Coursera- Internet History, Technology, and Security by Dr. Charles Severance

Flarnie Marchan

Flarnie Marchan

Flarnie Marchan is a technology enthusiast, web developer, and advocate of open education. When not working or playing with all things web, she enjoys the sun and palm trees of Southern Florida. You can read her blog for information on technology and design.

Soumabha and Manoj have given me the wonderful chance to share my experience of Internet History, Technology, and Security, one of the free classes available on Coursera. This course provides an accessible overview of the history and workings of the world wide web. Guiding this tour of the web is Professor Charles Severance, a.k.a. "Dr. Chuck", of the University of Michigan.

Half History, Half Technology, and a Hint of Security

Dr. Charles SeveranceThe first half of the course focused on the history of the internet and World Wide Web, from the first computers created at Blechley Park to the present day. The second half of the course covered the specific technologies that are used in today's internet. One lecture dealt with the topic of internet security, but overall this was treated as a minor topic. In the section on internet history, the use of interviews and documentary footage brought the history to life. I got to hear first hand from people like Robert Cailliau, Jeff Bezos, and Brendan Eich, who were actually involved in the history of the internet. I also appreciated the clear explanations of technical concepts. In the sections dealing with technology, the professor revisited core concepts to reinforce the information. He also usually provided diagrams or visual aids during the lecture. Knowing some basics about how the internet works is valuable for everyone in today's technology saturated world.

Technology is for everybody, and that means everybody. 
                                                       - Dr. Chuck, Grand Finale Lecture

A Class for Everyone

I found this course very accessible, and I have no formal background in computer science or information technology. The lectures were easy to understand, and technical terms were always explained. The information seemed oriented towards the needs of the average internet user. Progress in the course was dependent on the weekly quizzes and a final exam. The questions were straightforward, and multiple attempts were allowed for the quizzes. The advertised time commitment of 3-5 hours per week was accurate; I spent about 3 hours per week watching the lectures, and completing the extra-credit writing assignments would have brought it up to 5. The professor and many volunteers put in extra effort to make the course accessible. All of the lectures featured closed captions, and many also had subtitled translations created by volunteers. Translations were completed in over 22 languages, with Spanish and Italian being by far the most commonly offered. Nearly all the lectures had Spanish subtitles available, and in his final summary lecture Dr. Chuck closed with a "Thank You" letter written by a Spanish speaking student. The range of reported locations for students in the course was quite impressive:

IHTS Geography

Optional Writing Assignments

Accomodating non-English speaking students was one reason that Dr. Chuck decided to make the writing assignments extra credit. Initially the peer-reviewed writing assignments were a required component of the coursework, but the first writing assignment was followed by a sharp drop in enrollment and numerous complaints. 

Similar issues are described in La Graciada's review of the Coursera course Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. This may be an overall issue with the format of peer reviewed writing assignments on Coursera. I like the approach of offering the writing component as extra credit: It allows those who are interested to practice their writing skills and explore the topics more deeply, but doesn't penalize those who lack the time or language skills to do so.

IHTS Enrollment

Useful for Teachers

A bonus of this particular course is that the professor has released all of his slides under a Creative Commons license, and encourages teachers to use them. Allowing the copying, remixing, and reuse of his teaching materials takes the concept of "open education" to another level. The impact becomes wider than the initial group of Coursera students. I would especially recommend Internet History, Technology, and Security to teachers as resource for improving or adding to their own knowledge base.

Just As Advertised

Overall, I found the course to be just was was advertised: in addition to teaching you the origins and workings of the internet, it communicates the excitement and wonder of this innovative technology. The knowledge offered is practical and useful to the average netizen, and requires no background at all in the subject. I would recommend this course to anyone. Of course, I'm a technology nut, so don't take my word for it! Go check out the course description for yourself, and enjoy the many other courses offered on Coursera.

Image Credits: Map and graph were created by Dr. Chuck using survey data from students in the 2012 Interenet History, Technology, and Security class. CC-BY Dr. Chuck

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