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Thursday, June 04, 2015

Review: Your Body in the World: Adapting to Your next Big Adventure

I'm not much of a classroom learner, preferring workshops and independent reading rather than the traditional classroom lecture + exam format. But when I saw the promo video for Stanford's Environmental Physiology 101 class, I was hooked. It seemed targeted almost entirely towards someone like me.

The courseware is surprisingly well done (this being my first MOOC, I was blissfully unaware of all the tech that goes into these sites). For instance, after you register and login, you can watch videos (hosted on YouTube), which you can tune the speed of (I watched them all at 125% speedup, to save time). If you're interrupted in the middle of a video (e.g., browser window crashed, or your toddler comes by and asks you to play Robot Turtles), the courseware remembers where you were, and puts you back in your last visited location. Even the video gets restarted from where you left off, which is awesome.

As to the content itself, it's great. The class goes first through both cold and heat, which gives you great practical tips on how to deal with such extremes. What really hooked me, however, was the section on aging as an environmental extreme. This module covered all the aspects of aging, and what goes on but more importantly, gives you practical, actionable changes you can apply to ameliorate or even partially reverse the effect of aging. (Spoiler: it's all about diet and exercise)

It's a truism of education that the people who most need a certain class are the people least likely to attend. It's no less true of EP101. In particular, the module on aging calls out how much more likely it is that petite women are likely to succumb to the most deleterious effects. Unfortunately, the way the promo video for this class is done, it's also least likely to attract that demographic I have very little hope that my wife or any number of my friends who fall into this category will sign up and audit this class, but in the slim chance that they do, they should jump straight to the section on aging.

For me, it was very motivational. I couldn't work through that section's videos without being scared into wanting to go out and exercise (and I'm no couch potato!).

My only criticism in the class is that it doesn't cover the ultra-marathons (RAAM) or extreme sleep deprivation events (anywhere from having a baby to doing any of the solo sailing races). But hey, the class is free! My other issue with the class is that the online discussion forum doesn't seem to get the attention of the instructor and her TA. Also, the review questions and exams are too easy. But maybe that's just an indictment of grade inflation found in modern instructional program.

In any case, as an introduction to MOOCs, and a survey of topics that are both fun and interesting, I thought this class was very much worth my time. Highly recommended!

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