Technical Resources: Why Composition (and General Education) should be free (as in beer): the MOOC

Posted on April 23, 2012

By Alex Reid

The MOOC is the massively open online course and there are a number of these now, like Coursera, which delivers courses from Princeton, Penn, Michigan, and Stanford. Then there are also stories like this one about Pearson delivering composition and other courses as part of a self-paced online curriculum. The concept is simple. If you have 10,000 students (or more) taking a course, even if the course is asynchronous, there will always be real-time peers to collaborate with. 

When I think of things like Coursera, I immediately think of the History Channel, PBS, the Science channel and so on. While they are different genres and different audiences, I think one could create a World Civilization course, for example, with the equivalent of one TV season of programming, that had the same production values and entertainment quality as a cable tv show and also covered the material of the course. I think you could do the same thing for a composition course where you could have content on the history of writing and rhetoric, interviews with writers, writing technologies, the cognitive dimensions of writing and so on. That is, I think you could pull off something mildly entertaining that would meet some of the goals of the course. 

The predictable objection here is that composition isn't a "content" course, that is a course about practicing writing. I disagree with that facile distinction. In my view, FYC is a course with content that introduces students to practical rhetorical methods and our understanding of how writing/communication works. For example, students should be introduced to how audience works in rhetoric and how different compositional technologies shape our communcication practices. These, and many other things, are matters of content. 

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