Before this past summer, I heard about this massive online course about modern and contemporary poetry through Coursera out of UPenn from one of the poets in my virtual workshop group. There was also some information about it in some of the messages of WomPo, a poetry listserv to which I subscribe. I looked it up and saw it began on my birthday, which was around the time of the beginning of this Fall's semester. I was to begin my stint as Creative Writing Project Coordinator, and I'd be teaching a brand new course, Early British Literature to 1800 online. Lots of new things were already planned, but this course sounded so interesting. Oh, and it was FREE. We all know my feelings about all things FREE.
A MOOC is a massive open online course. Lots of higher ed banter has been emerging about the effectiveness of MOOCs as true educational paths. Can anyone actually learn on a MOOC? What does it say about the need for teachers in a classroom? Will MOOCs take over the world? Will the computers win? You know, typical hyperbolic commentary in the world of academia.
I was in a place of wanting to do something different. I wanted to brush up on contemporary poetry. I wanted to take a class again. I've been involved with online education. I like free. This ModPo thing seemed like a good choice. And so, on my birthday, I signed on and started posting. Since I live my life on the computer, it was natural to click around, start typing, read around, type more. I found interesting threads. I found the syllabus. I began reading my assignments. I broke out a new notebook and took notes. Simple class. Interesting poems. I liked it.
Then I clicked on the video discussion. There was Professor Al Filreis and his merry band of TA's. He quickly broke down the poem into parts, assigning words and phrases to each of the eager and willing TA's. The next 20 minutes, I took notes feverishly, pausing and reading the closed captioning at some points, and then going back to the poem, making a-ha notes mentally. This was more than I'd expected. I was in a virtual classroom. I couldn't respond to the group in real time. However, the discussion boards were a click away.
The video ended and took me to a link for the forums for that week, and more specifically, to the poem's subforum. To earn a certificate, I needed to post just once to one subforum for the week. The certificate will go into my file for promotion, to prove I did something to improve upon my knowledge and skills, to prove I've developed myself in some way professionally. However, just one post? Nonsense. Unheard of.
Sometimes Eddie and I do really stupid things when we're alone at home. Sometimes we fence with those twirly sticks you're supposed to use to change the direction of the blinds. Sometimes we see who can make the most annoying noise for the longest amount of time. Once, I jumped into the middle of the living room and yelled, What if I danced like this in public?, and then crouched down and popped back up while wildly flailing my arms and biting on my lower lip. When I stopped, he said to me, Sometimes you scare me because you get really into it. I responded, What's the point of half-assing it? You've got to be committed. He agreed, I should be committed.
So there was no way I was going to post only once to one subforum. This was something I was committed to, just like the fencing, the annoying noises, and the purposefully bad dancing. It was going to be fun and passionate. I was going to read and respond. I was not going to teach. I was going to learn. I have shared a lot of my previous knowledge along the way, but I've also learned so much. So very much.
Since September 7, I've spend my Sundays glued to the computer, reading all the assigned poems, watching the corresponding videos, and posting to each discussion board, almost every subforum, over and over. I've virtually met some of the most interesting and intelligent people I've ever encountered. I've also found people who understand the kind of humor involved in joking about poets and literature and the English language. It's not everyday that you can make a pun with the word "it" and have people rolling in the aisles. They get me. I get them. It's a nice little community there on those boards, even if it's not in real time and we haven't physically met.
I completed several writing assignments, and I've offered peer feedback. How long has it been since I've been assigned to write an essay? Ha! Approaching the page to write a top-down thesis-driven essay from the learner side of the desk excited me. This is why I'm a teacher. I get excited about writing critical essays. This is not the experience of my students, I'm sure, but I was able to tell my writing classes, Hey, I just wrote an essay on Monday and I followed the guidelines I'm telling you and it came out successfully, so I know what I'm talking about. It was nice affirmation that I actually do know what I'm doing in the classroom.
Then, week by week, I kept checking into the discussion boards, day by day, getting involved in deeper and longer discussions, so that each week started to flow into the next, poem by poem, poet by poet, analysis by analysis. The world of poetry became my world, and I encountered some of the same people in other circles like Goodreads and Twitter. Small world.
I've missed the live webcasts. This thing called work has gotten in the way of my ModPo learning. These webcasts happen while I'm in class, teaching about sentence boundaries and paragraph structure, or while I'm grading papers, lots and lots of papers. I still like doing those things, but I missed out on the full experience of the course. However, even as soon as this semester, I've used what I've learned. For my Comp II class, writing about literature, I've always taught a William Carlos Williams poem; I re-learned that same poem at the beginning of ModPo, and when I taught it, it was a brand new lesson complete with soundbites and a new perspective on plums. Though I missed out on the webcasts, I've still gotten what I hoped--a fresher view.
I have a fresher view on poems I've read and taught before. I have a fresher view on contemporary poetry in poets I've never heard of. I have a better understanding of different movements, especially the Modernists. I have a stronger grasp on language, its uses and its drawbacks. I have a better sense of the poetry world and its pedagogy. I have an up-close perspective on MOOCs and how they function in education. I have a new understanding of what academia can be.
I got much more than that, though. I never could have imagined or expected this outcome. I have greater emotional connections to poetry. I have greater emotional connections to my own thoughts. I feel a new creative spark. I have higher hopes for the world of writing, the world of academia, and the world at large. I'm a different person, a better person, and even though the language is out there, I simply can't put into words how thankful I am to have experienced this ten-week journey.
I suppose simplicity is sometimes the best language: Thank you, Al Filreis, Julia Bloch, Anna, Max, Kristen, Emily, Amaris, Dave, Ali, and Molly...and from the boards....Mandana, Judy, Allan, Tracy, Tracy, Eleanor, Sangeet, Massimo, Therese, Michael, Anthony, Carol, and everyone else who welcomed my opinions and offered your own. Simply, thanks.