Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Today I signed up for a class with a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.  The professor welcomed me by name, introduced me to his TAs, wanted to make sure I had his course syllabus, and told me what the first assignment is.  All this, 2,700 miles away from Philadelphia, with 30,000 classmates around the world.

When I assumed this associate dean position six years ago, I was told that “distance learning” would be part of my “decanal portfolio.”  That’s academe-speak for it’s my job to know a “MOOC” from an “LMS.”  I’ve taught myself a lot from the time when I didn’t know “asynchronous” from “synchronous” delivery. 

The hot button in online higher education right now is what’s going on with a company started by a couple of Stanford computer science professors called “Coursera.”  They’ve put together a consortium of universities, including Caltech, Princeton, Duke, and Stanford, of course, to offer Internet-based continuing ed (non-credit) courses for free. Coursera espouses a humanitarian mission to bring world-class education to the masses, but my DL colleagues and I think it’s really all about brand marketing.  So to see what the buzz is all about and to be able to speak to it first-hand, I become one of more than a million “Courserians” who already have signed for a Coursera course.

I scanned the offerings, up for learning something new and challenging, but the “Basics of Nanotechnology” didn’t look all that basic to me.   I reconsidered the topics; perhaps I should take something in which I had at least a little background so I could have some pedagogical frame of reference.  “Modern and Contemporary American Poetry” – now that I can handle to evaluate, and even enjoy. 

Day one, and I’m impressed and intrigued.  Immediately after registering, I got a series of e-mails telling me everything I could possibly need and want to know about how to maximize my learning experience.  I can even “meet-up” with other Courserians in different parts of LA and other cities across the country, if I want (I don’t, but just think about the social networking implications). 

So for the next ten weeks, I’m going to be studying 19th-century protomodernists to 21st-century conceptual poetics.  And, as one of my favorite professor colleagues often says, “Whee!  I get to read as part of my job!”

Excuse me now, but I’ve got some homework to do.  I should be going to bed, but my post-treatment resolve to get lots of sleep is dissolving with the temptation of  Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. 

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