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Massive Open Online Course launches fall program

BY AARON WALKER | SEPTEMBER 26, 2014 5:00 AM

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After what the creators consider a successful summer, University of Iowa’s International Writing Program is launching its second Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC, today.

“How Writers Write Fiction” is the successor to this summer’s “How Writers Write Poetry”. 

The poetry course registered just over 4,500 participants. The fall fiction course has already registered 7,425.

A MOOC is a free online course equipped with lecture videos, discussion boards, and assignments designed to allow people from all over the world to receive education on a topic.

The IWP has made a number of changes to the program as enrollment grows. 

Susannah Shive, the IWP distance learning coordinator, said the program’s enrollment is likely to double. She described how the evolving model is based more on peer workshops.

“In ‘How Writers Write Fiction’, moderators won’t offer direct feedback to any of the users on their writing,” Shive said. “Instead, we’ve redesigned the workshops of selected participants’ work to be more inviting and more useful to all the participants.”

Because the nature of creative writing requires significant analysis, review, and rewriting; with more students, more critics are required. Shive said the number of moderators would not be able to handle the workload.

“In leading workshops, moderators will offer an initial critique of the selected work and will pose critique questions to the entire community of users so that everyone can experience the value of the formal workshop process,” Shive said.

Shive said the goal of the program is creating an effective learning experience for all writers.

“[The] main goal with the MOOCs is reaching out to aspiring writers from all over the world who don’t have access to programs like this,” said Samantha Nissen, the IWP’s program coordinator for outreach and special programs.

In order to accomplish this and grow their student base, Nissen said they rely heavily on their alumni network.

The Fall Residency Program is the IWP’s largest. Each year 30 writers stay for three months to write at the UI.

“[We have] a network of around 1500 alumni from all over the world,” Nissen said.

Coursera, the world’s largest MOOC provider reported 40 percent of their MOOC users come from developing countries. They provide courses to over five million students in 190 countries.

“We are proud to be part of the community working to promote open access to education internationally,” Nissen said, “And to create opportunities for University of Iowa students, professors, and staff; the Iowa City community; and Iowans throughout the state to become part of an international learning experience.”

Some of the staff members expressed similar optimistic ideas about their spreading of education.
“[It’s] wonderful to see [that] different countries came together [and] formed a large amorphous community of kind and gracious writers,” said Mary Hickman-Fernandez, who served as a MOOC instructor and moderated classes. 

Hickman-Fernandez said some people believe MOOC style classes for creative writing programs could take away from things like an MFA program. She said that’s not the case, MOOCs simply offer a different style of learning.

“[A MOOC] is not [a] small focused classroom experience but instead a larger community of writers,” Hickman-Fernandez said. “[MOOCs offer a] different focus rather than intensive course you’d be rigorously involved in for a lot of years.”


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