I have caught the Coursera virus. In fact, Coursera is one of the reasons why I haven't been updating this blog for a while. As I browse among many subjects I could learn about (that I never even dreamed I would ever be learning about), from Gamification to World Music to Computer Science 101, I feel my mind grow and expand in different directions. And I am grateful.
Coursera is based on a very simple model. Every course comes with a set of lectures broken into small chunks and rendered as short videos. The videos are followed by quizzes/exercises and sometimes by essays. If you do all the quizzes and the essays, you will get a certificate of attendance. Each course includes forums as well, but those are optional, an add-on. In most of the courses I attended before ModPo, I never bothered to participate in the forums. More often than not, I didn't even bother to do the minimum I needed for the certificate. I was mostly happy to just watch the videos.
Maybe this was my fault. Coursera can't be blamed for my decision to lurk. Yet I lurked because I could. And then ModPo happened to me.
ModPo is short for Modern and Contemporary American Poetry. The course was run by Professor Al Filreis and his gang from Penn. The course was a MOOC if I had ever seen one. It was certainly the most massive online course I had ever attended. We are talking about 35,000 people here.
If you have read my blog before, you will know that I am addicted to online learning. You will also know that I have been a part of Moocs and online communities since 2008 - think no further than Electronic Village Online sessions and DS106. As for communities, just look at that Proud to be a Webhead badge in my sidebar. Or read this.
But I need to tell the story about this particular course from the beginning.
As the date for the beginning of ModPo approached, it was becoming clear that it was going to be a different kind of course from the ones I had got used to on Coursera. Yes, there were going to be videos, but these videos were going to be different. Here's the introductory video that appeared a few days before the course started (and I don't expect you to watch the whole thing, but at least look at the first minute or two):
Here you can see Professor Al surrounded by his TAs (or "Al and the gang", as they were later known). The way they taught poetry was to sit in front of the camera and discuss each poem round table style. They disagreed occasionally and sometimes made mistakes. They drank coffee and laughed. They were human and approachable. And that's exactly the way they were in the forums as well. What they modeled in these videos was what they expected us to do. Here forum discussions were central to the course. They were one of the requirements for the certificate and the main learning tool.
"Al and the gang" went an extra mile for us. There was a Twitter feed and a Facebook group. And there were live webcasts on YouTube accompanied by Twitter chats. Everybody had an open invitation to Kelly Writer's House. As the course progressed, people started showing up on their doorstep at the time live webcasts were being filmed. Personal stories were exchanged. And, bit by bit, the ModPo virtual community was coming to life.
As I write this, I feel doubly blessed. First I was lucky enough to find my Webhead family. Now I have found one more online family - the ModPoers. We are no longer 35,000, but we are numerous. There are various things to do within the community. We still share and read poems together. Some of us write poetry and I am glad to say that my poetry blog Summer Blues is once again live.
I know I have neglected this blog. During the 10 weeks of ModPo there was little time for anything else. And now there is this new community to cultivate and care for. It is still young and we are all a little afraid that it will just disappear overnight if we are not there to watch and protect it.