Taking Brown University Lit Courses – For Free

29 May

At the dawn of the commercial internet, way back in ’95 or ’96, I remember turning around to one of my colleagues and saying: “Our kids are going to be so smart.”

My job, at the time, was competitive intelligence of online services. The words “online” and “search,” which had meaning to me as early as the mid-80s, were only just gaining mass understanding.

The genesis of my comment was the newly  launched Library of Congress website, and I’d been tooling around it for the last two or three hours (one of the benefits of my job was that I could waste time on the Web – and get paid for it). As one of the two largest libraries in the world, the LOC is truly a national treasure for knowledge seekers. But since it’s located in Washington, D.C., and most people aren’t able to check out books, for much of its history it has been a walled garden.

The Web changed that. Almost overnight, many of its collections were digitized and made available – for free – to anyone with a computer and dial-up connection. I was fully aware of the implications of “online” long before beginning my career in digital media in 1985, but the rollout of the National Digital Library and its contents truly astonished me.

It wasn’t the last time that I felt that way. In fact, there have been numerous occasions over the last 30 years in which technology and media have intersected to pleasantly surprise me. And it has never been the outcome, but the speed at which we reach that development that astounds me.

And last night, it happened again. The rush of adrenaline was enough to keep me awake through the night, too excited to sleep.

A few weeks ago, I began exploring MOOC’s (massive open online courses) on Udacity and Coursera. I also looked at fee-based online courses at Lynda.com. I’ve always attended Webinars or used YouTube to pick up skills here and there, but Udacity and Coursera were different. Top universities, 6-12 week intensive courses on complicated subjects. It was too good to pass up – and yes, this is truly disruptive to the current status quo.

So, I enrolled in a couple, and yesterday I received an email for my first class to start on Monday. It’s a Brown University course taught by a well-regarded professor of comparative literature, Arnold Weinstein. It’s called “The Fiction of Relationship.”

The requirements to earn a Statement of Distinction (it’s free, so no Brown credits awarded) are still tough: read 12 works of literature, write five short papers (about 2 pages apiece), one longer paper, attend 2 hours of lectures, and grade and review three works of your peers nearly every week.

I know, right? This is going to be so much fun. And I mean that.

To have access to such amazing knowledge – for free and at my own leisure – is a slice of heaven.

The Internet: Greatest. Invention. Ever.

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4 Responses to “Taking Brown University Lit Courses – For Free”

  1. Bill Camarda June 3, 2013 at 7:53 am #

    Fellow student in Prof. Weinstein’s course here — and fellow NJ-based professional communicator as well. I’m equally excited about this class. I’ve taken several of Prof. Weinstein’s paid audio courses from the Teaching Company, and they were outstanding. If anyone had told me I would ever have the opportunity to study with him “personally,” I would have thought they were crazy. The Internet sure is amazing, isn’t it?

    I recently finished Prof. Michael Roth’s Coursera course The Modern and the Postmodern, and highly recommend that as well. All the best of luck in Prof. Weinstein’s course!

    • Diane Thieke June 3, 2013 at 7:59 am #

      Hi Bill,
      Thanks for stopping by and great to meet a fellow NJ communicator! I’m very excited about this class and fully expect to take more. I noticed that there are several in this class that took The Modern and Postmodern, and I think that bodes well for this one.
      And yes – the Internet is amazing…I feel very lucky to be alive at this point in history. Looking forward to great discussions!

  2. themisanthropologist July 9, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

    Sounds great! I looked for courses on coursera last year but didn’t really find anything interesting. A class in literature would be great though! I wonder if it’s too late to enroll? lol.

    • Diane Thieke July 9, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

      I think this is Brown’s first attempt at a lit course. So far it seems to be going well, so let’s hope they do more. Certificates are tied to making the deadlines, but you can enroll to audit – which is more leisurely. 🙂

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