Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Next up, in online course world

My MuslimWorld course ends next week.  My Alexander course starts now. 

Alexander pictures

What is it about? 
"This is a course about the life, leadership, and legacies of perhaps the greatest warrior in history and certainly one of its most effective, if controversial, leaders.  The course invites you to ask and answer a number of questions about Alexander’s story that are just as fascinating and relevant today as they were 23 centuries ago.
First, how did Alexander conquer the Persian empire in less than a decade, without ever losing a major battle? The Persian empire was the largest and most successful empire in the long history of the ancient Near East. Before Alexander conquered the Persian empire, no one believed it could be done, let alone by someone in his early twenties. It just can’t have happened; but it did. Over the next few months I’ll explain how.
Second, we’ll ask: what were the leadership qualities that Alexander possessed? What did Alexander know, what did he do to get tens of thousands of people to risk their lives repeatedly on battlefields to help him achieve his goals? Perhaps more importantly, how did he get people who had been enemies to put down their weapons and work together? Were – are - those leadership qualities passed down in the genes? Can leadership be taught or learned? If so, how?
Third, we will take on one of the most controversial questions about Alexander: was history’s greatest warrior gay? Straight? Bisexual? Can we understand Alexander’s sexuality using modern terms such as gay or straight or bisexual, as some historians have argued? Or are such terms fundamentally misleading when applied to an ancient culture?
Finally, we will look at the question of Alexander’s legacies. Is it really true, as some scholars have claimed, that Alexander appeared at the end of the fourth century B.C.E. like a kind of fiery comet that burned brightly for a short time and then exploded, leaving nothing but a trail of mythic vapor? Or did he fundamentally change the world in which he lived in ways that are still being felt today?"

- Was Alexander Great? The Life, Leadership, and Legacies of History’s Greatest Warrior is HIST229x on  .  The course instructor is Guy MacLean Rogers, Professor of Classics and History at Wellesley College.  Come on, join up. 


t said...

It will soon be quit time for my Alexander course. Why? 1. I'm a little tired and it's a little more detail than I care for about Alexander. The Oliver Stone film (Colin Farrell as Alexander) was excellent, and this course is the same thing basically stretched out. 2. Infrastructure pains, the video is expensive, takes ages to load, so I end up reading the transcripts instead, which is stressful. 3. Of course the course is fun, but maybe not enough fun. The discussion forum did not feel interactive - maybe that will improve when we get to know one another, or when I get used to the edX platform (slightly different layout from Coursera). I don't really want to do any writing assignments for a while. I just finished the MuslimWorld course this week.

How did I ever survive five or more courses per semester? Now it seems two are enough. Granted I have other time commitments, but...

OK, off to try out Alexander week two. Sorry that I may not stay. I'm also quitting functional analysis. Maybe I should take a break from the whole online course thing, for a few weeks.

t said...

GASP, WOW. I absolutely did the right thing to drop the Alexander Course. And then absolutely did the right thing to return just now. Amazingly beautiful what is happening there. Essentially, the instructor collects the "discussion forum" responses to the various weekly questions and presents a short essay every week summarizing these responses. In some cases, the participants have ideas and comments that expand the known / accepted answers; for example drawing a parallel to a hero from another faraway culture.

So this is my new plan:
At least twice in the past I watched the movie Alexander.
I immersed in a week or two of the Wellesley edX course and quit. Yesterday, I reviewed the Wikipedia article for Alexander.
Now I'll take an hour or two to enjoy the summaries and participate in the same Wellesley edX course, which is now drawing to a close - Alexander has already reached the Levant and Egypt.

Maybe I should try revisiting the other courses I dropped recently:
- Roman Architecture from Yale + Coursera
- Financial Analysis and Decision-Making from Tsinghua + edX
and I may try a light approach for the upcoming
Marriage and the Movies (Wellesley + Coursera)

I like the thought that I am a fine teacher like some of these profs. Adaptible, stylish in the sense that I vary my engagement style. It would be nice if this was a job with financial rewards similar to say Management Consulting then I would be SET :)

t said...

PART TWO of Alexander course review in Inside Higher Ed Source , by the Instructor

Perhaps even more remarkably, as we had hoped for, almost from the first day of the course, students have taken ownership of Alexander the MOOC. Each week after we post our lecture videos, forum discussion questions, exercises, and weekly exams, we receive hundreds of thoughtful, learned, and insightful posts from the students.

To cite just one example, in response to a forum discussion question about how Alexander helped his soldiers to deal with the stress of combat by listening to their stories after a battle, one student, who commanded a unit during the Iraq war, posted a response in which he talked about how he had helped the men under his command to cope with the trauma and stress of living through IED attacks by sitting down and talking things over with them.

Where else but in a MOOC global seminar are students (and professors) able to draw upon so many and such varied experiences to help us understand the past and its relationship to the present?

Our students also have been making contributions to the course glossary, bibliography, and image archive.

As you might recall from my previous posting, we designed Alexander the MOOC to give students opportunities to help create and even run the course itself, and to use the medium itself as a research tool. Although these are still relatively early days in the flight of Alexander the MOOC, there are encouraging signs that our experiment in the creation of a MOOC that is both a learning and research experience has taken off and is gaining altitude.

Later on in the course we will be embarking upon an unprecedented group writing exercise that will truly push the online teaching and research envelope. Can 17,500 people from all over the world write a historical source critique together that is worthy of scholarly publication?

We’ll soon find out.

Guy MacLean Rogers is Kemper Professor of Classics and History at Wellesley College

t said...

PART ONE of the Alexander Course review at InsideHigherEd Source written by the Instructor.

Alexander the MOOC Lifts Off
March 3, 2014 - 8:08pm
Guy M. Rogers

Alexander the MOOC is up - and flying.

Lift-off took place on the morning of Tuesday February 4th. By then more than 17,000 had registered to take History 229X “Was Alexander Great?” Our numbers have actually grown over the past month and we now have about 17,500 people from over 130 countries, ages 12 to 86, taking our EdX/WellesleyX course.

Perhaps somewhat predictably, our class includes 203 students from Greece. But we also have 82 students from Brazil, 32 students from Sudan, 26 from Pakistan, 8 from Iran, 8 from Viet Nam, 4 from Kazakhstan, 2 from Congo, and 1 from Mongolia. Alexander would be pleased.

More impressive than the numbers and where they come from though was the immediate engagement and academic credentials of those taking the course. Nearly 3400 students already have filled out (all or parts of) our survey about historical leadership and attitudes toward Alexander.

The survey has yielded some amazing information. More than 37% of those who signed up to take History 229X hold Masters’ degrees or Doctorates. Almost 40% already have a B.A. or a B.S. These statistics indicate that Alexander the MOOC really is a kind of global, graduate history seminar.

Perhaps even more revealing is the fact that 96% of those who filled out our survey said that that they were taking the course for reasons of intellectual curiosity. We were delighted that others also said that they had signed up to receive a certificate or for other reasons.

But we were truly surprised that so many of our registered students simply wanted to learn more about Alexander and leadership. Who says the liberal arts are dead?

It was also really interesting that our students selected intelligence (17%), the ability to persuade others (13%), and vision (11%) as the three most important characteristics of an effective leader in our survey, and that 64% of them thought that leadership was both genetic and could be taught.

It will be fascinating to see whether the students vote for the same characteristics at the end of the course and still believe that leadership is both in the DNA but can also be learned. I can’t wait to see the results. By taking part in these surveys the students are making a contribution to the study of Alexander and leadership generally. (For more of our results see the attached surveys.)

Read More

t said...

Programmers are so smart :) - I like that the course remembers me even though I dropped out and returned. My test score from week 1 remains.

The masses are so smart :) - I had complained about the 'non-interactive' forums. Well, around Week Two, the discussions started to coalesce, with replies to comments rather than a plethora of individual comments that you had to click click click to reach (and which were really repetitive anyhow). With the new forums, you can read through a real discussion with less time and effort, and definitely with greater enjoyment.

In fact, here is a quote from the Forum, Week Two (Class Four: The Emergence of Macedon) with scrambled usernames:
"Hi Gilxxxx, yes i agree with you about the contact. I think we could learn so much more here if we had more interaction. I hope the staff is going to put us into that direction, otherwise everbody will just keep on adding new post without reading others. Just too bad. Wilxxxxx is right too, by the way!
-posted 30 days ago by Chaxxxxxxxxx"

t said...

The instructor Guy Rogers in his weekly letters to the class, wrote the following about Alexander's life.
I agree.

On his spirited mother Olympias: "Finally, where, I wonder, are all the plays, novels, and operas that should be written about Olympias? ...Although it never happened, I would love to listen to the dueling arias of the first meeting between Olympias and Alexander’s Bactrian wife Roxane!"

On appointing a female governor Ada:
"I agree that it was a fundamentally pragmatic decision... Still, as always, Alexander led from the front. There is a book out there to be written about Alexander and women."