Let's Go to Stonehenge! Part II Cruises: Pets and MOOCs

This is the second in a new series of blog posts about travelling....starting with a place I have actually visited before: STONEHENGE!

If you missed my first post about my dream vacation, here is the link:
Let's Go to Stonehenge! Part I Ocean Liner to the UK: Pet Friendly

My dream vacation is to take my dogs on a walk at Stonehenge, and I want to travel to England on The Queen Mary 2 Cruise Ship by Cunard. I have two small dogs and, much as I'd love to train them to go on kitty litter that I could change in my cabin, ships rules prohibit fraternizing with pets in most areas on board. Pets have their own space, their own "poop deck",  and their own kennel and attendants. Apparently, ship pets have a life of their own. Maybe there's something to learn from that.

According to online resources, kennel space is in high demand. Some people suggest booking kennel space as far in advance of the trip as 8 months to 2 years. That's a long time, even for one kennel space, and I might need two spaces. It's not that my dogs don't get along. They do. In fact, sometimes they behave like a loving married couple...until meal time. That's when the competitive streak comes through.

Can my two little dogs stay together in the same kennel space, and have the attendant feed them separately? I'd have to contact the cruise line and ask.

Cunard suggests contacting the cruise line directly, through their main telephone number at Cunard.com, to make kennel arrangements for pets when booking a cruise. According to the Cunard website, the cruise line has experience sending all the required paperwork to potential clients including details of the international rules of pet travel, as every dog and cat on board must have all of the paperwork for the Pet Passport Travel Scheme.

So how to get the best price on tickets, if I have to contact this exclusive cruise line to book the cruise? According to Bob Levinstein, CEO of CruiseCompete/Compete Ventures, LLC:

Anytime you book a cruise directly with the cruise line, you have the opportunity to transfer that booking to an agent for a certain period of time. When that window is depends on the cruise line, but it's often 60 days. In this scenario, the customer could book with Cunard, then put a request into CruiseCompete for competitive quotes, and then transfer the booking to the agent with the best offer.

The transfer process is very easy. The agent does all of the work and you can keep the same cabin and booking number.

If I can expect a bunch of regulations and paperwork to be coming in for my dogs, it might be a good idea to take a look at what I'm going to need for my own passport and visa too...and in the meantime, the idea of taking my dogs for a walk at Stonehenge is getting a little daunting. After all, I live in California. Miles from Stonehenge. And the idea of filling out a lot of boring paperwork doesn't sound very fun. Fortunately, there is a perfect solution for energizing my dream vacation planning. Perfect, that is, if I can find a MOOC about Stonehenge.

What is a MOOC?

For my readers who haven't experienced a MOOC, it's an acronym for massive open online course. MOOCs have been around for about a decade as of the date of writing this post. I discovered MOOCs a few years ago, when one of my peers mentioned a free course about Roman Architecture on social networking.

Roman Architecture was an amazing course and one of the most amazing things about it was it was offered, for free, by Yale University...not by someone who uploaded their own video while wearing a Yale t-shirt. The course was offered to anyone, anywhere who had an internet connection. After years of weeding through questionable online content, I found MOOCs to be both refreshing and interesting.

There are numerous MOOC provider websites, and open courses on practically every topic imaginable. I've participated in MOOCs about architecture and metaphysics, as well as horses, traditional healing methods, computer programming, business and more. (Here is the link for an embarrassingly long list of MOOCs I've experienced.)

For a nominal fee (usually less than $100 USD for most courses) a course participant may receive a certificate as proof of taking the course online, but usually will not receive college credit. Certificates may be helpful for proving continuing education and other career-focused coursework. The fees may help defray some expenses for the MOOC provider website and/or the sponsoring Universities.

One of my favorite online course providers is FutureLearn, a website based in England that offers courses on a variety of topics including health, business, languages, and history.

At the time of the writing of this blog post, FutureLearn offers the first two weeks of a course for free, and unlimited access for upgraded courses. With unlimited access, a participant can go at any pace, taking as long or as little time as desired.

The cost of upgrading varies slightly with each course, and is paid by credit card. When upgrading a course, as of the date of writing this post, FutureLearn requests the upload of a traditional, government issued photo ID and respects an honor system of client integrity.

Unlike some other MOOC provider websites, FutureLearn does not experiment with personally invasive identification technology. For example, FutureLearn makes no attempt to identify clients based on their typing style, nor to require tests to be taken under gaze of a live streaming camera.

When an upgraded course is substantially complete, FutureLearn will send an email confirmation. This is followed up by an impressive certificate on quality paper, sent by regular mail from the United Kingdom. I believe that receiving a certificate postmarked from overseas is one of the most exciting parts of the FutureLearn experience.

A Certificate I received from FutureLearn
for a MOOC sponsored in 2016 by
Royal Holloway, University of London
One of the nicer aspects of taking a MOOC at FutureLearn is that the focus is on friendship, and not on competition between learners. None of the courses I've taken on this platform have calculated out a final grade for course participants.

Instead, FutureLearn emphasizes the learning process by honor system, counting the percentage of steps a learner checks off in completing in a course. The steps may include short articles and videos, downloadable handouts, and quizzes that give the answers if a learner hasn't figured them out after a few tries.

Like most MOOC websites, FutureLearn includes a student forum, but with a twist. FutureLearn integrates conversation into each page of the course, with prompts that encourage participants to talk with each other about the topics presented, after watching a short video or reading an article.

The easy-going environment at FutureLearn encourages lots of honest communication, sincere questions, answers and opinions between participants as well as from the course mentors.

I enjoy sharing opinions about a topic as I learn it...without having to search on another page for a topic thread. I have found FutureLearn forums to be both friendly and blissfully free of the trolls and flamers that online forums sometimes attract. I don't know if it's because the casually integrated forum design invites a pleasant chat or there is some superb moderation going on behind the scenes.

FutureLearn makes it easy to like, bookmark and reply to comments, follow mentors and instructors in the course discussions, and follow those who write comments I appreciate. I enjoy chatting on a friendly basis, and having an opportunity to meet like-minded people who share my interests on an international level. FutureLearn attracts engaging participants from all over the world and, not surprisingly, many of them live in England. I might even make friends with people who live near Stonehenge and already know the area.

To find out if there are any courses about Stonehenge, I might use the search bar at the FutureLearn website.

I'm in luck...for now anyway. As of the date of writing of this post, University of Reading is advertising an offering at FutureLearn of Archaeology: from Dig to Lab and Beyond, described as an introduction to studying archaeology, exploring exciting discoveries in the Vale of Pewsey, near to Stonehenge and Avebury. Perfect! FutureLearn has provided the inspiration I need to continue designing my dream vacation.

To be continued...


Inspired, by Cunard. It's a dog's life on the North Atlantic.
 www . cunard . com/cunard-experience/articles/its-a-dogs-life-queen-mary-2/

How to Travel with Pets Aboard Queen Mary 2 Kennels
cruisemaven . com/travel-with-your-pets-aboard-the-queen-mary-2-kennels-to-england/

Taking a Dog On the Queen Mary 2 - Pepper in Paris
betterwords . typepad . com/pepperinparis/taking-a-dog-on-the-queen-mary-2.html

Queen Mary 2 dogs
www . beyondships2 . com/queen-mary-2-dogs.html

Take an Inside Look at the New Queen Mary 2 Kennel - Cruise Maven
cruisemaven . com/new-queen-mary-2-kennel/