- Poe in Cyberspace: Poe MOOC Blog
Master of the unexpected, Edgar Allan Poe took pains to avoid the middle path of conventional writers, preferring the higher ground of aesthetic exploration—or the nascent base of popular culture. His creative strategy might be explained by the theory of disruptive innovation, often applied today to the dramatic challenges to higher education being posed by MOOCs (massive open online courses). In these arresting developments, Poe is playing a small but interesting part.
On November 12, 2012, a headline in the New York Times proclaimed it to be “The Year of the MOOC.” Unlike previous online courses, MOOCs are open, free of cost, and without prerequisites, available to anyone with an Internet connection who understands the language of instruction, often English. In addition, MOOCs are massive: there is no limit to class size: one early MOOC on artificial intelligence at Stanford University attracted an unprecedented 160,000 students. Coursera, the leading provider of MOOCs, reached 1 million users in just four months, faster than Facebook or Twitter accomplished that same feat. And by mid-2013 it was offering 423 college-level courses through 84 educational partners to 4,349,523 students in every country in the world—an unprecedented development in light of the typical glacial pace of things in academia. But first let’s review Poe’s role in these massive open online courses.
For his versatility in the fields of poetry, the short story, science fiction, the Gothic, and the detective story, Poe was selected for inclusion in three literary surveys in early MOOCs: a nineteenth-century American poetry MOOC at Harvard, an American Renaissance MOOC at Saylor online, and a Science Fiction and Fantasy MOOC at Michigan. [End Page 237]
The Poetry in America MOOC at Harvard, offered in the EdX format and taught by Eliza New, starts in the seventeenth century with the Poetry of Early New England: “The first module of a course surveying 300+ years of poetry in America, from the Puritans to the avant-garde poets of this new century,” will cover “Poe, Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Williams, Hughes . . .” (https://www.edx.org/course/harvard-university/ai12-1x/poetry-america-poetry-early-new/937).
The American Renaissance MOOC at Saylor online aims in part to correct F. O. Matthiessen’s decision in 1941 to omit Poe from his landmark work that named that literary period. The Saylor MOOC poses the question, “What was it in American culture and society that led to the dramatic outburst of literary creativity in this era?” It intends to “analyze competing conceptualizations of poetry and its construction and purpose, with particular attention to Poe, Emerson, and Whitman,” one goal being “to describe the emergence of the short story as a form, with reference to specific stories by Hawthorne and Poe.” Online readings will be assigned on the backgrounds of the short story, the Gothic tradition, and the detective story, followed by Poe’s review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales, “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “Ligeia,” “The Imp of the Perverse,” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue” (http://www.saylor.org/courses/engl405/).
Eric Rabkin had the advantage of building his MOOC on a course he previously offered in a classroom at the University of Michigan. He describes the aim of his MOOC, the full title of which is Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, as follows: “In addition to dealing with some terrific fiction, this course aims to help everyone think more imaginatively, read more deeply, and write more powerfully.” Each unit in the MOOC contains video clips, book-length readings, a student essay assignment, a required response to the essay by four class peers in the continuing group, a quiz, and a participant forum. Individual grading was impossible because Rabkin’s MOOC had thirty-nine thousand students: “If any participant desires a grade, the grade will be determined by the quality and quantity of the writing and responses to the writing of others.”
Using The Portable Poe as his text, Rabkin assigned “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” “The Oval Portrait,” “The Facts...