Education for all: University of Iowa to offer its first-ever ‘Massive Open Online Course’

Walt Whitman education...for free!
What better topic for the UI’s first MOOC than the iconic Walt Whitman? — photo via Marcelo Noah

The University of Iowa unveiled plans for its first-ever Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) last week, titled “Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself.” Free and open to anyone with an internet connection, the six-week course will run from February 17 to March 29 and plans to feature video lectures, live breakout sessions and moderated online discussions.

The course is now open for enrollment.

Little Village has written a bit about MOOCs previously, but the basic premise is simple: Interactive, web-based courses that are (typically) free and open to all. Several universities have pioneered the concept in recent years, including Stanford University, the University of Miami and San Jose State University. Stanford University’s first MOOC, which launched in the fall of 2011, saw an enrollment of 160,000 students.

The course will be taught by Whitman expert Ed Folsom and International Writing Program (IWP) Director Christopher Merrill.

Folsom is the Roy J. Carver Professor of English at the University of Iowa, co-director of the Walt Whitman Archive and editor of the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review.

“Everyone has a personal reason to read Song of Myself,” Folsom said in a statement released by the IWP. “You may have thought: Gee, I’d like to, it’s a little daunting, it’s long—52 sections—but it’s an exhilarating ride.”

Merrill, who has completed dozens of cultural diplomacy missions abroad on behalf of the US Department of State, has published several poetry collections and is a member of the National Council on the Humanities.

According to the International Writing Program, the structure of the course is as follows:

Each week, two video sessions will be posted, each organized around a central theme. After each session, Folsom and Merrill will pose a question to participants, encouraging them to form their own answers and then test out these answers in the MOOC’s discussion forum. Folsom, Merrill, and the course’s teaching assistants will guide discussion and answer questions in the forum.

At the end of the week, the teaching assistants will hold a live breakout session to break down the week’s themes and explore popular topics of discussion. The video sessions’ themes include “Origins,” “Structure,” “Main Characters,” “Science,” and “Democracy.”

The University of Iowa’s second MOOC, titled “How Writers Write: Talks on Craft and Commitment,” will open this Summer and is also being organized by the IWP.

Hosted by the Virtual Writing University, funding for these courses comes from the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs as well as the University of Iowa. More information for the initial February course can be found here.

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