My Coursera course, “The Modern and the Postmodern,” might have been labeled “course least likely to become a MOOC.” In many ways, it is an old-fashioned “great books” course, although I prefer to call it a “good-enough books” course, and in the 20 years I’ve been teaching it, it has always relied heavily on student interaction in the classroom.
We’ve always started in the late 18th century, usually with Kant and Rousseau, and then wound our way through 200 years of mostly European intellectual history—Karl Marx, Gustave Flaubert, and Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th century, Sigmund Freud, Virginia Woolf, and Michel Foucault in the 20th. In recent years we’ve finished up with the philosophers Kwame Anthony Appiah, Judith Butler, and Slavoj Zizek. We are interested in what happens when the modern search for the “really real” is replaced by the postmodern embrace of intensity and difference. We explore how modernist artists and writers have looked for a foundation that will ground their ideas and formal experimentation, while postmodernists have given up the search for a firm base.
Last summer my institution, Wesleyan University, where I am president, became the first liberal-arts college to join Coursera. I’d been discussing online education with the faculty, students, and board members, and I had a notion that we should start our own program. But after reading about Coursera’s success in attracting large numbers of students to courses taught by talented professors at strong universities, it seemed to me that we should become a partner. The Coursera folks wanted to know which classes we would offer, but at that point summer was half over, and I wasn’t certain who among my colleagues would want to participate. I knew I could volunteer myself for starters, and so that’s what I did. Eventually, professors from six different departments agreed to join me in offering courses.
If “The Modern and the Postmodern” is an unlikely candidate for a MOOC, I was an equally unlikely candidate to teach one.
[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: http://chronicle.com/article/My-Modern-MOOC-Experience/138781/ ]