Thursday, September 13, 2012

Coursera Thoughts Part Six

This week the second coursera course for which I am registered began.  I had considered, seriously so, un-enrolling due to my frustration but there was nothing in the description to suggest that said we would submit any writing let alone use the same pointless peer-review process.  When the Modern & Contemporary American Poetry course began it was announced that there would be papers to submit and that there would be the same peer-review process.

Or will it be the same?  Not quite.   You see, the professor, Al Filreis, and his TAs will also be participating and this has already proven true in the forums where he and his aides have been responding to posts and more.  They are on google+ and facebook and twitter.   And I scrolled through the first ten pages of the forum list and only 3 posts were from the ubiquitous “anonymous.”  There are six on the very first page on the Fantasy and Science Fiction page so about 1:4 will be from an anonymous person in this course while in the other, the odds are 1:80. 

What a difference an authority figure, or in this case—figures, can make in the general makeup of student participation.  If you’re interested in what it is I’m doing in the ModPo course by clicking here.

The lectures for the course are good.  The professor, Dr. Eric Rabkin, talks directly to the camera, occasionally interjected with a text slide, quotes, or images which keeps the video from being overly tedious to watch.  The sense the viewer gets is of a lecture professor,  one who does not invite interruption with questions.  The forums, the same place where there are anonymous posters who are eager to say someone’s post is dumb or accusations where the person who made the original post needs psychological health or whatever other insult the anonymous person deems most cutting.

When the Fantasy & Science Fiction course began, there were a few introductory videos, lectures that explained how to do a close reading, shared some ideas on how to stick to the 270-320 word count, and clarified the course outline as far as how the different expectations would be scheduled, and other basic housekeeping (albeit, not one word about what citation format to use or any of that nonsense one would assume a professor would explain early in the course).  On the Thursday before the Tuesday when the essay is due, an introductory essay would be released in which the professor would discuss the week’s reading.  However, given that the essay is due on Tuesday, most people would have finished the reading before the essay itself is due on Tuesday.  I finished some of the readings on Saturday, sometimes Sunday, and naturally I would begin the next week’s reading immediately.

I was not alone in this and many students were at least a week ahead in the reading.   Even I, barely keeping up, would end up waiting days for the introductory essays.  Recently, the “powers that be” decided to release all of the “Before You Read” lectures and I think this was a good move.  While I may have preferred for them to focus their attentions on the more alarming issues, being able to see the video before you begin the novel is bound to help.  I wouldn’t know yet but I’ll be sure to watch the video before I begin reading Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness.

I enjoy the lectures even when I disagree with the professor’s interpretations.  And why not?  I enjoyed the courses I took in college, even when I didn’t agree with my professors.  I would do so to their face, in the class. I didn’t care.  If I liked something I said as much and why. If I didn’t, I was no less shy in expressing my feelings.  If I would enjoy a little more give and take, I see where coursera, and the professor, assume that these discussions will occur on the forums. 

After what I’ve witnessed and experienced on coursera’s forums, I wouldn’t want to post a anything there, either in praise of or in disagreement with what the professor has to say.  And I can already see how knowing that they are being watched by someone who has any authority is keeping the anonymous idiots from running rampant in the Modern Poetry course.  The lectures are good and I’m glad they release the “Before You Read” ones now before most of us have moved too far beyond that week’s reading. 

Now if only someone would do something to keep the forums from being so filled with hostility . . . .

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