tuned in and dropped out, with no regrets

'Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame Gift Shop' photo (c) 2009, Loren Javier - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/Well, that didn’t take long. Less than a week into the Coursera Fantasy & Science Fiction course, I dropped it like a cheating lover–with no regrets. At first, I was excited about the two readings released early, The Martian Chronicles and The Left Hand of Darkness, but the rest of the reading list disappointed me. Too much fantasy and not enough science fiction, and much of the list I had already encountered (or taught) in my own English courses.

As previously posted, I started The Martian Chronicles early and am about halfway through. I like it and can now look forward to finishing it on my own time, as well as Le Guin’s novel, and probably Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother.

I might have lasted through Frankenstein (I’ve taught that many times), The Island of Doctor Moreau, Dracula, and The Invisible Man, but most of the list just seemed remote to what I expected. One lesson I can see from this is that an advance reading list would help students make informed choices. The course was heavy into the 19th century and I definitely would have preferred a 20th century focus. Maybe I joined too soon, but I wanted to get in and get started. Instead I got in and got out.

The last straw for me, though, was the first reading, one I would cite as a very poor choice to engage students at the beginning of a course–Grimm’s Household Tales. Oh, brother. Talk about flat and dull. And must we have read all 400+ pages to get the gist of it, or was this work meant to weed us out? Well, it worked.

I understand that the course was meant for undergraduates and that I already have the PhD in English, but I really am interested in learning about new areas in a course setting, just not this one. Here’s the reading list (not necessarily in order) for the 10-week course, all of which I now own on my iPad, except for the two print books, which ironically are the ones I will be reading:

  • Grimm’s Household Tales
  • Wells’ The Star, The Invisible Man, and The Island of Doctor Moreau
  • Shelley’s Frankenstein
  • Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars
  • Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse
  • some Poe stories
  • Stoker’s Dracula
  • Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
  • Gilman’s Herland
  • Doctorow’s Little Brother
  • Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (print)
  • Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (print)

Hope I didn’t miss anything in the list. The discussion forums were optional, thankfully, because I cannot stand the chaos of MOOC discussions–too many people talking at once and all for themselves. The weekly writings had odd requirements, but clearly they would not be graded or maybe even read by the endowed professor. Writings were to be between 270-320 words, with no introductory material–just get to the point. No essay prompts or suggestions, we were just to write to enrich other readers, or something like that. For every writing you turned in (weekly), you graded four others. A decent amount of work with the heavy readings. The site itself is a typical LMS, no better or worse than the rest.

So, I’m out and reading on my own.

Categories: online learning, open source, technology

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3 replies

  1. I was in the same course, Barbara, and like you I dropped it at the end of the second week. However, unlike you, I regretted the choice. I was overly enthusiastic and signed up for a few too many courses. So, I dropped the course with the hope that it will be offered again in the future.

    I also have a PhD (anthropology) and have taught at all levels from Kindergarten through university undergrads. For me and many other retired people that sign up for the courses offered through Coursera, Udacity or Udemy, (just to name a few options for free online learning), we’re looking for interesting material to engage us along with some sense of a learning community. I find the MOOC discussions fascinating – ideas and comments coming from people around the world who are passionate about learning. Sure it gets a little messy, but I’ve learned a lot through my discussions with other students.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the Introduction to Sociology course that I recently completed, and love the World Music class that I’m now taking. For me, living on a small tropical island, these kinds of learning opportunities are wonderful – they keep me thinking and coming up with new perspectives on the world around me.


    • I do think I was looking for the same level of interesting material, and being retired might be a better time for me, if that ever happens. My current job is not satisfying, and I thought such a course might fill the need for intellectual stimulation. Maybe trying to squeeze in the experience around a full-time job is too much right now. Later, I’ll think about diving in to such discussions when I find time for another course, but i am still continuing with some of the course readings.

      I began an editing project (link to Letters Project on site) to fill my spare time and it has been an intellectually energizing project that will likely keep me busy for at least a year.

      Thanks for your response; I’m glad to hear that there are good things happening in the discussions. Next time, I’ll have to figure out how to maneuver in them instead of being overwhelmed.


  2. When I previewed the reading list and suggestion to get reading ahead of time I decided to wait. I have three courses at the moment and unfortunately I felt “out of shape” for reading quite that many books. Also, Barbara, you bring up the point that the reading list is the usual high school/undergrad list and nothing more contemporary.


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