Friday, October 25, 2013

The Commonwealth Education Trust, MOOCs, and Me

Sometimes an experience comes along that puzzles you, intrigues you, opens your mind up to possibility and makes you want to learn more. It was in this spirit that I accepted an invitation from Judy Curry of the Commonwealth Education Trust to come to Philadelphia for a workshop to put together a MOOC on writing for children.

Yes, I said MOOC, which stands for Massive Open Online Course. Not something I can claim to know anything about. But at the end of this three-day workshop, and with some of the reading and preparation and thinking that led up to it, I'm in awe of this project.

Look at the amazing people who were in that workshop with me:
Tololwa Mollel, writer, author, dramatist, storyteller, performer

Shelley Tanaka, writer, editor, and, I'm proud to say, my teaching colleague at VCFA

Lani Wendt Young, writer, entrepreneur, activist, blogger, storyteller

Summer Edward, writer, Caribbean children's literature specialist, blogger

Alice Curry, writer, anthologist, children's literature scholar

Judy Curry, Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Education Trust.

And here are the fabulous others who are part of the think-tank for this work but couldn't be there for this first round: Gene Luen Yang, Nnedi Okorafor, Finegan Kruckemeyer, John Agard.

We plotted, planned, drafted, revised, charted, mapped a 12-week sequence of online offerings for people anywhere who might want to write for young readers--anywhere with Internet access, that is to say. The course, when it launches, will be offered on the Coursera platform, which already boasts 534 courses and 107 partners.

Some of the love that made this work possible comes from Alice's anthology of stories and poems collected, commissioned and submitted by writers from around the Commonwealth.

Finally, we heard from Al Filreis at Penn who's been teaching poetry online for some years now, and now leads a course in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry through Coursera:



Filreis says that teaching poetry online has been transformative for him as a teacher.

How does one teach writing in this way? The idea of reaching out to massive numbers of people is mind-boggling, elusive, incomprehensible, and completely fascinating. It's exciting to me that I was able to take part in this very beginning conversation. Down the virtual road, I hope this work will stir up international interest in stories for young readers. I hope it will also give voice to writers from many places. And in the end I hope it will lead to original work from many geographical and cultural perspectives.

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