Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World


This course is provided by Coursera Coursera
Average Content rating
9/10 stars
based on  29 reviews
Average Instructor rating
7/10 stars
based on  1 review
Average Provider rating
9/10 stars
based on  3156 reviews

Course Description

Instructors:  Eric Rabkin
Fantasy is a key term both in psychology and in the art and artifice of humanity. The things we make, including our stories, reflect, serve, and often shape our needs and desires. We see this everywhere from fairy tale to kiddie lit to myth; from "Cinderella" to Alice in Wonderland to Superman; from building a fort as a child to building ideal, planned cities as whole societies. Fantasy in ways both entertaining and practical serves our persistent needs and desires and illuminates the human mind. Fantasy expresses itself in many ways, from the comfort we feel in the godlike powers of a fairy godmother to the seductive unease we feel confronting Dracula. From a practical viewpoint, of all the fictional forms that fantasy takes, science fiction, from Frankenstein to Avatar, is the most important in our modern world because it is the only kind that explicitly recognizes the profound ways in which science and technology, those key products of the human mind, shape not only our world but our very hopes and fears. This course will explore Fantasy in general and Science Fiction in specific both as art and as insights into ourselves and our world.

Work Expectations

For further information about the coursework, please see the Work Expectations page.

29 Reviews for Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World

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Belinda Beasley profile image
Student rates this course 10/10 stars Completed
This was my first experience of Coursera and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment. I have done a few paid-for online courses and been very disappointed by the standard and the structure, but this exceeded all my expectations. I have learned a lot about the subject and all for free. I am an education junkie who is currently hampered by lack of funds, so Coursera suits me down to the ground. I have a degree in literature and the level of this course was certainly degree standard in terms of the video lectures. Professor Rabkin is an inspiring lecturer with a tangible passion for the subject. This was infectious. There were two to three hours of lectures each week plus a short extra video in response to something that came up that week on the forum. I felt that the Professor put a lot of time and effort into the course himself. For anyone thinking of doing the course, be aware that it takes quite a bit of time each week - I estimated that I spent 15 - 18 hours each week in reading, research, writing the essay, reviewing other essays, watching the videos and using the forum. There has been some criticism of the peer-review process and while I had a few reviews from people who did not seem to know what they were talking about (making erroneous comments about grammar, mostly), the majority of my reviewers were courteous and knowledgeable and made an effort to give constructive feedback. The grading system could be better, but overall I felt I got the grades each week that I deserved. I also felt that I learned a huge amount from doing reviews of other people's work. This democratic approach of learning from each other (with some input from the Professor but gentle and from afar) was a new experience and I found it very rewarding. The forum was fascinating - not only in terms of the ideas which people discussed, but as a fascinating study into human behaviour and psychology. Sometimes it was infuriating and sometimes perplexing, but always entertaining and often enlightening. I loved reading and thinking and writing essays but, finally, the best thing of all has been interacting with people from all over the world. I felt very much part of a global community, sharing ideas and experiences (oh, the excitement of waiting for results each week). I have also made several new friends and the learning continues as several of us (78 to date) have set up a Facebook Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Group. I've also signed up for at least twelve other courses and become an unofficial ambassador for Coursera to anyone who will listen!
Was this review helpful? Yes 8
Efthymia Priki profile image
Student rates this course 10/10 stars Completed
This was my first experience of an online course and I thoroughly enjoyed it! The subject material was very interesting. I had the opportunity to read (and read carefully) works that I always wanted to read but never got around to do it, like Grimms' tales, Dracula and Frankenstein, but also works by authors who I didn't know and have now become favorites, like Cory Doctorow and Ray Bradbury. I particularly liked the structure of the course. In my opinion, the fact that we had to write our assignments prior to watching any lectures was very important, because I could write without prejudice and it gave me the freedom to write about whatever I thought was interesting and express my own ideas about the works. Thus, after going through that process every week, when I finally got to watch the lectures and take the quizzes, I had an adequate familiarity with each work to really enrich my reading through the lectures! It also removed the stress to having to watch the lectures in order to complete the assignments, which would have made it impossible to do them and get a grade given my busy schedule. As for the lectures, Prof. Eric Rabkin is an excellent speaker! It was easy to concentrate on what he said and understand his analyses. Regarding the content of the lectures, I found that it was rich, interesting and it really made me think more critically about the works and about fantasy literature in general. Now, regarding the peer- reviewing system... Though in an ideal world the professor and/or his assistants would (also) mark the assignments, I understand that this is impossible given the large numbers of students. However, even if at times I found the peer-reviewers' comments out of place or unhelpful and felt that I would have liked to be able to discuss it with them, it was still an interesting experience and... I did manage to get good grades. Also, that I was able to peer-review other essays, was a constructive and helpful exercise, and I hope that I did those essays justice. Lastly, through this course I came in contact with lots of great people with similar interests, with whom I had very interesting discussions and exchange of ideas on fantasy literature and more, which was very exciting and it gave me the "feel" of an actual (in- class) course. Overall, this was a great course and I hope there would be more courses like it!
Was this review helpful? Yes 6
Mehreen profile image
Student rates this course 10/10 stars Completed
I would recommend this course for all who would like to enhance their reading. I ended up reading more than ten works that I otherwise would have put off for lack of time. The course also helped me develop the skill of thinking analytically while reading and then writing about it.
Was this review helpful? Yes 5
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matt ledding profile image
Student rates this course 10/10 stars Completed
The Good: The forum and the peer review process were fantastic, not for the peer reviews that were given, but for the learning that takes place when you try to help someone else who makes mistakes surprisingly like yours or someone who is better. That is where the real work is. The Better: Rabkin's explanations, and marvellous humanity were delightful. One has the sense that he is addressing you directly. However, Rabkin is not the only teacher in the pack: there are a large group of peer teachers who are very willing to help you if you ask them. I really have to say that I was as touched by their generousity as by Rabkins'. The Best: It worked, and Rabkin delivered on improving our writing. The limiting writing space tightened up my writing, and the exposure to such excellent writing inspired and humbled me. My writing did "go up a level" and I have been able to help others already with what I learned. The not so good: There were some people who used the anon peer process to troll, and perhaps the addition of a peer grader reputation system could help contextualize this. Also, it appears that Coursera has decided to completely ignore the grading system set out, and give out percentages: exactly what Rabkin innately knew would be a bad idea with peer grading. I think that is harmful on the part of Coursera because English is a NaN course. So, despite the little setbacks, totally predictable in a first time experiment, I would be really tempted to do it again. (264 words... coincidence?) PS: level required in the review is silly. This course cuts across levels. but I will put it as advanced.
Was this review helpful? Yes 4
Tracey T profile image
Student rates this course 5/10 stars Completed
I'm in the final week of the course, and will earn a certificate of accomplishment. Overall, I've learned from the combination of Rabkin's lectures, the reading, and the requirement to write brief (320 word) essays. Each week Rabkin assigns a full book to read, along with the required essay (8 of 10 required for a statement of accomplishment), and 5 peer reviews (30-150 words on form and content for each essay). The video lectures (about 90 minutes of listening time, which can be reduced by speeding up playback) are topical and engaging, though a few contain factual errors about the stories. Unlike some professors (Al Fireis in Modern & Contemporary American Poetry), Rabkin shows no desire to interact with students, never participates in forum discussion, has no live webinars, and hasn't updated his lectures for a few years. However, if you want to approach fantasy and science fiction on a deeper level, his lectures will show you new insights into the work, and if you apply that level of reading to your own essays, you will gain a lot more from your reading. Peer reviews are, as expected from Coursera, a very mixed bag. They're rarely that insightful, in my experience. The essays you're required to grade are often poorly written, cobbled together work, frequently from students for whom English is a second or third language. While it's admirable that they're attempting the work, the time required to puzzle through the writing and the lack of insights most give to the reading, made peer review grading (for me) the absolutely biggest time waster and useless part of the course. One of the biggest negative surprises for me (and many others, based on forums postings) was the grading "scheme" for essays. There is a 3 point scale for form and content. Rabkin, the professor, states that a score of "2" on form and content means "successful" and that the essay is "smoothly written." But we all learned this week - at the END of the course - that awarding a "2" in the class's scoring scheme actually was the equivalent of a "D" - because a "2" in form and "2" in content gave you a "4" for the essay, or a 66% (a "D"). Most students in the class got scores below 80% because of the instructions in how to score. And despite emails to the professor during and after the class, he never responded. TA's that participated in the class stated that they had never had any contact with the professor. SO ... take it if you want to push yourself to read science fiction literature, and if you can learn from lectures and apply those to your own writing, but don't expect valuable peer feedback in general, and know that the scoring will give you a high likelihood of a low Coursera grade. On the plus side, no one in the entire market economy is going to give you a job or fire you because of a Coursera score.
Was this review helpful? Yes 2
VKnutsen profile image
Student rates this course 8/10 stars Completed
I loved reading (or rereading) most of the course literature (all but two works available online for free incidentally). Fantasy works...which bridged into Sci Fi...Brothers Grimm, Alice in Wonderland, Frankenstein, Dracula (the Great Granddaddy to modern vampire stories, some HG Wells works, other early sci fi...up to some modern authors, including wonderful Ray Bradbury. (How did I NOT read him earlier!!!) Now some of the more modern works (in my opinion) were too fashionable (i.e. followed modern thought/fashionable but ill founded ideas) and thus not so good (like Ursula LeGuin Left Hand of Darkness). Tho I must note that others loved her work. The course load is medium and you are allowed to miss a little work but still pass the course (10 weeks of reading in the 2012 version is a fair commitment...!). My writing skills quickly sharpened up as I wrote the short required essays. My analytical skills sharpened as I graded others' essays. But they have a little more work to do to make peer grading practices a bit more standard across the board. The boards lit up with comments of "Unfair Grading" or "Poorly written essays" as graders and recipients argued. (That spoiled some of my my score reflects..till I learned to not obsess over the grade. If you do all/most assignments you will get enough adequate scores to pass.) That said, the Prof's lectures were short and engaging. Love the subtitled English. English is my native language, but when I was pressed for time, I could put on subtitles and set the video replay speed higher and still absorb the info adequately. If one's English is not good, this would be a hard class to take as a weekly essay is required and a moderate proficiency in English is needed. Perhaps they can address this issue, as the course does improve one's skills.
Was this review helpful? Yes 2
Pooja Pillai profile image
Student rates this course 10/10 stars Completed
The Fantasy and Science Fiction course with Prof. Rabkin was a wonderful experience. I was introduced to a lot of new books and authors such as Ursula K. Le Guin and Cory Doctorow, and I also read some old favourites such as Grimm's Fairy Tales and Dracula with new eyes. The lectures were interesting and in-depth, and the practice of writing the assignments before we saw the lectures, taught us to rely on our own analyses and insights. I enjoyed myself the most on the forums, where there were some truly high-level discussions and where I met some very interesting people. The peer response system still has a few kinks that need to be ironed out, but it's nothing too serious.
Was this review helpful? Yes 2
Ashrujit Bhattacharjee profile image
Student rates this course 10/10 stars Completed
A very good course that makes you read, write and evaluate others. Do not take it unless you are able to give it priority and make some time for it over ten weeks. The lectures are superb, and the syllabus is wide-ranging. I enjoyed this course.
Was this review helpful? Yes 1
L Figueroa profile image
Student rates this course 8/10 stars Completed
Overall a great and demanding course, which forces you to read a fair amount of stimulating science fiction novels. If you finish it, it will help you in becoming a better writer. Professor Rabkin is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic lecturer who does an admirable job as guide to the relevant literature. However, the peer review process for grading the weekly essays on the reading material still has some growing pains and issues with consistency.
Was this review helpful? Yes 1
Krista Garver profile image
Student rates this course 10/10 stars Completed
I loved this course! I had not read much fantasy and science fiction, and this course was a great reason to read some of the classics (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.). This course set a perfect tone for my summer reading. Eric Rabkin is absolutely charming, and I loved his lectures. The level is relatively high and he often talks about books not read in the class, perhaps assuming that the audience has already read them. I think that the course would be quite challenging for someone who has not had any experience analyzing literature or whose English is not particularly strong. I also enjoyed writing the essays each week. It had been a long time since I had worked my mental muscle in that way, and it was an excellent exercise -- even just as a personal endeavor. Concerning peer reviews: On the whole, I like the idea of a peer review system, especially for a course like this. Reading four other essays each week gave me the opportunity to gain additional insight into the books, and I enjoyed reading what (most) people had to say. I did not, however, find the majority of the feedback on my essays to be particularly helpful. As others have said, there were trolls -- people who were just mean for no reason. This tendency did seem to decrease as the course progressed -- I think a lot of people dropped out because the workload was fairly demanding. If people took the peer review process more seriously (and some did), I think we could all get a lot out of it in a course like this.
Was this review helpful? Yes 1