Tuesday, November 20, 2012

R.I.P. ModPo

So my ModPo class is over (for those not in the know, this was a free MOOC that I have been taking for the past 10 weeks at coursera.org).  I heard about the MOOCs on coursera.org via some conversations on Ted Talks and I am so glad that I happened to stumble on this web site -- and these opportunities for free, online courses.

What have a learned in 10 weeks?  One answer to this question has to do with teaching.  Al Filreis, the instructor for ModPo, was brilliant.  He does the kind of careful reading approach that I use in literature classes but ... he reminded me that I need to slow down.  Since I use primarily novels, sometimes I forget that slowing down and "playing with" passages can be a great activity to do.  For example, when my LIT 205 class was reading Maryse Conde's I, Tituba not too long ago (she is a fabulous, fabulous Caribbean writer!), I picked a few important passages (at least ones I thought were saying "something"), collected 10 dictionaries from around our building (for each of the ten students in the class), and gave each of them one of the passages.  I then asked them to look up any of the key words in the passage -- even if they thought they already knew the word in question -- and see what connections they might be able to make about this isolated passage.  The results were fabulous -- we had a fantastic conversation about language and words and power and all that good stuff!  I think I was doing something like this activity already but ... I needed that reminder to slow down even further so the students (and me!) get the chance to wrap our heads around that Conde might be trying to do with her novel.

So from a teaching perspective, I learned how to be a more effective educator.  But that's not all, of course -- the other new quality in my life is a renewed appreciation for poetry, a form of literature that has often scared me a little.  I think there is a part of me that has always been drawn to poetry (probably one reason I love connecting up with the St Louis Poetry Center) but -- since I don't see myself as a poet -- sometimes I have felt that (1) I can't hang out with poets since I am not one of the crowd and (2) that poetry is just one of those puzzles that I am never going to "get."  So the challenge in taking this course was letting go of the emotional turmoil that poetry often brings in the door.  And did I mention that I was taking this MOOC at the same time, of course, as trying to complete a dissertation?  But maybe there was something about tackling something hard (poetry!) and then taking that same energy to something equally hard (my dissertation!).  Certainly, the poetry we looked at has given me a new sense of the power of language and how it can be used and manipulated to capture "truth."  I have already integrated a lot of "classic" poems into my upcoming Spring 2013 American Literature class.

The information in ModPo altered the way I think about poetry.  Sure, I was already pretty acquainted with Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman but I love the way that our instructor brought these two poets together.  Now a lot of the more modern poetry we looked at (like Erica Baum and the imagists like H.D.) make so much more sense to me when you see the ancestry of American poetry in the way that Filreis explained (and set it up).  And William Carlos Williams!  Wow!  Of course, I knew "The Red Wheelbarrow" but this guy was/ is amazing!

Since ModPo became my hour or so of mindless television (since Jim and I don't have cable), I knew a few days ago that I was going to need to find something like ModPo to help me keep learning and writing and all that fun stuff.  So .....

I have already started another MOOC -- this time it is through udemy.com.  This professor - -Dr Amy Hungerford from Yale University -- is conducting a MOOC on the American Novel since 1945.  I can already tell you that this MOOC will take me longer than 10 weeks (especially with a looming dissertation deadline!).  I have already listened to the first lecture (about a 45 minute introduction to the course and the ideas/ themes behind the course) and I just finished the first reading (Richard Wright's BLACK BOY which I first read as an undergraduate many years ago!) so I will be able to tackle the next video lecture soon! (each lecture is about 45 minutes so I will need to be careful about putting this time into my schedule).

But for today?!  I am about to start and intensive four days of writing!  I WILL finish the analysis chapter!  (and then just the conclusion to go!)

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