MOOC Review: Networks: Friends, Money, Bytes

Course: Networks: Friends, Money, Bytes

This was organized around 20 questions and subtitled 20 questions about Networks. Mung Chiang, the author of the book and instructor for the class, is a Professor of Electrical Engineering at Princeton University and the Director of Princeton EDGE Lab. The 20 questions included how eBay, Wikipedia, Netflix, Amazon and others worked, so it was very timely.

To fully understand the materials, it was necessary to have a strong math background. The intro provided this guidance: “While linear algebra and multivariable calculus are prerequisites if you want to understand 100% of the course material, you will see that in all lectures anyone can appreciate the first modules of each lecture video, and perhaps 80% of the last couple of modules too.”
As the course wore on, the reliance on math got stronger…as one would expect. However, the lectures were extremely interesting with lots of examples so despite missing the math, the concepts were accessible. In addition, guest lectures on many of the topics added more detail about real world situations.

The complete course included homework and exams, plus several “Grand Challenges.” About 40% of the questions could be answered without using the full range of math skills, but the Grand Challenges needed the strong math background.

The lectures started out with some obvious discomfort on the part of the lecturer and some technical glitches. The lectures included some art, photos and maps but most of the content was straight lecturing from Adelman. As the semester moved on, everything ran more smoothly. More important, the lectures drew together many themes that were developed across the whole semester. The last few lectures did a great job of drawing all of the ideas together.

This was my favorite of the courses for this semester. The material was engaging throughout. I didn’t buy the book but the instructor made a shortened version, all but the math, available for free on the site.

In the closing lecture, Mung outlines how all of the segments relate both in terms of the networking and the math used. He also advertised that a simpler, no-math version would be made for the summer of 2013.

Summary: Great course that touches on many of the networking questions of today. The math is hard but the lectures do a great job of explaining the intricacies.

Recommendation: Be brave and listen through the math! It’s worth it.


Last spring, as each day brought announcements of new MOOCS, I decided that this was something I needed to know more about. After all, I had taught college classes for more than 20 years both face-to-face and and on several distance platforms. My unit, IT-Client Support and Services, also provided the campus support for our LMS and other online instruction support. Obviously, this new area was something I needed to know about.

I signed up for “Introduction to Databases” from Stanford. At the time, they were using the platform that later became Coursera. I had a basic understanding of and experience with databases, but I knew my knowledge ended somewhere in the middle of a first semester course. This was the perfect opportunity to learn a subject that had eluded me through many web tutorials and and “Dummies” books.

Turns out, I really picked a winner for my first MOOC. The course was well-paced, provided ample support through a lively discussion forum, and was expertly taught by Dr. Jennifer Windom. And I worked my way through all of it and achieved my certificate! Remember, this was something I had failed at numerous times through my many self-learning attempts.

Several months later, I gave this presentation to the upper academic administrators to inform them about MOOCs. Definitely a room full of skeptics!!

Now that I’ve retired I’m engaged in several more MOOCs to get a feel for the whole world of MOOCs and to keep learning. I’ll report back on these later.