Starting next month, people from all corners of the globe will have access to Yale’s most popular class ever, as psychology professor Laurie Santos’ “Psychology and the Good Life” makes its debut as the rebranded “The Science of Well-Being” on the online platform Coursera.
The class, which already boasts an unprecedented enrollment of 1,200 — or one out of four – undergraduates at Yale, is expected to see a drastic increase in participation as it moves online. According to Belinda Platt, an online course coordinator at the Center for Teaching and Learning at Yale, more than 11,000 users have already registered to take the “The Science of Well-being” on Coursera after the course launches in March.
“Since the [‘Psychology and the Good Life’] class received coverage in the press, I’ve had lots of people email to see if there was any way they could access the course,” Santos said. “So we thought it would be great to share the content more broadly.”
The Coursera lectures were recorded before Santos began teaching the live version of “Psychology and the Good Life.” Santos, who also serves as the head of Silliman College, said that during the spring of 2017, she offered Silliman students a shorter version of the class — consisting of just five lectures — at her house as a series of private, informal fireside chats. The five lectures were filmed and the Coursera class content was developed from those recordings.
Platt said that although the lectures do include Yale-specific references, she hopes participants across the globe find in them lessons applicable to their lives.
According to its syllabus, “Psychology and the Good Life” teaches scientifically validated strategies for leading a more satisfying life. As part of their homework, Yale students enrolled in the class have been asked to record five things they are grateful for, to perform one random act of kindness and to make a social connection, among other assignments, on a daily basis.
The class has received significant media attention in the past month, including coverage in The New York Times and a mention on NBC Nightly News. News organizations across the world, including India, Italy, France and Canada, have also run stories about the class.
But as the world awaits the March launch date of the online course, students enrolled in “Psychology and the Good Life” are divided on the class’s merits.
Jorge Lema ’19 said he has been practicing “tricks” taught in the class to improve his happiness levels, such as 10-minute-long daily meditations, and believes these are having a positive impact on his life.
“Some of them feel like common sense,” Lema said. “But the fact that they are given to me all at once in an academic setting pushes me to do it.”
Santos told the News that several students have given her positive feedback on the class exercises. “I do think the class is working even more than I expected,” she said.
Still, other students are less convinced.
“A lot of big grand claims are being made about what makes us happy and what doesn’t make us happy,” said a senior, who insisted on anonymity because she did not want her comments to affect her grade in the course.
Kayla Bartsch ’20 is not enrolled in the class, but said she has heard negative reviews from friends who are and is skeptical about the material taught in the course.
“They are receiving information that they know through common sense, or other aspects of life such as religion, or just general moral teaching you receive,” Bartsch said.
In an email to the News, Santos acknowledged that although such criticisms are frustrating, they reflect that students are thinking critically about the class material and that enhancing critical thinking skills is one of the course’s goals.
She added that she provides students with links to the scientific studies that back up her claims and encourages them to ask questions about those studies. “As I mention in class a lot, much of the science in positive psychology is relatively new, so we do need to read it with a careful eye,” Santos said.
Jingyi Cui | firstname.lastname@example.org