Last month, I talked about an Existentialism class offered by Saylor.org that is built from free material (iTunes U lectures, public domain readings, etc.) organized by a guiding hand into a course that can be described as curated, rather than produced and packaged like your standard MOOC.
And because of the dearth of new MOOC classes offered over the summer (and my own need for additional intermediate and advanced philosophy courses for my One Year Philosophy BA), I decided to try my own hand at course curation on a developing topic of interest: Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.
The starting material for this project was the curriculum, reading and assignment list associated with a Massachusetts Institute of Technology course on the subject available for free via MIT’s Open Courseware Initiative. In addition to providing a book list organized into weekly reading assignments, MIT’s Open Courseware also included the professor’s original notes from each lecture.
Unfortunately, the 2-3 pages of lecture notes associated with each class didn’t satisfy my need for a guided presentation through what’s turned out to be pretty challenging material. And so I added a series of iTunes U lectures on the Critique provided by Oxford professor Dan Robinson to my curation list, a fortunate choice given that Professor Robinson is probably the most able lecturer I’ve encountered during my year of extreme learning.
So like that Saylor Existentialism class, I’m making use of free, publically available material to construct a course, rather than waiting around for a university to decide to produce a MOOC on this subject. But unlike the offerings by Saylor, the guiding hand for putting this material together is that of a student trying to learn the subject for the first time, rather than a professor familiar with both the topic and where to find the best readings, lectures and other resources needed to create the equivalent of a college class.
In a way, this makes the construction of a course part of the learning process, even if doing it yourself presents its own set of challenges.
For instance, the MIT reading list includes the extremely useful Guidebook to Kant which provides a walkthrough of themes and issues encountered in the Critique that pretty much follows the structure of the Critique itself. This has proved vital as I try to match up readings from the Guide, readings from the original course material, MIT lecture notes and Oxford lectures into something approaching a coherent whole.
But a second book on problems raised by the Critique is proving to be somewhat disorienting absent lecture or discussion opportunities where those problems can be put into context. And so I am finding myself substituting this suggested reading with alternative material from some of the same sources Saylor has been using in their curated philosophy courses (notably the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and popular philosophy blogs Philosophy Bites and the Partially Examined Life).
This particular project is likely to finish towards the end of September (i.e., the end of my “Junior Year”), although I’m giving myself the leeway to let it spill over into October if necessary. And while I still prefer more of a guiding hand through my courses, this experiment seems worth repeating during “Senior Year” (especially if I can’t find a formal course on the philosophy of Pragmatism which I feel compelled to include in my final degree lineup).
Given that curated courses don’t seem to attract the kind of numbers as even lesser known MOOCs (it looks like less than a hundred other students will have taken that Saylor Existentialism class for instance), self-curation is not likely to emerge as a mainstream learning strategy absent someone developing more formal rules of the road for pursuing such an option.
That said, it’s worth noting that the material needed to pursue this learning alternative is out there and available for free. And given the growing popularity of Open everything, who can tell where access to this scope and quality of material might lead in the years to come?