The first Coursera class I signed up for officially opened today!

The professor running the course, Dr. Eric Rabkin of the University of Michigan, is a pretty good lecturer, and the video clip lectures are actually much more engaging than I expected. I don’t know if courses presented by other universities will have a similar format, but in the clips for this course, Dr. Rabkin sits right in front of the camera with his notes and a computer, so you feel like he’s talking more directly to you, rather than a traditional large lecture class where you might be sitting very far away from the lecturer. Of course, at this point this is a one-way dialogue, and I wonder how more interaction, in a traditional seminar-style class, would affect my learning (particularly once he really starts presenting in-depth material on each unit).

The course has a novel or novel-length reading assigned each week, and students are to write an essay (270 to 320 words) that will “enrich the understanding of an intelligent and attentive fellow student.” We will also be evaluating the work of four other students each week, which I think is very cool. My World Literature course (online) at AB-Tech was structured in a similar way–a reading each week, with a forum post (350 word minimum, no max restriction–one of my essays was over 1000) responding to certain general ideas about the work. However, in terms of “peer evaluation,” we were just supposed to “respond” to two other posts. Some of the responses I got were along the lines of “I agree!” and “I liked your essay.” Not exactly constructive or thoughtful.  I am hoping that the hypothetical “intelligent and attentive” students that are my peers in this course are a bit more insightful!

This week’s reading is the 1886 (I believe) Lucy Crane translation of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, with illustrations by her husband, Walter Crane. There is a free .pdf of the book if anyone else would like to read it, and the text really is wonderfully illustrated. I do have to say, though, particularly if you’re not familiar with old fairy tales, be prepared for the stories to be pretty dismal. “Happily ever after” is not a thing in these stories.

One more thing I’d like to note about this class and presumably other MOOCs: the (optional) discussion boards are a little bit overwhelming for someone that doesn’t regularly post in a massive forum, BUT there are students in the class from ALL OVER THE WORLD, which is just amazing! I am not sure if anyone is going to build any lasting relationships getting to know each other in this way (some of my classmates are setting up Skype groups with folks from their geographical region though), but it’s still pretty awesome that this format has opened up the same content to such a broad international community.