neuroscience for Perception and Action and was able to access those archives. So apparently it’s no a sitewide issue.

Has anyone else run into problems accessing archived materials? Is the removal of archived curricula determined by the schools that offer the courses, or by Coursera? In the past, I’ve received emails from universities when they were planning to shut off access to archives, so we could download any materials we wanted to save. This incident really threw me for a loop. Continue reading

Coursera: The Platform

Coursera’s Statements of Accomplishment disappear from Accomplishments page

Anyone else have an Accomplishments page on Coursera that now looks like this?:

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The Accomplishments page on the Coursera platform has been updated. In the above screenshot taken from my own course pages (full name redacted), there is a section for Verified Certificates, but none for Statements of Accomplishment.

I went to the help page suggested by Coursera, but it hasn’t been updated to reflect what’s going on here (though I did all the things suggested there, to no avail). I’ve also submitted a help request, but I’m curious to know whether other people are having this issue and when it first popped up.

Of note, the only reason I went to my Accomplishments page today was because I’d received an email from Coursera telling me I’d received a new Statement of Accomplishment for Introduction to Forensic Science from Nanyang Technological University (which I highly recommend, by the way; the lectures take up more time per week than in most Coursera courses, but I think that’s a plus, and the case studies made the course extremely engaging). So I doubt this is an underhanded attempt by Coursera to make Statements of Accomplishment unavailable — and if it is, it’s very poorly executed.

Update: Here’s the note I got back from Coursera:

Hello Kathryn,

Thank you for contacting us.

We apologize for the inconvenience, our engineering team is aware and are working to restore access to the Statements of Accomplishment. Please be patient as we work on this, we are looking forward to have this fixed as soon as possible.

If you have any other questions, feel free to contact us and we will gladly assist you.

Have a great day!

Course Gleanings

Making Connections While Brushing My Teeth

I usually take multiple courses at any one time, and while this can be challenging from a time-management standpoint, I’m often rewarded by making cross-disciplinary connections that I otherwise might miss, and of the lectures from one class reinforcing material I learned in another.

Two of the courses I’m currently taking are Introduction to Forensic Science from Nanyang Technological University (Coursera) and Introduction to Human Evolution from Wellesley College (EdX). I hadn’t given it a lot of forethought to how much the study of human evolution relies on forensic methods beforehand, but I get to think about it plenty now. Continue reading

Coursera: The Platform

Free MOOCs? Forget about it.

Remember the halcyon days when MOOCs (massive, online open courses) were going to revolutionize the world, eliminating barriers of class and geography that were preventing hardworking, intelligent people from receiving—and benefitting from—an education?

Over the past month, Coursera has quietly implemented a huge policy change that gives up on that dream.

It will no longer be offering free Statements of Accomplishment to students who successfully complete (pass) Coursera courses.

If you’re a student who wants to share your achievement with current or potential employers, you’ll have to pay for that certificate. Continue reading


When to give up on a MOOC course

For the first time, I am considering dropping a course more than halfway through completing it. The course is Chemicals and Health – Johns Hopkins University | Coursera, and it has turned out to be quite a disappointment. I was looking forward to learning more about toxicology and how to interpret research to determine the effects of novel chemicals on human health.

Unfortunately, that’s not what I got. There was one excellent unit on toxicology, but the rest of the course really didn’t offer much that interested me. It gave cursory overviews of biomonitoring and the methods  and nomenclature that researchers use when measuring the health effects of chemicals (e.g. acute versus chronic effects,  blood sampling versus urine sampling),  but didn’t ask students to apply any of this knowledge by interpreting research.

The thing that really disappointed me, though, was one of the first homework assignments, which required students to watch “The Story of Cosmetics” on YouTube and then post responses. (I’m not linking the video here because I don’t want to drive any more traffic to it than already exists, but if you are curious about it you can Google it I’m sure you’ll find it.) The video is propaganda against the use of novel chemicals in cosmetics. Now, I actually agree  with the video’s creator that there are chemicals being used in cosmetics that should not be there because they aren’t good for human health and/or cause problems when they enter the sewage system. But I don’t like the videos hand-sweepingly broad classification of sodium lauryl sulfate (a detergent derived from coconut oil that some people are allergic* to but most people handle just fine) along with lead (which is poisonous to every human), or that it doesn’t distinguish between ethyl mercury and methyl mercury (neither of which should be in cosmetics, but one of which is a very useful preservative in medicine that does not linger in the body or cause any of the effects that panickers claim it does.) Continue reading


Genetic testing conundrums: sickle cell trait

In my Genomic and Precision Medicine course on Coursera, we were asked:

In the US, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) requires screening of all college student athletes for mutations in the gene that causes sickle cell anemia, an autosomal recessive disease that manifests early in life. Name one pro and one con of this policy.

Here’s my answer. It will not win any prizes for eloquence, but it got the job done of summarizing the issues in a few sentences or less. (I cheated and included more than one con):

Pro: Individuals who are carriers for sickle cell anemia (that is, they carry only one copy of the mutated sickle cell gene) do not have sickle cell anemia. However, they are at greater risk of hypoxia (inadequate oxygen supply to a region of the body) and rhabdomyolysis (sudden death of muscle tissue) during intense exercise than non-carriers. These conditions can be life-threatening. By knowing who carries the gene, coaches can alter training programs to reduce risks — for example, by making sure that carriers get rest breaks and don’t get dehydrated.

Con: The sickle cell trait is far more common in African-Americans and Africans than in other groups. In the past, the higher prevalence of sickle cell trait in blacks was used as an excuse to refuse healthy blacks entry into competitive sports and the military. Coaches may offer less rigorous training and playing opportunities to NCAA athletes who are identified as carrying the sickle cell trait, even when these athletes are perfectly healthy. (Although carriers in general are at higher risk for exercise-related complications, risk varies by individual, with some individuals being very affected, and others seeming not to be affected at all.) Professional sports teams may avoid recruiting players with sickle cell trait for fear that they will not perform as well as their non-carrier counterparts. In addition, focusing on sickle cell may distract trainers from preventing other, more common causes of sudden death in athletes, such as undetected heart problems.


  • Lecture notes from Nussbaum RL and Norton M. Genomic and Precision Medicine, Week 2: Applying Genomics to Medicine. 2015.
  • Lecture notes from Noor M. Introduction to Genetics and Evolution. 2015.
  • Stein R. Colleges mandate sickle cell testing. The Washington Post. 20 Sept. 2010.

I wanted to add that making sure that all athletes get reasonably frequent rest breaks and are taught to avoid dehydration would dramatically reduce rhabdomyolosis risk, plus many other health risks, without requiring testing. But that’s not the question that was asked, so I didn’t. In a world where colleges are okay with putting students at regular risk of concussion and other serious injuries, expecting them to suddenly embrace good preventive health practices might be overly optimisitic.


Brain Anatomy: Internal and Ventral Structures | Cerego