Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself,’ a Free Six-Week Online Course
January 31, 2014
The International Writing program at the University of Iowa has teamed with The Writing University to offer its first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), “Every Atom: Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself.” Participants will take the six week course designed to “read, consider, and discuss” the epic poem. Taught by University of Iowa professor and Whitman scholar, Ed Folsom, and director of the University’s International Writing Program, Christopher Merrill, the course is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the University of Iowa. The course is free and open to anyone who wishes to enroll, requiring only access to the Internet. Merrill says of the course, “First and foremost we hope that participants will come away with a deeper understanding of ‘Song of Myself,’ which is a fountainhead of American poetry… we use the Whitman Archive, recordings and translations of the poem, images of the poet, and what we hope is a stimulating dialogue to offer insights into Whitman’s extraordinary achievement.”
The University of Iowa will also offer a MOOC entitled “How Writers Write: Talks on Craft and Commitment in May 2014.” The course aims to tackle the question of “how a writer develops and refines the lifelong practice of his/her craft” by looking at the different methods successful authors use to write. Forty authors provide “short, intimate” talks regarding poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and literary translation. Lecture materials and online discussions based on these video talks are provided by Merrill. Contributing authors also offer live question-and-answer sessions. Merrill says of this MOOC, “we hope that this body of knowledge can be used to help apprentice writers from around the world learn their craft.” He goes on to say that, “Writing and reading are solitary activities… the global reach of MOOCs gives us a chance to create new communities of readers and writers.”
Some critics believe that MOOCs might lead to the elimination of brick and mortar institutions and ultimately ruin higher education. But MOOCs seem to embody their own space in learning. Unlike traditional courses, these are free with unlimited enrollment. But, they do not offer course credit and will not help a student achieve a degree. MOOCs are purely for the act of scholarship alone. Susannah Shive, IWP Distance Learning Coordinator said of the Whitman course, “One of our central goals was to create a course that would be accessible and exciting to all sorts of people. I think many people find poetry intimidating… but that’s exactly why we’re excited to get this MOOC out there.”
Enroll in the class, which starts February 17 and ends March 29.