With Coursera and other online learning platforms gaining in popularity I decided to give it a try as well with the course Science, Technology, and Society in China I: Basic Concepts by Naubahar Sharif of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Why this course?
It is a very accessible course which defines and explains the concepts in a clear way. It builds well upon my background knowledge of the course Philosophy of Computer Science that I followed back in the day at an actual university.
Prior to the course I was familiar with the notions of falsification and paradigms (i.e., what constitutes science and the methods of science) and I had a general understanding of technology. But it turns out a lot more can be said about the relationship between technology and science within society and how that leads to innovations.
I picked this course because it would give me a better insight on technology and innovation as viewed within a society, in particular a non-Western society such as China. It also makes sense to study how innovations come about as there are many developing societies that want to improve their ability to innovate.
It is not uncommon to hear of new startups in Silicon Valley that strive to "disrupt their market" or to refer to product features as "innovations" when that is mostly a debatable opinion. In this light it is interesting to learn that scholars have actually studied what innovations are, how they occur and why doing the same thing in another country is also considered innovative.
On following an online course
Within hours of the start of the course there were already people asking in the forums for clarification about the first assignment. These questions could have easily been answered if you had actually viewed the lectures. At first I thought this was part of typical internet drama: students unwilling to do the work necessary to complete a course.
Based on the question's formulation that is still the most likely explanation. However, it occurred to me that some people may not have an adequate internet connection to view the lecture videos as in most Western countries. For me this course is mostly intellectual curiosity but for others it makes sense to take this course to improve their business relationships with China by having a better understanding of their society.
If it takes an evening to download each lecture then it makes sense to ask for the correct video in the course forums right away (i.e., the lecture video that explained the concepts mentioned in the assignment). Nonetheless I was happy to see the bar being raised for the second and third assignments to make sure decent efforts are put into completing the course.
I have just completed my peer evaluations which ticks the final box towards completing the course. It's difficult to assess your own submissions, especially when it's far more subjective than assignments given in most beta sciences, but I think I'll pass the course.
Perhaps the most striking example of innovation in this context is that online higher-education courses make university-level lectures freely available to anyone worldwide. Speaking in academic terms, the question of whether that is a "disruptive innovation" is left as an excercise for the reader.