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MOOC SYNTHESIZER
March 12, 2012 - 3:59am

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UD

Udemy has asked UD to be part of the second cohort of professors chosen for its Faculty Project .  Udemy is a venture offering MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses.  Here's a recent New York Times article about Udemy and MOOCs.  The article describes the Faculty Project:

Udemy recently announced a new Faculty Project, in which award-winning professors from universities like Dartmouth, the University of Virginia and Northwestern offer free online courses. Its co-founder, Gagen Biyani, said the site has more than 100,000 students enrolled in its courses, including several, outside the Faculty Project, that charge fees.

Inside Higher Ed articles on MOOCs may be found here and here.

UD has already, with equipment Udemy sent her, begun filming a lecture series on poetry (her first lecture will be available in a day or two).  Her sister directs her lectures, placing UD just so in front of her baby grand, and locating the tall round Edward R. Murrow-type mike a few feet from UD's voice. 

UD's course will be free, will offer no credits, and will be available to anyone in the world with a computer.  She will chronicle her experience with the MOOC here, at Inside Higher Ed.

This post's title is not merely a pun on MOOC.  It means to recall my father's excitement back in the 'seventies when the MOOG Synthesizer - an early, popularly available, electronic instrument - appeared.  He loved to listen to MOOGed Bach; and I guess we all assumed the technology would endure.  Yet Moog's invention had a short heyday, and my post's title also means to anticipate - given the insane speed of tech-turnover - an uncertain future for MOOCs. 

However lasting they turn out to be, MOOCs attract UD.  Obviously she likes the fact that they're free, and universally available.  She likes the freedom to make this series entirely her own (her university also gives her a remarkably free hand fashioning courses).  She likes the fact that people she admires, like Thomas Pogge, are also taking part in the Faculty Project.  And she likes the fact that she has absolutely no idea how this will turn out - that is, whether anyone at all, from New York to New Guinea, will tune in, and, if they do, what their comments and responses will be.  In his novel, The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon talks about "that absence of surprise to life, that harrows the head of everybody American you know."  There will be surprises here.

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UD has taught at universities for decades, and gradually, glacially, has become aware of changes in her teaching self... How to say it?  For years, UD has heard of campus colleagues, and professors at other schools, who are way out there, teachingwise.  She'll worry out loud to a faculty friend about having said shit a couple of times in a lecture, and her friend will say Oh every other word out of Barry is fuck. 

We're not really talking about how often you use obscenities here; we're talking about varying intensities of... intensities in the classroom...

There's a deep-lying good-girl thing going on in UD and it's probably held her back from full emotive evocation of, say, the vastation of a play like Waiting for Godot.  At least she sometimes feels this - feels as though she's inadequately conveying the depths and extremities of suffering modern literature to her students.

Why can't she let it rip? 

Well, because along with crippling residual good-girlism, UD has a horror of histrionics, and in particular the self-indulgent self-regard that sometimes comes over professors when, for example, they're asked to give one of those Last Lecture things.  UD perceives a thin line between avid, interestingly eccentric lecturing, and embarrassing melodrama which is more about you than the subject matter.   In Saul Bellow's last novel, Ravelstein, the narrator distinguishes Abe Ravelstein - an out-there lecturer - from other emotive types:

He did not court students by putting on bull-session airs or try to scandalize them—entertain them actually, as histrionic lecturers do—by shouting "Shit!" or "Fuck!" There was nothing at all of the campus wildman about him.

When you teach poetry, most of which evokes life's unresolvable paradoxes, it's especially bad form to flounce around in any particular, emotionally aggressive mode...

And yet.  You do want to be adequate to the intensity of poetry; and the new form of teaching which is the MOOC already, it seems to UD, has drawn more emotionality out of her than the classroom setting.  Is it because she is alone in a room, talking about poems that have meant so much to her?  The lack of other bodies, the lack of other voices, the domestic setting, her proximity to the forest outside the room she's in, even the somewhat unsettling mystery of who's out there watching and listening -- maybe all of this draws her closer to that out-there place that's not too out there...

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Anyway.  UD had a great chat with the Faculty Project director this afternoon, and she's now going to put together a course outline.  Once that's up on the site, Tim will publish her first lecture.  Which she'll link to here.

 

 

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