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Rob Holland

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  • 2 reviews
  • 2 completed
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This engaging lecture series conducted by the President of Wesleyan University is a great survey of western intellectual history of the last 150 years or so, and does an admirable job of hitting the high points in the transition from "modernist" to "post-modernist" thought. I took this course immediately after Al Filreis's "Modern and Contemporary Poetry" (ModPo) and the style of presentation was quite different, following a more traditional lecture format. It was, however, nicely broken up with imagery and film clips from the actual classroom, as well as videos of some of the more contemporary thinkers. It was interesting to watch Professor Roth adapt from the academic environment, where he could pace the front of the classroom, to a more confined environment in front of the camera. The readings were interesting and for the most part available online, though I did buy several of the recommended books to dig deeper into some of the thinkers. The readings were a mix of philosophy and literature, including fiction and poetry, and the course connected the dots quite nicely. Faculty/staff participation in the forums was a good deal less active than in ModPo, and as a result I found myself participating less in discussions. The reading load was a good deal heavier than ModPo as well, which took up much of my discretionary time. I deliberately opted not to attempt to earn a certificate, as writing the papers was both more time- consuming and less interesting to me than absorbing the flow of ideas that came out of the lectures. Highly recommended.
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Al Filreis's "ModPo," as it's affectionately known, has become legendary in the MOOC universe, deservedly. This is due primarily to the participative energy and enthusiasm that Filreis and his assisting TAs bring to the enterprise, and the somewhat unorthodox pedagogy, which eschews lectures and uses videos of Socratic close readings to teach students not only what the poems may mean, but more importantly how to approach any "difficult" poem they might encounter. This approach puts the lie to the assertion that online learning has to be impersonal and dry. The importance of the energy factor can't be overstated. While professors of several other MOOCs I have taken have made at best cameo appearances in the discussion forums, Filreis (and his TAs) monitored and commented on thousands of student discussions, encouraging and challenging us as we explored and questioned the material. Questioning the material was also a key characteristic of the course. Much of the poetry, particularly the more contemporary examples, was not only difficult but challenged traditional ideas of what poetry is, should be, and what it does. Some of the new methodology of such artists as Kenny Goldsmith and Charles Bernstein is of the "uncreative" school, and can raise the hackles of more traditional lovers of poetry. If you want an intellectual experience that blows out the cobwebs, makes you angry and amazed by turns, and turns many of your assumptions about literature on their head, take this course.