Saturday, September 15, 2012

Coursera Fantasy & Science Fiction Course and Plagiarism: Part Three

Part One can be found here.
Part Two can be found here.

Curiouser and curiouser, as dear Alice would say.  Today the ModPo class added the following the main page.

a thought on plagiarism

We at ModPo are well aware of the potential for plagiarism in a course like this. So we want to encourage you - right from the start - to take the "honor pledge" seriously when you encounter it before you submit your four short essays. We doubt that there will be a great many ModPo people who copy critical interpretations of our poems from websites, but we wanted to say something on the topic now. Why do we doubt? Because I think all of us will understand that close readings of poems are valuable and fun because each of us works through words, phrases, and lines as we encounter the language of a poem. It's not hard to do when you think of it as an activity that builds one line at a time. There's actually very little out there on the web that will do that for you. Another reason? We will all be actively commenting on each other's essays, but we will not be assigning "grades." To be considered a student who has "completed" the course, you need to have written and submitted the four short essays, commented on others', submitted (and minimally 'passed') the quizzes, and participated in the discussion forum. Since there is no grade per se of your essays, there will be less pressure, we hope, and you should feel encouraged to make your own attempt at interpretation.

Now let's think about this a bit.  I already know that the "honor pledge" is not taken seriously but I also know that there are far fewer anonymous people posting on the forums.  In fact, I haven't seen a single negative or dismissive comment from anyone anywhere in the ModPo forums.  The truth is, I've looked but not very actively so they may very well be "out there" and I have not noticed.  It could also be that we are all starting off friendly and on a good note and the barracudas have not yet begun their feeding frenzy.

But you now, then there's the no grade thing and the knowing the professor and his TAs are there and maybe just maybe . . .

I have to say that so far this course has been a better experience.

On September 5 I emailed coursera because I was pretty fed up and I am pleased to say that I received a reply:
Hi Satia,
Thank you for bringing these matters to our attention.  We take this very seriously and are figuring out the best strategy to deal with the issues you have mentioned. Ensuring a positive learning environment is a top priority for us and our University partners.
1) We will have a system to address many types of plagiarism in the near future
2) We are building a feature to allow inappropriate peer reviews to be detected
3) We do look at flagged forum posts, but only when more than one person has flagged them.  Due to the volume of forum activity, it may take up a couple of days to respond and review each case.
Thank you for your message and attention.
I was pretty clear about what I found (find) most distressing about how the course is running.  I linked to several examples of abusive comments on the forums, to the three essays I'd received that were clearly plagiarized, etc.

So here are my responses to what was sent to me.
1)  "Near future" is a little too little too late at this point.  Seven weeks into a ten week course is like shutting the barn door after the colt not only escaped but died of old age.  Plus "near future" is a meaningless phrase and with only three more units how much future do you think is left to resolve this issue?
2)  Building a feature that probably won't be in place within 3 weeks so it isn't going to empower the students who are already 70% finished with the course nor rectify the problem of those students who have already abused the system and will obviously get away with it.
3)  Due to the volume of forum activity, a couple of days still doesn't explain why a post that was flagged multiple times was there a week later.  
It does seem like coursera is trying to make improvements.  If they are a little too little too late, one can only hope that they will have the sense to not offer the F&SF course again until they have all of these things in place.

I know they can build a better humanities course because, thus far, the ModPo course is proving to be an improvement.  I have a feeling that the positive momentum will continue and am curious to see how the next few weeks will progress for myself and everyone else taking the course.

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 . . . .

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

First Poem for Coursera's Modern Poetry Course

I enrolled for a second course on coursera so I could see how it would go. Intentionally choosing to take another humanities course, I chose the Modern Poetry class and the first poem assigned is Emily Dickinson's "I Dwell in Possibility":

I dwell in Possibility— 
A fairer House than Prose—
More numerous of Windows—
Superior—for Doors—

Of Chambers as the Cedars—
Impregnable of Eye—
And for an Everlasting Roof 
The Gambrels of the Sky—

Of Visitors—the fairest—
For Occupation—This—
The spreading wide my narrow Hands 
To gather Paradise—

And here is a quick look at what I have so far, before listening to the lecture on this poem.  Highlights, underlining (rhymes/slant rhymes/assonance), and a chart looking more closely at her use of verbs in relationship to nouns/adjectives.

I dwell in Possibility— 
A fairer House than Prose
More numerous of Windows

Superiorfor Doors
Of Chambers as the Cedars
Impregnable of Eye
And for an Everlasting Roof 

The Gambrels of the Sky
Of Visitors—the fairest—
For Occupation—This—
The spreading wide my narrow Hands 
To gather Paradise

Looks like blogger doesn't know what to make of a double underline.  Oh well.  So some subtlety is lost. Sorry.

I dwell in Possibility— 
A fairer House5 than Prose1
More6 numerous5 of Windows1
Superior6for6 Doors6a

Of Chambers7 as the Cedars7
Impregnable of Eye2
And for6 an Everlasting Roof 
The Gambrels of the Sky2

Of Visitors6a—the fairest—
For6 Occupation—This3
The spreading wide my narrow Hands 
To gather Paradise3

It seems to me, the pivotal word is This but that's just from one hour of playing with the poem and I know enough to know I'd likely change my mind if I were to read it a few more times.  I also find myself pondering the word dwell which seems to have it's own implications.

Stanza Noun-Singular Noun-Plural Verb Adjective
First Stanza
I Windows dwell fairer
Possibility Doors


Second Stanza
Eye Chambers
Roof Cedars
Sky Gambrels

Third Stanza
This Visitors Occupation Fairest
Paradise Hands spreading wide

gather narrow

These are my notes from the discussion/lecture for this poem.  Bold signifies my own thoughts but I admit that towards the end my thoughts become merged for, as you'll see, I wasn't alone in thinking This is significant.

To dwell means both to reside in and to mull over or obsess over something.
Possibility:  capitalization used in 19th century, typical of American 17th century. 
Question:  What about Milne et al writing at this time? 
Possibility:  unlimited options   Possibilityà probability
House of Prose versus her living in possibility
Fairer House = Fairest Visitor 
Fair:  equal, just, also attractive suggesting superior house
Glass is expensive so many windows and doors, highly decorated.
The house of possibility is fairer than a house of prose (possibility is to poetry what ___ is to prose)
Blank = impossibility, limits, restrictions, established, linguistic conventions
Windows allow different perspectives, more light, reciprocity of vision/enclosure
Doors hint at reclusive (biographical fallacy?), is she keeping people out?  Prose allows many
Chambers as the Cedars
Chambers are rooms, bedrooms (room tall as cedar trees)
Cedar chest or closet to keep moths away.  Moths attracted to light.  End stage growth of trees tallest in Lebanon. 
Impregnable—can’t see within
Parallels doors that cannot be entered, people kept out, vision also impregnable. 
Working to read the poem, in hopes of entering.
The roof cannot collapse for it is the sky, infinite.  Typically roofs last about a decade.  
The visitors are required to have imagination, to experience the Possibility, the sky’s the limit.
Most equal, most just, most lovely visitors—the fairest.  (contrasted with Whitman who invites everyone in)
Occupation:  work, living,
·         dwelling (dear occupant), permanence of occupation vs. dwelling
·         your job, our life’s work, Emily’s work is done in her home
·         an invader taking a place—to occupy a country
“This” the dash after separates it from what follows in a way that implies a period or semi-colon.  This is the poem.  This.  This.  Indicative.  Poem, the action of writing the poem, creating, creating the self through writing, distinguishing the self separate from all others.  This dwelling in possibility.  This reading, this poem, reading this poem.   

Natural Open Space House Design by Fernanda Marque at Sao Paulo Natural Open Space House Design by Fernanda Marque at Sao Paulo
Image found here.

Today is Snowdoll's Birthday

She is 5 years old today.

In dog years, she's almost as old Rob and younger still than I.

She doesn't really care.  It's not like she listens to us anyway.

Life is wonderful when you're a puppy-girl and can cuddle up to furniture.