Song of 2,000 Whitman Lovers

05 Jan

By Jennifer Burek Pierce and Micah Bateman

Walt Whitman

[ Alex Robbins for The Chronicle Review ]

JBP: When the University of Iowa’s first MOOC, a six-week examination of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” was announced, I clicked the registration link mere seconds later. Did I believe in MOOCs as a mode of learning? Did I have time for this sort of thing? None of those pesky thoughts intruded, only the lure of the world and words of Whitman: “I loafe and invite my soul,” etc. Registration completed, I eagerly looked for information about the schedule, the texts, and the assignments. There I found, listed among the six course instructors, one of my students, Micah Bateman.

Thus began a semester in which our teaching and learning roles alternated with the day of the week. I taught our graduate seminar in the “History of Readers and Reading,” while Micah moderated online conversations in the MOOC created by the International Writing Program and two university faculty members. Our quite separate enthusiasm for poetry turned into mild trepidation before the overwhelming wonder of 2,000 voices pulled us into conversations with each other and with the rest of the students. Unbeknownst to each other, we both adopted the mantra “What would Whitman do?” to guide us.

MB: In preparing for the MOOC, I tried to imagine the ideal student. The open nature of MOOCs posits one: an eager student who doesn’t have access, whether because of money or geography, to college. Like Whitman himself, our student would be an autodidact, a hungry, undisciplined, self-taught savant. Or in high school or the military, or a stay-at-home parent, a widow, a person who was looking for something and would find it in poetry.

As a teaching assistant, that was a student I thought I could handle. After all, I had a shiny new M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and had taught parts of “Song of Myself” in an upper-level undergraduate English course. Could I moderate discussion of Whitman for some retirees and high-school students? No sweat.

[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: ]

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Posted by on January 5, 2015 in MOOCs in the News, Op-Ed


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