I keep learning new things at this course although they are not exactly what I expected to learn about. One thing I have gotten to observe over the past few weeks is how there are many students who prize very highly the rules of a class and teacher authority, even in a massive course like this where the teacher is more absent than present. I had expected that people signing up for a course like this, a non-traditional course where we work mostly on our own or together with other students in the class, would be students who embrace that kind of learning, students who feel a sense of independence and self-determination as learners. What I've learned, though, is that this is not the case for at least some students in the class, who are very much expecting the teacher to function as the voice of absolute authority in the class. Part of this I think has to do with the international audience and different cultures of schooling in different countries - so that's yet another factor in the globalization of MOOCs. If students are coming from cultures that highly prize teacher authority, a pedagogical element which is largely missing from MOOCs, especially this one (in which students do the grading!), then this becomes another important factor for course designers to ponder.
I learned about all this by accident: back in Week 5, I wrote a story instead of an essay for my weekly writing assignment. We are now in Week 8, and the argument about whether I should have been "allowed" to submit a story for my writing assignment back continues to rage at the discussion boards. Each week, we have a writing assignment (identical prompt every week) where we are told to write an essay whose aim is "to enrich the reading of a hypothetical intelligent, attentive fellow student in the course," In Poe week (Week 5), I concluded that I could provide that enrichment by way of a story instead of an essay. There is a short story by Poe, "The Oval Portrait," which is incredibly short - the story-within-the-story part is just 480 words long (you can read Poe's story here). So, I thought it would certainly be possible for me to do a modernized version of the story within the 320-word limit for our own writing in this class. You can read the story I wrote (and illustrated) here: The Oval Portrait 2012.
Given the number of people at the discussion boards very determined to enforce all kinds of rules (including the Americans who want to insist that the British use American spelling!), I was prepared to get low scores on this writing assignment, which would have been fine - no harm done. But when I got very positive feedback from three of the four peer reviewers for the story (see below), better than for any essay I had done, I decided to share it at the discussion board. Many people share their assignments that get a high score at the discussion board, often with peer review comments included, so I shared the peer review also. Three of the four reviewers were very explicit about how the writing achieved the goal of the assignment, even though it was not an essay; I included all four sets of comments at the discussion board:
student1 It surely was not what I expected - but it did enrich my reading! For it's originality, I'll give you a 2 (I do not feel comfortable in giving a 3 out of respect for those who stick to the proposed form). It is a great re-reading of the story!As you can see, even the student who did not like the idea of writing a story also disagreed with my interpretation of Poe to begin with, so that is actually a useful comment. I don't think that Poe's story is a story about suffering, but it's an interesting point and shows in fact that I conveyed a definite interpretation of Poe in my own story, seeing the Artist as more like a vampire, and not as a romantic genius of any kind - which is exactly the goal of the writing assignment: the story conveyed my own understanding of the Poe story, which others might agree or disagree with.
student2 Structure is definitely not of the essay type. This idea is neither original, nor enriches the understanding. There's been stories on the net about family letting their kid starve because of being too engrossed with social networking sites, on-line games, etc. I think you have missed the major idea of The Oval Portrait, which is that the process of creating of true art is closely connected with suffering (and even death in this case).
student3 It is not a traditional form for a university essay, but I think it was well written and it really showed a new way of thinking. New ways of thinkings are even discussed in this unit. I think it is a great work, very creative and still reaches the goal of our course and work. The images are good ways of illustrating and still communicating when we have such a small space for showing our theory. Bringing the story to the current time is a good analyses of how some fantastic aspects of literature can be found in real life. Reality can be stranger than fiction, it really can. It made me think more than any other essay so far. I am really a fan.
student4 This is the best essay I've got for evaluation :) You, actually, demonstrated "admirable and noteworthy skill with which evidence is woven into the argument" And I cannot find words that are good enough to describe my sincere admiration!
But is there a discussion of Poe and the meaning of his story to be found in the over 50,000 words worth of commentary that people have spilled forth on this topic at the discussion boards? No, unfortunately not. Instead there is an outraged chorus of people who think I broke the rules of the class and should be punished. There are lots of ad hominem attacks but I've omitted those here (just to note, they are intense - I stopped participating at the discussion boards as a result). What I've provided below is a sampling of the comments strictly about rules and teacher authority… and a related theme: to write the story was not just disrespectful of the professor, but of Poe, too! I thought that was really interesting: the connection between author and authority is a very real one.
So, here are some of the comments - just a few, out of the enormous mass of words people have spilled arguing about this. I should note, by the way, that there is nowhere a rule saying that we should not write stories - although reading the comments of some students, you might think there was such a rule! There is not a rule one way or the other, and evaluation as to the acceptability of an assignment is made by the peer reviewers (for which, see above). The fact that the assignment got favorable reviews seems only to have made people more indignant, rather than less:
You did not wrote an essay, which you were supposed to do. So you failed on this assignment.
You prooved your words with actions that you will not abide by the Coursera rules, by the Staff rules and by the rules that the professor stated for this course by writing a story instead of an essay.Quite the sociological experiment. When I think about how MOOCs could work, I assume that we are talking about a new mode of teaching and learning where the students take on a lot of responsibility for their own learning, setting their own goals, exploring and sharing together. For some students, though, the absence of the teacher as a determining factor in the day to day activities of the class, as someone who gives the grades, as someone who enforces the "rules," is clearly going to be a shock. In the absence of the teacher-as-rule-enforcer, some students seem ready and willing, even eager, to leap into that role themselves. The phenomenon of student-as-rule-enforcer is, I suspect, one factor contributing to the sometimes very negative and even cruel content of peer feedback in the class, along with the often hostile atmosphere at the discussion boards. It's not really something I had expected to encounter, since my own classes have a very different dynamic. So, while I did not expect or enjoy the tidal wave of vitriol when I shared my story, it was a good learning experience and made me realize even more fully what a huge challenge the MOOC course designers have in front of them.
The rules exist, and if one wants to follow the course, one has to abide by its rules.
Why is she insulting the educators of this lovely course by not following the rules they have laid out for the students?
I will conform to these criteria because I honor the professor.
Since he's a professor and since he's the expert on this subject, he has the right to set up the rules. And we should follow those rules.
The teacher knows all there is to know about the subject, and they know exactly what they want their students to learn.
You than also will see professor Rabkin as an example from whom you can learn; you can only learn by looking up at those who know better than you.
This is not about point of views. It's about rules you are obliged to abide (freewill) when following a course. There is no point of view when it comes to that.
The law is as it is, and if you don't want to end up in jail, you'd better not break it.
Since she didn't follow the rules of this course, she insulted all the other students who are trying very hard to write those difficult essays while she in fact got away with writing a very easy story since all she had to do was copy the story from Poe.
It is scary to give 1's to people who honestly try to say something interesting (but can't because this or that), when 6's are given to people who retell the story or invent a new one.
I don't want my essay graded by somebody who wrote a short story decorated with faux-social media screenshots.
It's really presumptuous to think you can redo Poe's work. Poe's work is fine at is is, there's no need for correcting Poe.
Your lack of respect towards the professor I find troubling. It's the same kind of disrespect you showed when you tried to rewrite Poe's story.