I like the MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) concept. Stanford University is doing the world a service by facilitating the emergence of Coursera, which has now expanded to a bucket load of other universities (it’s moving so fast I can’t keep track of the number). If you haven’t seen it yet it’s worth a thorough perusal.
I’ve completed two courses, both of a very high standard. The best thing about this is that all their courses are free! I first took the Database course from Prof. Jennifer Widom last year, which appears to be no longer offered through Coursera, but was at the time (it’s now a standalone offering), and then followed up with this Coursera Cryptography I course. It’s another Stanford offering, this time by Prof. Dan Boneh in a 7 week format introducing the concepts of cryptography.
The stated objectives of Coursera Cryptography I include some in-depth analysis of cryptanalysis, involving a “higher than beginner” level of programming. I found the course to be challenging but at the right level of technical content for me. The programming language of choice is Python, a language I hadn’t used previously thereby adding more fun to the learning experience. The assignments track closely with the presented topics, which consist of short (10 -20 min) video presentations by the lecturer, with learning re-enforced by assignments where you need to break an encryption or find a hash collision. There were some comments from participants expressing disappointment with the technical level of content being too high, but cryptography is by its nature very technical (if it weren’t then what use would it be?). I was tempted to reply to some of the more outlandish comments suggest that they ask for a refund, but thought they might not get the joke.
There will be a follow-up Coursera Cryptography II coming this coming July. Something to look forward to!