University opens second MOOC

BY LILY ABROMEIT | MAY 13, 2014 5:00 AM

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The University of Iowa is continuing on the path toward creating an international classroom.

In February, the International Writing program launched the first Massive Open Online Course for students studying in Iowa City as well as all around the world.

Beginning this summer, another interactive online course will be available. The online courses are available to anyone with Internet access, and they focus on an interactive online forum that runs 24/7.

“They’re offering a new angle and vision on traditional means of delivering means of information,” said IWP Director Christopher Merrill. “Anybody who has access to the Internet has the chance to hear really superb writers, and artists, and thinkers talk about what they love, and I think that’s a great boon for the writing and educational enterprise.”

Merrill co-taught the first course, “Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself,” with UI English professor Ed Folsom. The course reached approximately 2,000 students from around the world.

“Since students were from around the world, time zones were irrelevant, and people were posting comments day and night,” Folsom wrote in an email. “The level of discussion was impressive, and many students reported that, even if they were shy about posting comments, they enjoyed reading the ongoing discussion. The evaluations of students at the end of the [course] were universally positive, and a number of people found the course a transformative experience.”

Merrill said the UI seemed to find a way to create this experience that really “strikes a chord.”

The UI has gone about the process in a unique way, said Ashley Davidson, the IWP program coordinator for outreach and special programs.

Davidson said the UI launched its own platform and thus was able to provide service directly instead of relying on other service providers.

“The advantage to that is you have a lot of freedom in the design of the course and how the course runs,” she said. “It’s not just sitting down in front of a computer and watching a video.”

Being in the City of Literature, Davidson said, the people in the IWP thought it would be fitting to make the second round of courses related to writing.

“How Writers Write Poetry” will be held in the summer and “How Writers Write: Talks on Craft and Commitment” will be introduced in September.

“I hope that it will just facilitate a really great and diverse community of writers, at least for the duration of the course,” said Micah Bateman, a graduate assistant in distance learning. “[Students will be able to] engage with writing a little, and the writing community [will be] expanded to include a diversity of voices to include other voices and cultural backgrounds.”

Bateman, who works closely with designing and producing the course structure and materials, said the greatest advantage is that the information and accessibility to knowledge will be available to a wider audience.

“Instead of a really great professor being locked behind this pay wall of tuition … [people] can actually take this [course] totally for free and … have access to this really brilliant mind,” he said.

Folsom said these courses are also valuable advertising tools for the university.

“Two thousand people around the world now have a positive view of the University of Iowa, and that view is based on an actual encounter with an educational and intellectual experience that this university offered them for free,” he said. “Well-planned and well-taught [online courses] give the world a sample of what the University of Iowa does best.” 

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