It’s safe to say that many fans of poet Robert Pinsky would love to take a class with him. Now they can, for free and while staying put, whether they’re in Anchorage or Zanzibar.
Anyone in the world who can go online can sign up for The Art of Poetry class being taught by the former three-time US poet laureate, College of Arts & Sciences professor of English and creative writing, winner of multiple literary awards, and a man who graces night spots with his singular brand of jazz poetry. The course makes its debut tomorrow, one of a series of MOOCs (massive open online courses) developed as part of BU’s Digital Learning Initiative (DLI), in collaboration with edX, an online learning platform run by a consortium of universities, led by Harvard and MIT, that BU joined last year.
The MOOC is not simply a videotaped classroom session. Engaging and interactive, The Art of Poetry, says Pinsky, is based on his experiences of the web “as a setting for serious learning,” inspired by the “Classic Poem” discussions he conducted for years as poetry editor of Slate. From 1997 to 2000, as the nation’s 39th poet laureate, and in the years since, Pinsky, the author of 24 books, 8 of them collections of poetry, has devoted much of his career to fostering a wider, deeper appreciation of his craft, dispelling the notion that poetry is too obscure or inaccessible to be enjoyed like prose or music. The MOOC is in the spirit of the videos in the Favorite Poem Project, begun by Pinsky as poet laureate to celebrate, document, and encourage poetry’s role in Americans’ lives. Project director Duy Doan also worked to put together the elements of the new MOOC, says Pinsky. More than 13,000 people have preregistered for the poetry class, according to Romy Ruukel, DLI associate director.
Video discussions are an important part of the class. Groups of “seven or eight people talk with me about a topic like ‘difficulty’ or ‘sonnets’ or ‘poetry and music,’” says Pinsky, whose 2013 anthology Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters has just been released in paperback.
Among the range of people in the video are a professional gardener, a retiree, a high school student, an engineer, and a young poet working toward a creative writing MFA. The variety of ages and backgrounds of people “exemplifies the ideals of the course. The people in the video communicate with one another in ways enhanced by their differences,” says Pinsky. “Some of them don’t know much about poetry and some, like that poet, are immersed in the art. More than institutional classrooms, the MOOC can welcome different kinds of students, without sacrificing intellectual stringency.” At its best, he says, the online medium can make these differences into a good thing.
The course description for the Art for Poetry MOOC notes that it “is demanding, and based on a certain kind of intense, exigent reading, requiring prolonged—in fact, repeated—attention to specific poems.” The course will include historical poems as well as contemporary work and will explore such issues as techniques of sound in free verse and poetry’s relationship to music.
Membership in edX required the University to design five MOOCs, which are free and open to students globally. The Art of Poetry is one of those, all developed by the DLI. BU’s first MOOC, Sabermetrics 101, drew almost 17,000 students when it launched last spring. A second MOOC, War for the Greater Middle East, taught by Andrew Bacevich, a College of Arts & Sciences and Pardee School of Global Studies professor emeritus of history and of international relations, launched last week. A fourth, Alien Worlds: The Science of Exoplanet Discovery and Characterization, taught by Andrew West, a CAS assistant astronomy professor, will debut at the end of October. An AP Physics I MOOC is planned for January 2015.
In accordance with a strategy instituted by University President Robert A. Brown, the DLI also will distribute $400,000 in seed grants to professors who submit ideas for creative uses of educational technology.