What are the butterfly effect and strange attractors? What are the key lessons of “chaos theory?” Can complex patterns emerge from simple systems? Why is the weather so hard to predict? Questions like these will be addressed in “Introduction to Dynamical Systems and Chaos,” an online interdisciplinary mathematics course College of the Atlantic Professor of Physics and Mathematics Dr. David Feldman will teach starting Jan. 5, 2015. The only prerequisite is a basic understanding of high school algebra.

Faculty member Dave Feldman at the chalkboard.

The 10-week MOOC — a “Massive Open Online Course” — is available to anyone, online, for free. This is the second time Feldman has taught the course via Complexity Explorer, a project of the Santa Fe Institute. A short video describing the course can be found here. Enrollment is now open at the Complexity Explorer site.

Feldman completed his first MOOC last March. The course drew more than 5,000 students from 90 countries, ages 13 through 80. More than 900 students completed the class, an 18% completion rate — more than three times the average for similar so-called MOOCs, according to a University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education study.

The Santa Fe Institute’s Complexity Explorer project provides online courses and educational materials in complex systems science. The class was funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation and donations from participants.

“Dave Feldman is an amazing teacher who communicates complex ideas in a friendly, welcoming, and accessible manner,” said Dr. Melanie Mitchell, Professor of Computer Science at Portland State University and Director of the Santa Fe Institute’s Complexity Explorer project. Students in his 2014 MOOC reported Feldman was “able to explain and demonstrate at a conceptual and intuitive level without sacrificing rigor.” Another said “his approach and instruction were as good as any I had at MIT many, many years ago.”

Feldman is the author of Chaos and Fractals: An Elementary Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2012), which introduces the major ideas of dynamical systems and fractals to students in a clear and substantial way, using only basic algebra. His MOOC and his book both were based in large part on a course he developed at College of the Atlantic. “I don’t think I could have developed this course at many other colleges,” said Feldman. “The interdisciplinary curriculum of College of the Atlantic and its intellectually adventurous students make it possible to develop classes here that wouldn’t fly elsewhere. I love teaching small classes at COA, and I’m also excited to be able to bring the ideas of chaos and dynamical systems to a broader audience though this MOOC.”

College of the Atlantic was founded in 1969 on the premise that education should go beyond understanding the world as it is, to enabling students to actively shape its future. A leader in experiential education and environmental stewardship, COA has pioneered a distinctive interdisciplinary approach to learning—human ecology—that develops the kinds of creative thinkers and doers needed by all sectors of society in addressing the compelling and growing needs of our world. For more, visit http://www.coa.edu.

The Santa Fe Institute is a private, not-for-profit, independent research and education center, founded in 1984, where leading scientists grapple with some of the most compelling and complex problems of our time. Researchers come to the Santa Fe Institute from universities, government agencies, research institutes, and private industry to collaborate across disciplines, merging ideas and principles of many fields — from physics, mathematics, and biology to the social sciences and the humanities — in pursuit of creative insights that improve our world.

The Institute’s scientific and educational missions are supported by philanthropic individuals and foundations, forward-thinking partner companies, and government science agencies.