Learning, Writing, & Researching Online

I’ve never been particularly impressed with online courses as those I’ve taken thus far — and there have been several — have been a far cry from the level of engagement, rigor, interest, and participation often found in on-the-ground, elbows-on-the-desk, paper airplane-whizzing classroom. However, I remain optimistic that we will eventually find an online course and even entire program (even an entire university!) that will strike just the right balance, just the right level of rigor and interaction to appropriately and sufficiently complement its brick-and-mortar counterpart. After all, today we have so many opportunities to learn from people around the world and to help teach those who are in extraordinary situations, from young traveling actors and musicians to women and men serving abroad in the armed forces, that it’s really not an option to ignore the possibilities of creating online learning, writing, and researching communities and courses.

All of this is to say that I’ve recently come upon a new attempt at teaching online — a course focused upon the art of poetry: “Poetry: What Is It, and How to Understand It” by Margaret Soltan. It’s free to sign up and all you need to have is an email address, some curiosity, and time.

Soltan’s course is run from a group called “Udemy” and it introduces itself in its thanks-for-joining-us email as “the world’s largest destination for on-demand, online courses.” In other words, it’s a gigantic database of sorts, an interface dedicated to the creation and utilization of online courses (they boast having “over 6,000 courses” currently and approximately “3,700 instructors”). Udemy is a tool that enables users to both participate within as well as create their own online courses.

And, just to give you an idea of the sort of detail and options that Udemy affords its courses and participants, here’s a screen shot of what entering a course entails:

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In other words, not only can you listen to a variety of lectures — often at your own pace and according to your specific interests — but you can also interact directly with the professor/creator of the course, rate/evaluate the course, and get updates and announcements from the creator/professor regarding the course materials. As far as tools are concerned, Udemy seems to be a fairly terrific one — of course, how well courses are evaluated, vetted, and put together is a different story entirely. Although, through the posting of professor profiles (as Soltan has done for her course; you just click on the “i” button in the top right-hand corner of the screen and you can see both a course description and prof/creator profile (if provided)), students and potential users can do some of their own vetting by checking out the credentials of course professors/creators and decide for themselves who they might trust to engage in a bit of low-pressure learning with. But, for the needs and purposes of many teachers and schools today, this seems like it could be a step in the right direction.

And, perhaps best of all (at least for now), many of the courses to be found on Udemy are entirely free. Not all courses, grant you; in fact, some of them are rather pricey given the potential risks involved in committing to an online course (such as likelihood of student follow-through, actual prestige of the course/course creator, usefulness of the information, level of interaction from other participants, etc.). But, then again, most of them are still cheaper than what signing up for a single course at most traditional colleges tend to run for nowadays.

So, if you’ve got computer access and an email address, welcome to a new wide-world of online learning, writing, researching, and networking. Have fun and let me know what you think!

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