"In five years, this will be a huge industry."
Thomas Friedman is a little more sure of this than he should be. Indeed his column this morning is awfully close to advertising copy for Coursera and other MOOCs - like Udemy, the MOOC through which UD teaches her series of lectures on poetry. But it's now clear that American universities ought to pay attention to the rapidity with which this technology is turning not only into the mildly interactive worldwide sorts of lectures that UD offers, but a fully interactive, credentialed, even job-searching phenomenon. "[A] biomedical company looking for someone with programming and computational biology skills might ask us for students who did well in our courses on cloud computing and genomics," says a Coursera founder. "It is great for employers and employees — and it enables someone with a less traditional education to get the credentials to open up these opportunities.”
There are all sorts of problems with what she's envisioning - among them, verifying the identity of this student before you go recommending her to a biomed - but as the actual human reality of UD's MOOC students becomes more and more apparent, she begins to see how you might overcome some of the problems.
For the first couple of weeks of her lectures, UD didn't quite believe in the actual human reality of the hundreds of people from the States, Europe, India, Egypt, Russia, China, etc., whose names popped up in her email when they registered. The frame of reference -- the world -- was too broad; the internet too abstract. Yet as student comments and questions began to come in, each comment clearly evoking a person and a place, she began to see her classroom, if you will; she started to discern the outlines of the particular postmodern setting in which she found herself.
I think the process of realizing my strange new classroom began with this comment, from Sylvia, a Chinese student.
It's amazing how I was led to the discovery of this incredible lecture series. As a Chinese student of English romantic poetry, I wasn't much into modern poetry. But yesterday a friend asked me to translate her Chinese poems into English -- three small poems suggested by Monet's paintings. Quite unusually, I had "The Sound of Silence" as background music, and was suddenly [struck] by a touch of Wordsworthian tone in the lyrics ("I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," "The World Is Too Much With Us"). Upon closer listening, it's more Eliotian than Wordsworthian ("The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"). And I decided to read some T.S. Eliot at night. After "Little Gidding," I casually turned to W.H.Auden in the same volume, and was captivated by "Brussels in Winter". This afternoon I was surfing online to compare my understanding with those of more sophisticated minds, and came upon a very convincing analysis in Prof Soltan's blog. Following the tags about poetry, I read some other posts and finally reached this wonderful website, and listened through the introduction and lecture one. Your reading of "Adelstrop" is beautifully illuminating, and you make modern poetry matter to me. A million thanks!
I love the serpentine process by which this student found my lecture series; I love the way I helped move her love of romantic poetry forward in time. As more and more comments of this sort accumulate, I get a handle on the motivations and backgrounds of the people moved to register for my lectures; and this of course helps me fine tune my remarks, etc.
In place of the rather static, unidirectional model I assumed this endeavor would follow - I send out my lectures to the world, whatever "the world" might be - what's emerging gradually takes on very human, very engaging, contours.