“It’s not often that people stop and think about how weird it is that we walk on two legs,” says Jeremy DeSilva, an associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College who specializes in the evolution of human locomotion. That simple question—why are humans bipedal, when almost all other mammals walk on four legs—has implications for everything from chronic back pain to the evolution of pro-social behaviors like compassion and empathy, DeSilva says.

It’s also the subject of Dartmouth’s latest massive open online course, or MOOC, “Bipedalism: The Science of Upright Walking.” The free five-week course, which begins Sept. 26, is the most recent addition to DartmouthX, a growing collection of MOOCs Dartmouth has been creating since 2014 in partnership with the nonprofit online learning consortium edX.

I swiped the above from Dartmouth’s release about the course. News about MOOCs has faded from the front pages, partly because novelty has worn off and partly because they haven’t proved as educationally disruptive as first imagined. But they are still around and still interesting; this one in particular seems intriguing, tackling a subject at the intersection of several different topics.

I’ve taken a few MOOCs and have run up against a common problem: As I noted back in 2014, without the incentive of fear of failing, I don’t do enough work to really learn the subject. As I wrote after taking an Introduction to Probability course :

I wasn’t trying to get a “certificate,” the paperwork that says you have passed (most MOOCs don’t offer real academic credit). I just wanted to learn.

Alas, what I mostly learned is that I need the incentive of grades, plus the human interaction of other students and teachers, to work at this intellectual level. I’m pretty sure I understood the Nash Equilibrium when it was discussed in the video lectures, and was OK with the easy problems that immediately followed the lecture. But the knowledge evaporated in following days, and my interactive tests ended up full of big red X’s when I pushed the “Submit Final Answer” button.

It seems I just don’t have the – focus? post-work energy? perseverance? brains? – to keep up with youthful MITers, at least not by myself in front of a computer.




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