Sunday, November 4, 2012

Live Classes versus MOOC Mania

The state of teaching is in flux. Think of the change from horse and buggy to automobile.

This fall the Steiny Road Poet taught her Inspired by Gertrude Stein writing workshop at the Hudson Valley Writers Center (HVWC) in Sleepy Hollow, New York. It was the second time she taught this course, which she had developed in response to Insight & Identity: Contemporary Artists & Gertrude Stein, an exhibition mounted at the Stanford in Washington Art Gallery earlier this year. For the Stanford-in-Washington workshop, she had 11 students. For the HVWC workshop, she had four.

The Poet worked hard in both cases to make potential attendees aware of her workshop, sending daily Tweets about Stein, writing occasional Facebook entries, mounting blog posts, exercising word-of-mouth promotion, snail mailing catalogs. There was interest in workshop #2 and good student feedback on the first workshop, but in the end, she believes this is all part of a trend exhibiting a declining enrollment in live classes. Part of it is the economy—people can’t afford to spend money on nonessential activities.

However, the question she is now asking is why pay for a poetry workshop when the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) organization Coursera is offering an amazing Modern Poetry course taught by an Ivy League professor who makes you feel that you are sitting at his table talking to you, coaching you, giving you feedback that motivates you to read the hardest of the contemporary poets? Are live teachers to become headless horsemen?