Thursday, 15 August 2013

Guest Post by Denni Turp
Enthusiasm: On Coursera

[S]ometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Here’s an impossible thing to believe—totally free, short online courses on a vast range of subjects taught by 62 different universities in 16 countries and with NO advertising!

Especially for all you poets reading this, here’s a cliché warning.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  And so on. And when I first heard about Coursera, I was sure that there must be a catch. 

But there isn’t!

I’m currently doing two courses, The Fiction of Relationship, looking at prose fiction with Professor Arnold Weinstein (Google him—he’s one of the best!), and a multidisciplinary course on The Holocaust (which has introduced me to the poetry of Paul Celan).  Earlier this year I took a course on fantasy and science fiction, and I’m signed up for Modern and Contemporary American Poetry which starts in September.

As you’re reading this on George’s blog, I imagine you might like the same kind of courses, but there are about 400 on offer, ranging across not just Humanities but also Medicine, Social Sciences, Biology, Mathematics, Business (yes, I know!) and Computer Sciences.  Some of the courses about to start include: Introduction to Sustainability; Creativity, Innovation and Change; History of Rock (music, not stones!); From the Big Bang to Dark Energy (very tempting, this one!); Metadata; and Online Games: Literature, New Media and Narrative.

This is a truly global community, with over 9 million students across 195 countries.  Every course is set up with interactive forums so I’ve had the opportunity to share ideas, to converse with people from around the world, people who speak so many other languages, whose experiences may be very different from my own, whose ages range from late teens to well over retirement, some of whom are themselves professors or teachers, but who all share an interest in the subject and a passion for learning more.

Courses are usually about 10 weeks long, with a series of video lectures every week.  There is no requirement to watch the lectures at set times or on set days, or to continue with a course once you start, nor is it essential to take part in discussions, or to complete any of the assignments.  If you want to receive grading and feedback on each of your own assignments then you must review at least three of those submitted by your peers each time:  that’s all.  And, as I said at the beginning, it is all totally, completely and absolutely free.  You might need to buy a book or two (terrible hardship!), but many of the course materials are available online via Project Gutenberg and YouTube, for example.  You will probably find, especially if you sign up for any of the literature courses, that you already have many if not all of the required reading.  And libraries are pretty good for that kind of stuff, aren’t they?  Use them while we still have them.  Prove we love them, prove they are an essential service.

What more can I say to encourage you to have a look?  I think, just give you the link.  Go for it!


I don't do ads but am very happy to do enthusiasms, especially for learning. Delighted to have this by Denni Turp.

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