The September Issue & Coursera

Our Mission Statement here at SCOUT is as follows:

 SCOUT is a smart, distinctly regional general interest magazine publication that creatively offers its readers thoughtful and engaging information that is important while also original.  SCOUT’s goal is to feature, engage, inspire, and celebrate the region by focusing on the talents and gifts of the people who live, work, and play within it. 

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Now that you’ve read through the first issue, I hope you can see our mission shine through our work.  I was very proud of our first issue.  Of course we had a few typos (which I cannot believe that no one called me out on!), and a few graphic and design changes that I would have made, but it was a great starting point.  With each issue, we will work to get better.  My concept for the magazine is flexibility, so we aren’t tied to any structure and we can maintain the creative freedom to make any additions or deletions that we deem are necessary for each particular issue.  Obviously, we can’t fit everything we want to in each issue.  But that’s exactly what this blog is for.  This blog will serve as an extension to our magazine, offering more thoughts/ideas/inspiration on what is featured in the magazine.  It will also be a direct way to communicate with our faithful readers and supporters.

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In the September “Read All About It” Issue, our feature article (“Learning to be Limitless”) was about education.  Towards the end of the article, I touched on a new phenomenon:  free online higher education.  The program I talked about was called Coursera.  It was developed by two Stanford graduate students, and the idea behind it was this:  Anyone, anywhere around the world, could get access to higher education taught by some of the most prestigious teachers who work at the most prestigious universities…..for free.  What an amazing concept!  It’s so brilliant!  Who hasn’t had the college fantasy that they are at some Ivy League school, wearing wool sweaters and reading glasses, talking about books with fellow students over beers at the pub?  What?  Was that just me?

I first checked out Coursera a few years ago.  English and Literature have always been my jam, so of course, I signed up for an English Literature class to start out.  This wasn’t just any English Literature class that I was taking though.  My class was titled:  “Fantasy and Science Fiction:  The Human Mind, Our Modern World.”  My class was taught by Professor Eric Rabkin from the University of Michigan.  Rabkin taught the entire class by using Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  It was incredible.  Here’s how the class worked:  For 11 weeks, you would watch a weekly lecture from Rabkin online, and then you would participate in group discussions/forums, write a few essays, and grade your peers’ work.  If you did the reading, watched the videos, and participated in the discussions, you completed the class.  There were thousands of people in my class, from all reaches of the world, but it never felt that way.  Each week we would have a few fairy tales assigned to us. Keeping with their commitment to provide a free education, Coursera provided links to free online materials so you never had to buy a single book for the course.

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Since Coursera is voluntary and the people that signed up really wanted to be there, the discussions that took place were enlightening and poignant.  Rabkin’s lectures led the group to discuss how fantasy and science fiction shape the insights we have into ourselves and into our world by using Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  Fantasy itself is both entertaining and practical, and it serves our needs and desires, while illuminating the mind.  We feel comfort in characters like fairy godmothers and have seductive unease with witches and vampires.  These fantasy and science fiction characters shape our very hopes and fears.  Those are the types of things that this class explored in great detail.  I took a sneak peak to see if this class was still available on Coursera, and it is.  But now, Rabkin has added more science fiction and fantasy literature to the syllabus, including Alice in Wonderland, Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Moreau.   

If you get a chance, check out Coursera for yourself!  They have hundreds of classes to choose from now.  When you complete the class, you get a certificate of completion. It doesn’t come with any actual college credit, but that may be on the horizon for Coursera.  They are now working on providing continuing education and accreditation for teachers.  It just goes to show how one little idea can shape something so much bigger.

Cheers!

Bridgette Stocks

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