Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of guest posts from Laura Cushing, one of our amazing Coursera students. Laura is freelance writer and avid course taker (7 courses so far!).
Welcome to the wonderful world of free education! When I started my
first course at Coursera, I was so excited. I had no idea what it
would be like! Would I be able to keep up? Would I be able to interact
with my professor and my fellow students? I was a bundle of nerves
waiting for the course to begin. And when that course opened – there
was so much to do. So many things to discover, and keep straight. Now
that I’m on my seventh or so class, I still feel that excitement of
beginning a new learning experience – but a lot less anxiety. Now I
know where everything is located, and how to use the Coursera system
Here are some tips and tricks for how to get started on your education
There are so many classes to choose from! When I first saw the list, I
wanted to sign up for everything. Learning opportunities abound!
After taking a few deep breaths, I started to approach things a bit
more logically. I made a list of the courses I was interested in, and
open them up to watch the introductory videos and read the
requirements. I also got out the calendar to check dates; some
courses overlapped and I knew I wouldn’t realistically be able to keep
up with five or six classes at once.
My advice to you is to examine all the classes you’re interested in.
Make a list! But then cull that list down to see which ones you can
take together without overwhelming yourself. Remember that most
courses will be offered again, so you can take any classes you miss
the first time during the next go around. Don’t just examine start
dates, but be aware of how long a course will run. Also, take a good
look at what the course will involve; most classes list a Work Load
that tells you how many hours per week you can expect to spend on the
class. Don’t spread yourself too thin; you want to have a successful
and positive learning experience.
Before Class Begins
When you sign up for a class, you should receive an email that lets
you know that you are registered for said class. Make sure it doesn’t
wind up in your spam folder (this happened to me)! Add Coursera to
your address book if your email is picky so that you will receive all
your course notifications. You may want to set up a special folder in
your inbox so that you can view all your Coursera emails together.
Some classes use textbooks. Either it will be one that is free online
one for the Science from Superheroes to Global Warming Class; or
it will be optional to purchase. If your textbook is optional and you
want to purchase it, you want to get it before the class begins. The
closer to class time, the harder it can be to find the book at a
reasonable price. A lot of textbooks have e-book versions that can be
purchased or even rented for a lower price than a physical copy.
Another great option is to search for a used copy of the textbook from
a used book seller. You can usually purchase a used previous edition
for a fraction of the cost of a new current edition. I ordered my copy
of the Worlds Together, Worlds Apart textbook for my A History
of the World Since 1300 class months before the class started. I was
able to find a previous edition, used but in good condition, for five
Before your classes start, take a bit of time to set up your Coursera
profile and adjust your account settings. You can find both of these
options in the drop-down list under your name in the top navigation
bar. Setting up a profile will allow other students to know a bit
about you. You might want to make some new friends in your classes.
Settings let you set your time zone, change your password if needed,
and change your name and email address. Make sure you are using the
name you want to appear on your certificates of completion.
When Class Starts
The big day is finally here! Your course is starting! When you take a
look at the course’s homepage for the first time, there is definitely
a feeling of excitement. So many things to do! Do you jump right into
watching videos? Read the readings? Get on board with the discussion
forums and introduce yourself? So many choices. In the center of the
page, there is a section for Announcements. There is usually a Welcome
to the Course sort of posting there, which is a great place to start.
The right column will show you what is new – new lectures posted, new
quizzes, and/or assignments. The left column contains links to all the
course content. Some helpful professors mark a section with Start
Here. If they don’t, a good idea is to start by checking the syllabus.
This will show you what you are in store for as the course progresses.
If your syllabus lists dates that quizzes and assignments are due, it
can be helpful to note these on your personal calendar.
Before you do anything else, take a moment to adjust your course
settings. When you are on your course page, the dropdown list
under your name in the top navigation bar will include course
settings. On your course settings page, the first option is for Email
preferences. I recommend setting this to receive notifications from
the course staff – but NOT from the discussion forums. The reason for
this is that once you start participating on the discussion forums,
you may find yourself with threads that receive hundreds of replies.
This can easily lead to inbox flooding which can feel overwhelming.
You can still check threads you are subscribed to even when you aren’t
receiving email notifications; just click the Subscribed button on the
discussion boards to bring up those threads. The second setting on
the course preferences is for your video settings. Choose what is
appropriate for you, or leave it set at default.
Making Class Work
Here’s some tips for getting the most out of your class work! I’ve
found that when it comes to watching a class video, I get the most out
of them with subtitles on. To turn subtitles on, click the CC button
and select your language. I take notes as I watch a video, pausing
where I need to. I find that writing notes out by hand helps me
remember best, but I know of some students who print out the subtitle
text and highlight important points. There’s no wrong way, just find
what works for you. One thing that has been invaluable to me is being
part of a small study group. Whether it’s on Facebook or StudySpace,
or an in-person meetup, a small study group of friends can help you
focus and stay motivated.
Find a schedule that works for you. If you have a little spare time
each day, watch one video a day and do a little reading throughout the
week. If you have a big block of time on a weekend, use that to
complete a project or test. Keep involved with discussions, and use
the discussion boards to read up on or ask questions about any topic
you want more information on.
When Class Ends
Double check to make sure you have met all the requirements you need
to in order to get a certificate if your class is offering a
certificate of completion. If there is still time, finish up any
assignments you may have missed, even if you will only get partial
credit. The forums and materials will stay up for a short time after
the class has ended, but in many cases are gone within a month or so.
So if there are any threads you particularly enjoyed and want to save,
or you want to make a copy of your essays, now’s the time to do it.
When grades have been tallied, you will usually receive an email that
you have earned your certificate of completion. Not all courses offer
certificates. For graded courses, you will be able to find your
records on the Course Records page (
https://www.coursera.org/account/records ) . From here, you will be
able to print any certificates of completion you have earned and also
share your scores on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. Go ahead and
share, and be proud! You’ve earned it.
–Laura Cushing, Coursera student4