Keeping the “human” in humanities MOOCs

As so much of writing courses are built around face-to-face reviewing of students’ work by both instructors and peers, a massive online writing course may seem counterintuitive.

While peer interaction has proven to be an obstacle in many MOOCs, Lindquist said it’s one aspect of the real world classroom she hopes to retain.

“It is hard to imagine having a human, teacher-ly presence in this space,” she admitted. “Part of what’s at work is a peer review system we developed internally called ‘Eli.’ It teaches students how to be better writers by looking at each other’s work.  With 1,000 plus participants working with a team of five people, it’s hard to reach every student. How to arrange students into useful collaborations with each other is one of the challenges.”

Another focus of the course will be the act of learning itself.

The course, which is called “Thinking Like a Writer,” is designed to not just make a student into a better writer, Lindquist said, but also a better learner of writing.

Early on in the MOOC, participants — who are predicted to be a mix of college students, high school students and even other writing teachers — will be asked to write about something they’ve learned to do in the past, like how to play guitar or cook. Then they will write about what it’s like learning how to write.

They can then read and compare those different kinds of learning, as well as the learning methods of their fellow students. The students will later create more rhetorical writing, based on this foundation.

“I think we’re doing something different than what’s been done before with a writing MOOC,” Lindquist said. “It’s thrilling and terrifying.”

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