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Open Online Courses in Science

What is Science?

Science is one of the broadest fields, and seeks to explain the way the world works. Science includes many specializations and courses of study, including physics (the study of the physical world), chemistry (the study of interactions between chemicals), biology (the study of living beings), social science (the study of human behavior in groups), geology (the study of the earth), and medical science (the study of healthcare methods). All of these fields share some common assumptions, however, such as the idea that knowledge can be gained by conducting experiments and collecting data.

The core method in all science fields is commonly called the scientific method, and is used in settings including college science programs and practical research laboratories. Scientists come up with a question to test, as well as a hypothesis regarding how that test will turn out. Results are predicted and then tested to see whether they match that prediction. The results are then analyzed, and scientists determine whether their initial predictions for their core question worked out. These findings are then reported so other scientists can take them into consideration in the future.

What Can Online Courses in Science Actually Teach Me?

There is no single accrediting body for science programs in the United States, but you should consider checking the university at which you take any offline or online science courses for accreditation by a body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. While the lack of centralized accreditation means students at one university often complete different courses from those at another, institutional accreditation can provide assurances that courses meet minimum standards for quality. Online courses can work well for some sciences, such as those that are driven more by theory than laboratory experimentation, but most science degrees will require more lab work than an online science class can provide.

Online courses in science can work out well as introductory classes for fields such as physics, psychology, computer science, and biology, though in most of these cases you will want to move on to a traditional campus for later laboratory work. An online science course can help you learn how to answer questions like:

  • How do I control experimental variables that could lead to bad data?
  • How do physical objects interact with one another?
  • What are the most important components of some of the planet’s ecosystems?
  • What are some of the practical problems with developing artificial intelligence?
  • What are some common psychological illnesses?

When considering an online science course, you should look into the quality of your chosen institution and its professors. Do professors at this school typically have a Ph.D. in science? Do students in online courses and those in classroom settings have comparable access to faculty at this school? Does this school have a good reputation for the science you are interested in? Being able to answer these questions can help determine whether the school you choose is a good fit for you.

Free Online Courses in Science From Around the Web

Below we have compiled a list of online open courseware from top universities in several countries. These are offered for free, and include lecture notes, video lectures, practice exercises, and other teaching tools for science students. These online science course documents do not give you access to top faculty in the sciences to ask questions, but can serve as a good way of feeling out your own interest in science.

Subjects

Science (15)

Easter Island and EntropyUniversity of Notre Dame

Open Courseware

Entropy, Physics, Geology, Ecology
Taught by: Kenneth Sayre

Course Description:

Ecological decay, overuse of resources, and the economic ideas that drive human industrial progress are some of the topics covered in this biology online course. This undergraduate course, originally offered in the fall of 2007, seeks to explain how ideas from ecology, economics, environmental history, and physics all fit together, using philosophy to integrate these concepts and draw conclusions about how people should interact with their environment. The course has no experience prerequisites, but you will need a video player that can run QuickTime files to use the video lectures.

Environment and Sustainable DevelopmentUnited Nations University

Open Courseware

Sustainability, Ecology, Environmental Science
Taught by: Dr. Rene Kemp

Course Description:

This doctorate level open courseware covers topics concerned with environmental development and sustainability. In this health information management online course, you will explore policy responses to environmental issues in additional to theories of environmental innovation. With a special emphasis on sustainable development, you will analyze topics like environmental management strategies, environmental governance and responses to environmental degradation. Through this class, you will be able to identify methods of sustainable development and analyze policies concerned with pollution, waste management and other issues regarding the preservation of our environment.

Marine Power and PropulsionICT Digital Literacy

Open Courseware

Marine Science, Engineering
Taught by: David Burke, Michael Triantafyllou

Course Description:

Focusing on the propulsion systems of commercial and naval ships, this 2006 biology online course examines the variety of ways that large ships can move through the ocean and other bodies of water. It is designed for both upper division undergraduate and graduate students with a background in mechanical engineering. You will cover such topics as propeller and waterjet propulsion, types of power plants, transmissions, propulsion dynamics as well as thermodynamic analyses of different types of engines.

Planning, Policy and Design: Water Resource PolicyUniversity of California, Irvine

Open Courseware

Environmental Engineering, Ecology
Taught by: David L. Feldman

Course Description:

This environmental engineering online course will introduce you to the logistical aspects of water preservation and supply protection while highlighting the domestic and international political entities responsible for regulating water supplies. This course is open to both undergraduates and graduate students, but the latter must complete an additional 10-12 page research paper prior to completing the course. The rest of the class will complete two paper assignments over the course of the ten-week course.

Introduction to Integrated Water Resource ManagementUnited Nations University

Open Courseware

Environmental Engineering, Ecology
Taught by: Velma I. Gover, Colin Mayfield

Course Description:

This environmental studies online course provides an overview of the Institute for Water, Environment and Health (IWEH), its history, governance and organizational structure. This course is open to both undergraduates and graduate students, and there are no additional course or credit prerequisites. However, you should be prepared to complete the syllabus’ ten module assignments and apply them to field examples integrated in the overall lesson plan.

PHIL 30390 - Environmental PhilosophyUniversity of Notre Dame

Open Courseware

Philosophy, Ecology, Environmental Science
Taught by: Kenneth Sayre

Course Description:

By looking at the readings and lectures in this online course, originally offered in 2007, you can learn about topics like value theory, economics, and ecology. This course, taught at a high undergraduate level, has no prerequisites, though you can improve your understanding of course content by reviewing other philosophy or ecology courses. Before you use the provided video lectures, you will need to download a media player that can access QuickTime movie files.

General ScienceUniversity of South Queensland

Open Courseware

Scientific Method, Biology, Physics, Chemistry
Taught by: Dr. Tas Bedford

Course Description:

This course is intended for high school students preparing to enter college or university and interested in taking an introductory science online course to review or get a head start on college. The 14-week course covers general topics such as the scientific method and measurements as well as overviews of specific science subjects like biology, physics and chemistry. Taking this class is a good way to help you prepare for college entrance exams in science.

Environmental Science LabKaplan University

Open Courseware

Environmental Science, Ecology, Conservation

Course Description:

The Environmental Science Lab is a science online course designed to supplement other environmental science coursework. In it, you’ll learn interesting new ways to test concepts in environmental science such as pollution, air quality, waste management and sustainability using household items in your “home laboratory”. The course features ten labs you can perform at home as well as supplementary reading materials from the web that will explain the concepts you are testing. It does not include video lectures.

The Rise of Modern ScienceMassachusetts Institute of Technology

Open Courseware

Science, History, Society
Taught by: Prof. David Jones, Prof. David Kaiser

Course Description:

This subject introduces the history of science from antiquity to the present. Students consider the impact of philosophy, art, magic, social structure, and folk knowledge on the development of what has come to be called "science" in the Western tradition, including those fields today designated as physics, biology, chemistry, medicine, astronomy and the mind sciences. Topics include concepts of matter, nature, motion, body, heavens, and mind as these have been shaped over the course of history. Students read original works by Aristotle, Vesalius, Newton, Lavoisier, Darwin, Freud, and Einstein, among others.

Atmosphere, Ocean and Climate DynamicsMassachusetts Institute of Technology

Open Courseware

Physics, Ocean, Atmosphere, Climate, Planets
Taught by: Prof. Raffaele Ferrari

Disease and Society in AmericaMassachusetts Institute of Technology

Open Courseware

Medicine, Disease, Culture, Politics
Taught by: Prof. David Jones

Course Description:

"This MIT Courseware examines the growing importance of medicine in culture, economics and politics. It uses a historical approach to examine the changing patterns of disease, the causes of morbidity and mortality, the evolution of medical theory and practice, the development of hospitals and the medical profession, the rise of the biomedical research industry, and the ethics of health care in America. This lecture notes based courseware describes the elements of how to build awareness such that the "

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering 165: Advanced Manufacturing ChoicesUniversity of California, Irvine

Open Courseware

Mechanical Engineering, Manufacturing
Taught by: Marc Madou

Course Description:

Presented as a series of PowerPoint lecture slides and a final exam, this online course focuses on decisions made as part of the engineering design process. Previously taught in the spring of 2010, this course is open to all students with an interest in mechanical engineering, though some familiarity with organizational decision making and engineering technology can significantly improve your understanding of the course. The skills in decision making that this course teaches can transfer to many other disciplines.

ThermodynamicsUniversity of Notre Dame

Open Courseware

Engineering Systems, Thermodynamics
Taught by: Professor Joseph M. Powers, Ph.D.

Course Description:

This science online course, originally offered in spring 2012, introduces a key concept for students studying engineering, physics and other natural sciences. While it is an introductory course in the subject of thermodynamics, you do need to have completed at least calculus III to understand the mathematics involved, and mechanics I is a recommended prerequisite. Covered topics include pure substances and their properties, work and heat, as well as extensive coverage through lectures and problem sets of the three laws of thermodynamics. The also course offers an optional certificate of participation.

NanomanufacturingUniversity of Michigan

Video

Mechanical Engineering, Nanomanufacturing, Nanotechnology
Taught by: John Hart

Course Description:

This graduate level science online course is designed for advanced engineering students with some background in nanotechnology. The course will teach you how to design, create and work with nanostructures within the context of engineering and manufacturing. You will be learning about building nanotubes, nanoparticles and nanowires as part of devices such as transistors and composites. One of the key concepts of the entire class is scalability. The course was originally recorded in summer 2009, so it features current information on developments in nanotechnology. It is available in the format of video lectures on iTunes U.

Technology, Industrial Development and Economic Growth in Developing CountriesUnited Nations University

Video

Technology, Industrial Development, Economic Growth
Taught by: Prof. Dr. Adam Szirmai

Course Description:

Most engineering courses focus on the most current technologies and their use in the U.S. and other first world countries, but if you are interested in how the same technologies impact the developing world, this science online course is for you. Originally presented at the Maastricht Economic and Social Research And Training Centre in fall 2008, this course will take you through the history of how technology has fueled growth throughout the world since the 1950s, and then will go in depth to analyze the role technology has played in how third world countries fare within the global economy.