A free online course in genetics and evolution by Mohamed Noor

My second Ph.D. student, Mohamed Noor—now a professor and assistant chair of biology at Duke—is offering an online course this fall called`”Introduction to genetics and evolution.”  It’s intended for people interested in biology who haven’t had previous courses in the field. (High-school biology is really all you need.)  I think this is a fantastic idea and a course that any of you wanting a solid grounding in these fields should take. The course is 9 weeks long, starts in early October, and, best of all, is free. All you have to do is sign up at the link above.

There will be recorded lectures, a chatroom for students to discuss things, and I’ll be Skyping in to answer students’ submitted questions. (Disclaimer: the course will be using WEIT as an ancillary text, but that’s not why I’m touting this! I want more people to learn about evolution, and it has the added benefit of giving you a leg up when reading my biology posts.)  Just be warned, at least 10,000 people will be listening in, so don’t expect personal interaction with the instructor!

Here’s the course description and syllabus:

A whirlwind introduction to evolution and genetics, from basic principles to current applications, including how disease genes are mapped and how we leverage evolutionary concepts to aid humanity.

Course Syllabus

  • Evidence for evolution
  • Introduction to basic genetics
  • Recombination and genetic mapping simple traits
  • Complications to genetic mapping
  • Genes vs. environment
  • Basic population genetics and Hardy-Weinberg
  • Gene flow, differentiation, inbreeding
  • Natural selection and genetic drift
  • Molecular evolution
  • Evolutionary applications and misapplications
  • Adaptive behaviors and species formation

Mohamed is a terrific lecturer, as I know from having heard him, and he’s won several awards for his teaching, including:

2012 David and Janet Vaughan Brooks Teaching Award
2010 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring
2007 Gordon G. Hammes Faculty Teaching Award, Duke University School of Medicine
2000 Louisiana State University, College of Basic Sciences Undergraduate Teaching Award

But be warned: Mohamed talks fast (fortunately, the lectures are recorded). Mohamed’s Ph.D.-defense lecture at Chicago must have set some kind of record for brevity: it was about 32 minutes long! (An hour is usual.) As he says in the FAQs:

  • Does Prof. Mohamed Noor ALWAYS talk that fast?  Yes.


  1. RFW
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Professor Noor would do well to take voice lessons from an experienced coach who can teach him how to slow down his delivery.

    I’m not being sarcastic. If he’s that good a teacher, he should strive to make his delivery as good as the content of his lectures.

    Jes’ sayin’

    • ManOutOfTime
      Posted July 25, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      I took an online course at MIT and there was a control that let the student speed up or slow down the lecture while maintaining the original pitch. Some lecturers also talk too s l o w l y … ear of the beholder!

      • Neil
        Posted July 25, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

        Time is money. When you’ve got lots of good stuff to say, talk fast. Those that think fast will pick it up.

        Just saying.

        • gravelinspector
          Posted July 26, 2012 at 2:10 am | Permalink

          When there is “good stuff” going on, those who can start to see it’s implications, and the implications’ implications, and the implications’ implications’ implications …
          Sorry, what were you saying? I was just following up your previous point.

  2. ManOutOfTime
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Totally signing up for this! Exciting!

  3. Bonzodog
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Signed up and news spread!

  4. Posted July 25, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Thank you for posting this. Looking forward to the course!

  5. Posted July 25, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Thanks! Signed up and spread the word.

  6. Posted July 25, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I have <gulp /> signed up. I just hope my life has calmed down as much as I think it will have by October….



  7. Veroxitatis
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Thanks. My sincere wish however is that Professor Noor’s learning, time and energy are not spent solely on preaching to the converted.

  8. Posted July 25, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I can be a biology student? Cool.


  9. atheistmc
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    I have an undergrad degree in genetics but from 30 years ago. Would this be a good refresher?

  10. Andy Dufresne
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I was conversing with a mildly religious acquaintance three months ago, and although she was “not sure” whether she could accept evolution, she did voice a sincere interest in really learning about it. Caught by surprise, all I could do was recommend a book or two. She said something like If I were still in college, I’d take a class in it—I swear!—but I can’t shell out for credit hours right now… Now I can alert her to Dr. Noor’s course. I don’t care so much what she believes after the class—just hoping she comes away with a proper grasp of the science. Thanks for posting this Jerry.

  11. J.J.E.
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Mohamed is one of the most relentlessly up-beat people I’ve ever met (albeit briefly) at meetings. His good humor is contagious. I wonder how he maintains the energy for it?

  12. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I’m definitely in. Sincere thanks to Prof Coyne for informing us about this exciting opportunity, and much gratitude and kudos to Professor Noor for providing it!

  13. KP
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    I heard him give a talk at the Evolution meetings last year or the year before. He does, indeed, talk pretty fast.

  14. Mary - Canada
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    This is an amazing idea! I’ll be signing up and spreading the word. Thanks

  15. Duane
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    A quick question, because this sounds really cool, but my life is a bit chaotic right now:

    In order to fully participate, will I need to listen to the lectures at predetermined times on specific days, or can I view them within a specific time frame (i.e. 12-48 hours) after the videos are posted?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 25, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      I think you have three days to listen to the lectures. I’ll check with Mohamed.

    • Mohamed Noor
      Posted July 25, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Good question– I am fairly certain there are not “predetermined times of day” (since it is being taken internationally), but what I don’t know is how many days you have to watch each lecture. They do try to keep people in sync going through them, so they can then be at the same stage and help each other in chat-rooms.

      • Posted July 25, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

        Never mind that — what’s your preferred method of bribery? Beer? Food? Concert tickets? First things first, man! Gotta keep up that GPA….


      • jwthomas
        Posted July 25, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

        Gosh, Professor Noor; you sure write fast!

  16. Posted July 25, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I signed up. Thank you so much for the link.

  17. Mohamed Noor
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this, Jerry!

  18. Posted July 25, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    I was looking for a good refresher course; even a modest vet tech needs solid understanding of evolution and genetics 😉
    I just hope I’ll be able to keep up with Professor Noor – I guess I’d better start revising the so-called (here) “academic English”. Thank you for spreading the word, Prof. Coyne!

  19. Posted July 25, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I was hoping something like this would come along! Signed up and eagerly awaiting the start of school (unlike when I was a student and dreaded the start of school)!

    • Posted July 25, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      Does Dr. Noor really have a reputation for
      talking fast? His speech in the video on the link you provided didn’t seem that fast. I
      checked out this National Science Foundation
      interview with him (http://tinyurl.com/drnoor) and didn’t find him at all hard to understand.

  20. Posted July 25, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Prof. Coyne. Shared this among fellow aficionados at the Nirmukta forums.

  21. Laura Norder
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Have signed up with enthusiasm and a little trepidation…

  22. Posted July 25, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Question is, will it be fully open to Larmarkian ideas, or not just the Larmarkist subject to ridicule, a la Dawkins.

  23. Posted July 25, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    My students (English) claim I talk fast; I guess I will have to listen fast as well.

    As I was typing my comment, I received a “Welcome to Introduction to Genetics and Evolution!” email from Mohamed Noor.

  24. Posted July 25, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    If you want to slow speech down you can use a music sequencer such as Reaper, to slow it down or speed it up without changing the pitch. Alternatively you can increase or decrease the pitch without changing the speed. Very easy to do. Any music sequencer will do it but Reaper is very easy to use and cheap. Just load the recorded speech onto the timeline, click on the appropriate gizmo and adjust.

  25. mordacious1
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Talking fast is not that big of an issue. I had a microbiology professor who could write with both hands at the same time on his chalkboard, not necessarily on the same topic. Plus occasionally he would start lecturing in a heavily Asian-accented fast speech pattern on a non-related subject. The first time he did this, I just sat there and stared. By the next class I had arranged to take notes of his right hand, a friend covered his left hand, and a very nice Asian student took notes on anything he said. It was still a tough class because the guy could cover so much material in one semester.

    • tveb
      Posted July 25, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

      I had an Indian prof who fits that description almost perfectly, except that he taught mathematics.

  26. Nom de Plume
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Heard about this a few days ago at Richard Dawkins’ site, and not only did I sign up, but I already own the textbook, and got it for half price at a used bookstore (sorry Jerry).

  27. Rudi
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Is there any sort of qualification/certificate attached to this course?

    • NewGuy
      Posted July 25, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      I’ve taken a few Coursera classes. There will be a signed certificate from the lecturer saying that you passed, but the achievement is mainly for your knowledge or as something to put in your resume rather than something to be used as university credit etc.

  28. Posted July 25, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    I’ve read a number of books on evolution, but the genetics thing interests me. Looking forward to this!

  29. gravelinspector
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 2:16 am | Permalink

    Does sound very interesting, but I think I’ll have to pass on this round. Moving, busy stuff.
    I assume that the course will be offered again in the future? (Depending on demand, etc etc.

  30. Cremnomaniac
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    This is fantastic! I’ve taken genetics as part of my grad curriculum, but that’s as far as it went (psych major). However, my interest in biology and evolution has taken on a new life.

    I’ll add, I have learned an immense amount from this blog already.

  31. stabbinfresh
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    I signed up for this last week when I saw the news posted on Dawkins’s website. Thanks for sharing this with more people, Jerry!

  32. Steve in Oakland
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    Atheists of Color and Organizations for Atheists of Color:

  33. Posted July 27, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the heads up, looking forward to it. Fortunately, I’ve already read the supplementary course material…WEIT!

  34. Doreen
    Posted August 15, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Does this class come with a proof of finishing it and the grade earned?
    Does it have a university backing it, or an undergraduate comparable class?
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge, research and time for free!

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