Image by David Feldman

Starting this month, College of the Atlantic physics and mathematics professor David Feldman is offering a free online course: “Introduction to Dynamical Systems and Chaos.”

The course is offered through SFI’s Complexity Explorer ( beginning January 6, 2014. You can enroll and begin taking the course anytime during the eight-week course.

The course is a continuation of the successful massive open online course (MOOC) series that began with two offerings of SFI External Professor Melanie Mitchell’s “Introduction to Complexity.”

Feldman recently fielded some questions about the new course from the Complexity Explorer’s Erin Kenzie:

Kenzie: Why was this course chosen as a MOOC offering by SFI? How does it t within the Complexity Explorer project?

Feldman: Chaos and dynamics are core topics for the study of complex systems. They show us that simple, deterministic systems can produce unpredictable and complex behavior. Thus, it is possible that complex or unpredictable phenomena have simple origins or explanations. One of the key themes of dynamical systems is that order and disorder are not mutually exclusive categories; they can exist together in the same system and have the same origins. These are important lessons for the study of complex systems, and so it seemed appropriate that the next online course offered through the Complexity Explorer project was on chaos and dynamics.

Kenzie: What kind of student did you have in mind when you designed the course?

Feldman: I can imagine many types of students who might be interested in this course: someone who has taken Melanie’s “Introduction to Complexity” and who wants to dig deeper into chaos; someone who has heard about the butterfly effect and strange attractors and wants to learn a little bit about the mathematics behind these phenomena; someone with background in science or social science who is looking for a thematic overview of dynamical systems before launching into more advanced study; someone with an interest in complex systems – or anything for that matter – who thinks chaos and dynamics might relate to their interests and would like to nd out if that’s the case.

Kenzie: How much math background is necessary?

Feldman: The course will make use of el- ementary high school algebra. We will review math topics along the way and help will be available in the online discussion forum. There will be optional assignments for those with a more extensive math background. I think the course will be accessible and of interest to almost anyone who wants to gain a solid in- 

troduction to chaos and dynamical systems, regardless of their mathematical levels.

Kenzie: How do you anticipate students will bene t from taking your course?

Feldman: My goal is to present an intellectu- ally honest introduction to the key results and big themes and ideas of chaos and dynamical systems, and to do so in a general enough way so that it is valuable to a wide range of course participants with different motivations and goals.

Kenzie: Have you taught a MOOC before? What interests or excites you about the opportunity?

Feldman: This is my rst MOOC. I have, however, taught a course on chaos and dynamical systems at this level for many years at College of the Atlantic. This course has been well received and I have enjoyed teaching it. It has been very satisfying to help students discover the important and fun surprises that dynamical systems hold, and then to see how they apply these ideas in their own areas of interest. I’m excited to bring chaos and dynam- ics to a larger audience and to interact with students of all backgrounds from all over the world. Teaching a large online class will be a challenge. I’m a bit nervous about it, since this is a new experience for me, but I’m also very excited.