By Steve Kolowich
Chronicle of Higher Education, April 29, 2013
Teaching students how to read and analyze experimental poetry can be hard enough in a small seminar class. Leading the same class in an online classroom of 36,000 far-flung learners might strike some as a fool's errand.
Al Filreis, a 57-year-old professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, disagrees. Many believe that massive open online courses are more suitable for teaching mathematics and hard sciences, ruled as they are by laws, formulas, and right-or-wrong answers.
But Mr. Filreis, an early pioneer of MOOCs in the humanities, believes the MOOC format is in many ways ideal for his course, "Modern & Contemporary American Poetry." In fact, he thinks the MOOC version of his course is just as academically rigorous as the classroom version he has taught for 25 years.
THE INNOVATOR: Al Filreis, U. of Pennsylvania
THE BIG IDEA: MOOCs can bring humanities courses to the masses.
The key, he says, is being willing to get your hands dirty.
The homely space
ModPo as an open course
Jeremy Knox has presented and published a paper on massive open online courses, looking at three in particular. Here is a link to the paper. Here are a few sentences from one of the sections on ModPo:
A salient example of the use of video can be found in the ‘Modern and Contemporary American Poetry’ (known as ModPo) course from the University of Pennsylvania in partnership with Coursera. As part of the introductory material, this course provided a video tour of the Kelly Writers House, a campus building associated with the instructors of the ModPo MOOC and creative writing students at the University of Pennsylvania. As a production of space, this video offers a remarkable enactment of the domestication of the MOOC, involving, I suggest, the production of familiarity and the practice of mapping. Rather than the imposing campus edifices foregrounded by the MOOC platforms, this faculty-level promotion aims at establishing a space of intimacy and community by providing a tour of the building which hosts the ModPo course. Course convenor Al Filreis hosts the tour, providing commentary as he is filmed proceeding through various rooms within the building, in which he interviews each of the ModPo Teaching Assistants (TAs) in turn. Of primary emphasis in this video is the promotion of a community at the Kelly Writers House.