Fantasy and Science Fiction MOOC

Week 1 of a revolutionary Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, is complete.  The Coursera (and Udacity) experience is blowing the lid off of the traditional liberal-arts education, this class included, and I encourage everybody to take a class on either site.

Last year, Sebastian Thun taught an online Artificial Intelligence class to over 500,000 students and subsequently went on to launch Udacity.  It’s not surprising then, that the initial courses from Udacity and Coursera are computer science related.  I believe the english class that I’m taking now, is the first literature course available en masse on either site.

Yet these computer science courses have already proven to be successful, but FantasySF (as it’s known on Twitter) is a different type of course, one that involves subjective discussion.  Unlike in AI, there is no optimal path for which A* to find.  The novel aspect of this course is its structure, which is the same week-to-week for ten weeks:

  1. On Thursdays, a new unit starts with an introductory video from the professor.
  2. The student has five days to read a novel and then write a 270-320 word essay.
  3. Once the essay is submitted on Tuesday, the student is sent five random essays to grade (1-3) and provide anonymous feedback by Thursdays.
  4. On Thursday, feedback is received from the peer evaluations and the cycle starts over.

Now consider the demographic of students: ranging from 12 – 81 and consisting of students from all over the world!  At any time, students can interact with each other on the Forums, which had something like 4000 posts in the first day.  The interaction was so great, that real-life meetups, blogs and book clubs on other websites like Goodreads have spawned.

The professor provides a few insightful videos for each book and has already added an impromptu recording based on Forum discussions.  I’m posting my essay here along with the student feedback.  I found the feedback constructive and spot-on and I have no idea who wrote it.  Even a self-admitted non-native english speaker learned a few new words 🙂

And while I completely disagree with Andrew Hacker’s op-ed, it’s refreshing to take a class with thousands of classmates who want to learn.  For the record, algebra is definitely a class everyone should take…

I’m very interested in where this rabbit hole leads (guess what Book 2 is…) and I’ll continue to post about this experience.  There are certainly things that aren’t working with this format (as evidenced by thousands of disappointed posts on the forums), but hey, we’re still in beta!

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