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MOOC SYNTHESIZER - VI
April 18, 2012 - 8:26pm

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UD

 

The Penn president also said faculty have leaped at the opportunity to teach MOOCs, even without major incentives (participating professors may get some summer release time to create courses, she said)... [T]he prospect of teaching tens or hundreds of thousands of students at once seems to have piqued the interest of certain faculty members at Penn, which is currently scheduled to put 12 courses online through Coursera over the next year.


Inside Higher Ed reports on the predictable growth of MOOCs at America's leading universities, many of whose professors are as interested as UD was when she was approached by Udemy's Faculty Project (her MOOC on poetry is on its way to 250 students from around the world - far short of thousands, but we're just getting started here). Faculty from Penn, Michigan, Berkeley, Princeton, and Stanford are now offering MOOCs, and all of those schools say they want MOOCs because they will - among other things - heighten the schools' presence globally, draw attention to the value of teaching at schools which tend to be research-driven, and offer opportunities to students at these schools to be involved in a cutting-edge project.  Questions remain about credentialing and monetizing, but these early days seem to represent an age of innocence, when professors teach for no pay because they're excited about their subjects, and students register for little or no worldly reward, because they're interested in a subject.

As to whether non-technical liberal arts courses like UD's will fly - well, Al Filreis at Penn will be teaching his own poetry MOOC, and other professors at other schools will certainly be doing the same.  We'll see how it goes.  National Public Radio interviewed Filreis about it.

 

Will all this work? Is this a way to teach poetry or anything else? Filreis isn't sure, but he's excited to give it a try. And it's possible this fall he could reach more students with poetry than he has in his entire career.

 

To teach.  To reach.  There's some poetry right there... I do think that MOOCs reach people; they reach them because the people who go to the trouble of registering for them want that contact, want to scrutinize another human being's face as she speaks from the mind and the heart about a subject that compels her.  And I think there has to be at least a little interactivity (students can make comments to which professors might respond; students can propose poems for future lectures -- these are a couple of examples of interactivity on my MOOC) even to begin to say that one is teaching something, rather than presenting it and hoping people will find it illuminating. 

After all, even with lots of interactivity, a MOOC is very unlike classroom teaching.  Classroom teaching is an education in contingency.  However much you prepare a course, however you anticipate the course of a course, its fourteen or so weeks will play out unpredictably, the alchemical whatever of room, season, time of day, subject matter, students, and professor conjuring a mood peculiar to this semester's Contemporary China or Intro Chem.

Much of that dynamic contingency is gone when you MOOC.   MOOCs - at least my MOOC - are orderly, linear, idea-flows, undiverted by student response.  My techie sister, who directs, films, and uploads me, is my only physical audience, and while she casts a glow of goodwill over the enterprise, she's not asking questions or making comments.

Presenting a MOOC feels, rather, like a distillation of what I know and believe about a subject.  One chooses a MOOC entirely unencumbered by curricular needs and course assignment committees.  The only encumbrance I felt involved my sense of what a global audience of educated people might be most likely to find valuable and interesting among the things I have thought and written about.  I initially considered a course on the fiction of Don DeLillo, a passion of mine... and I suppose if this MOOC thing works out I might get an opportunity to do something like that in the future... But for this initial outing, something broader in the arts seemed better, a subject like poetry, which combines some familiarity (everyone everywhere has contact with some poetry over the course of their lives) and some confusion (people tend to find poetry rather baffling).

Yet whatever subject I present in a MOOC, and however non-contingent the presentation, there are two basic things this course will share with classroom courses I teach.  I love literature because it is language at its most beautiful, and I always, when I teach, want to convey the aesthetic charge of great writing.  That's number one.  And I love literature because, in Nietzsche's famous formulation, we have it in order not to perish of the truth.  Literature gives us our truths obliquely, and in so doing helps us survive them.  That's number two.

 

 

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