The taught version of the course is underway. In spite of the recession, a respectable number of people signed up for it, some of whom have taken courses with us before (I confess to posting shameless plugs in the forums of other online courses during Michaelmas), and some for whom it will be a first foray into online study. I lurked for most of the day on which the course was launched, feeling both delighted that Ancestral Voices was going out into the world, but also unwilling to let it go. In my capacity as academic director of the online courses, I do look in and sample posts frequently, to make sure that there is consistency of amount and kind of tutor response, and that things are running smoothly, and to try to anticipate and help with potential problems. I should also admit that I’m tending to spend more time on Ancestral Voices than with other courses, whether I was their author or not, and much more time than is strictly necessary. This is partly because of the volume of posts and partly because of their quality. The course and its tutor seem to be generating exactly the kind of student response one hopes for in an online course. That is, not of the post-and-run kind, but conversations and discussions involving several students at once, with engaged and reasoned responses.
I think Nicolay, the tutor, knows when to hold back rather than leap in, to allow space for this to happen. To an extent, the course is running itself, with Nicolay on hand to add further information and clarification as required. This makes me wonder whether an asynchronous forum or forums could work with the freely accessible and downloadable version. Some teachers will download the course and use it alongside their own forum, of course, which will be fine, but I wonder whether a general public version could work with discussion forums – if the department could resolve any legal and support issues to its satisfaction? People would arrive at different times, and be way in front of or behind others, but if there were enough people involved at any one time, that would not matter, just as many forums (for hobbies and special interests, for example) have topics with posts going back a long way in time that still attract new messages.
I particularly like the way in which the present students are not just opining but are putting forward reasoned arguments and responding to others’ posts with reasoned arguments. I hope that continues. As I follow them through the course, I feel that I am learning with them.