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Course Name
Constitutional Struggles in the Muslim World

University of Copenhagen

I am so happy to have the resources from this because they are from a perspective that Americans rarely, if ever, get to hear.   Dr. Afsah is knowledgeable about the subject, and very skilled at organizing and sharing that knowledge. My only complaint is that he was just a bit overzealous with people expressing what I’m certain to him seemed extremist positions, and literally expelled five students! (He says four.) I’ve never actually witnessed students being expelled in coursera, although I’m certain with the thousands of trolls it happens all the time. It’s just that Dr. Afsah did it publically on the forums! It reminded me a bit of the character on Seinfeld (Who I of course will not mention here because everyone will be up in arms about the forbidden word!) saying “No soup for you!”   To his credit most expulsions only happened in the beginning; he appeared to calm down somewhat after that, and I’m thinking maybe considering the subject of the course, and the times we live in, Dr. Afsah and his team were expecting, and prepared themselves for a lot of “trouble.” They probably decided they should jump in and get a handle on it quickly so things didn’t get out of hand. That was probably good planning since this would be the perfect course for trolls to easily “rile the masses.” (I’ve seen trolls just about shut a course down completely on coursera.) I’m not certain that the public expulsions were the reason, but miracle of miracles, the discussions were for the most part academic and civil. It could also have been the awesome, intelligent, and interested students from all over the planet who came to class prepared to learn and take part in scholarship.   Of course we also had the “sanctions debacle” during the course of the class, whereby the U.S. government was supposed to have suddenly cut off access to students in those countries where our exalted leaders have decided their exalted leaders need a hand spanking—Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Sudan—by placing sanctions that bother the leaders not a twit, but tend to starve the regular citizens slowly and painfully. Dr. Afsah definitely had his say about that—loud and clear. That’s okay, nothing wrong with being passionate. The kick is that, turns out it was kind of the staff at coursera’s fault and a problem that the other MOOC providers had already jumped through the hoops to take care of long ago. Some kind of red tape permit, or something of the sort. Anyway, I’m hoping that Dr. Afsah’s anger and passion was turned toward coursera after finding that out. Dr. Afsah was more actively involved in the discussions than I can imagine any prof having the time for! He was right there to answer student questions and even to participate in a few of the fun threads that always pop up—like the one discussing the blue shirt that he wears in every video, and his dog, Yoda. He even popped up on the Graphic Novels thread to share some of his favorites. Nice touch and helpful as well. All and all, this was probably the coursera course second in line of the ones that I have taken in terms of providing the most useful and interesting information and resources. It also generated the liveliest discussion about the professor than any I’ve taken before.  I give it four stars, rather than five, only because I believe the dissenters could have been handled a bit more humanely than they were. But I can’t testify that, in being a bit less passionate, the prof wouldn’t have maybe opened the door to many more trolls. We’ll never know now.
Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction

University of Virginia

This is an update of my previous review of this course.   This class is the best organized and presented of all the coursera offerings in my experience. The excellent planning by the staff pays off and is obvious to the students through the smooth progression from one week and one author to the next.   I had doubts in the beginning how useful simply viewing a seminar attended by others might be for me, but my doubts were quickly put to rest. The authors are engaging and the students in attendance ask the types of intelligent and probing questions that tap the authors' knowledge of the subject written about and historical fiction in general, thus demonstrating the stellar teaching of Professor Holsinger in the classroom.   The lectures are not long-winded, as some coursera lectures tend to be, and the readings assigned are just of the right length. The books chosen to highlight in the course are highly informative, entertaining, and a pleasure to read.   The staff are very responsive to the needs and requests of the students--something that isn't easy when you have tens of thousands of them! The discussions were enjoyable, educative and civil.   The only negative point of Plagues, Witches, and War is the way that the featured authors were to respond to student questions in the forum. Difficult as it may be, this could stand a bit more organization so that it is more convenient and simpler for both the students and the authors. I'm not certain how this should be handled, but I was very disappointed in that feature of the course. It was promised that all seminar authors would choose questions posted in the Discussion Forum to answer, and some of them did, but not all. The present organization makes it almost impossible for a student to organize and record any kind of notes regarding the Q&As completed by each author. Having said that, this is only a very minor inconvenience relative to the excellent presentation of the entire class.   Anyone interested in or, like me, with an absolute love of historical fiction should delve into Professor Holsinger's course. You will not be disappointed. If you are dipping your toes into the writing of historical fiction, this is a treasure trove of information that comes directly from some of the most successful writers of this genre.
Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction

University of Virginia

Not complete with this course yet, but very close and have enough info to review. This is an  awesome course, mainly due to the author seminars. Prof. Holsinger from UVA offers his on-campus students the opportunity to attend seminars with outstanding historical fiction authors--Jane Alison (The Love Artist); Geraldine Brooks (Years of Wonder); Yangsze Choo (The Ghost Bride); Katherine Howe (The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane), and Mary Beth Keane (Fever).  There are also video discussions of the genre by academics as an added bonus.    The seminars are delightful and informative with a Q&A session after the author speaks about her work. The on-campus students ask thoughtful and interesting questions and authors put much effort into their answers. The seminars are rounded out by an opportunity for the MOOC students to post questions to the author in the forums. As wonderful an idea as this is, it is not working out to be especially useful to most students.   As you know each MOOC course can contain tens of thousands of students making the posting in forums sometimes confusing and cumbersome. The questions posted to the authors are no different and I'm certain it is probably quiet daunting to sign in and see tens of thousands of questions! It is also difficult for students interested in locating questions that have been answered by any one author. I did say "difficult," but not impossible and I have learned so much about historical fiction that this slight bump is worth the effort.   The assignments and quizzes are not exceedingly lengthy or time consuming. As far as the reading, you can do as much or as little as you wish and still gain a lot from the class. As for me, well I plan to read almost every book referred to in the seminars because they all sound so very interesting and hearing the authors speak of the process of writing these works multiplies that interest exponentially!   Great course, well organized, excellently presented; highly recommend. The only weakness involves the authors responding to MOOC student questions on the forum, for the reason mentioned above, but also because the course is almost on the finish line and so far only 2 of the 5 authors have actually answered any of the questions. I do hope we get to hear from all 5 before the end!
Comic Books and Graphic Novels

University of Colorado Boulder

Have not completed this course yet, and may not complete it. Why? I may be wrong, and I've said this before, but I do believe that I'm in the majority when I say that I expect different things from free courses and tuition-based courses.   I've no doubts that Professor Kuskin knows his subject and is an excellent teacher, but two essays and the creation of your own comic is going to be a bit time consuming, and I'm not certain that a lot? a majority? of the students actually have? or want to spend? that much time on a free and non-credit course. In other words, I do not believe that in-house courses=MOOCs=in-house courses! They are not the same; they are not equal; they should not be taught in the same way.   Some MOOC profs get this. Unfortunately for a lot of students, some MOOC profs are unable to translate their lesson plans to a MOOC classroom. I say "unfortunately" because this inability by profs to understand and work with the differences forces a lot of students out of a class in which they could otherwise have gained knowledge. That's why I continue to object.   Prof. Kuskin even has a matrix for peer evaluation that includes a score for grammar! I'm sorry, but grammar in what language? Did he not think of this in advance? Or did he perhaps simply take the lesson plans, lectures, and evaluation tools that he uses for his in-university course and simply copy-and-paste into coursera?  Please MOOC teachers, try to understand that this does not work.
History of Rock, Part Two

University of Rochester

Just like HOR, Part One, this class is one of the Jaguar's of MOOC courses. Well organized and well presented by a prof who obviously knows his stuff, I am considering taking them both (1 & 2) again!   Professor Covach has teaching a MOOC course down to a science. He does not present too much information (nor too little); he's not only knowledgeable but also obviously enthusiastic about the material; he directs learning through pertinent questions posted in the forums, and participates in the discussions that ensue. I am so impressed with his methods, that I may just have to take his MOOC on the Beatles coming up, even though I have absolutely no interest in them!   If you take only one MOOC, try to see that it is taught by Professor Covach. Then you will know what you should expect of a MOOC.
The Camera Never Lies

University of London International Programmes

I am sorry to say that I may drop this course, not because of the professor or the material, but because of the format. I'm afraid that Dr. Sullivan has not quiet mastered the mechanics of offering a free online course to tens of thousands of students at once. I understand that this is his first attempt. Dr. Sullivan appears to be a kind and dedicated teacher. I think perhaps a bit too kind to deal with the 100s of "trolls" that come with this type of format. He took their comments to heart and assumed they were made in the spirit of improving the course which, as we all know, they are definitely NOT! For a time I thought the course would be cancelled. However, to their credit, Dr. Sullivan and his team (and the University of London, I suppose) solved this problem nicely and continued. The problem that I am having, and I assume others as well, has to do with the reasons that I take MOOCs. I do want to learn, but hard as I try, I am not as invested as if I were paying tuition. So, I expect to have a certain amount of information given me every week along with a bit of discourse regarding the subject with the prof., her/his assistants, and other students. This could take 5-6 hours/week. With The Camera Never Lies, The Camera Never Lies the curriculum is set up for a much more rigorous scholarship as it should be for someone paying to take the course. Dr. Sullivan includes not only the video lectures, but each lecture has an accompanying, sometimes extensive, bibliography. If I listen to the lectures and peruse all of the supplementary information it takes perhaps 10-15 hours (15-20 if I am thorough). I'm finding that I simply haven't the time nor the will to spend that many hours on one course. That said you say, "But you can do or not do whatever amount of work in the course that you want." That's true, but I'm constantly feeling as if I'm behind in the course; I don't have the time to review the material enough to carry on an intelligent conversation with other students, not to mention to respond to the questions put forth each week by Dr. Sullivan that we are supposed to address in the Discussion board. (I haven't even mentioned the weekly quiz.) That for me is the clincher, because a very large part of the beauty of online learning is the back and forth about your subject with people of all ages, all cultures, and living in all parts of the world. If you don't have that, then it's just another physical classroom minus any discussions that may occur. Unfortunately, I am probably going to unenroll this course, if for no other reason than it's just sitting there accusingly staring me in the face every time I log in to coursera! Although feeling overwhelmed with the workload is a part of a college education, I've already got the degree hanging on my wall; now I just want a bit more knowledge and don't want my whole life being expended trying to get it. I'll leave that for the people who are still in college; I've done my time with that! (o: Suggestion:  Dr. Sullivan's course should only be offered to the "Signature Track" students who will probably be expecting to expend more time, since they receive more than just a simple certificate of participation.
The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound, and Color

Wesleyan University

Since it's been some time since I took the course, I won't review completely. Just want to say that I truly enjoyed the subject and the presentation, but wish Prof Higgins had been more "visible" and engaged with the students. That would have truly made the difference.
History of Rock, Part One

University of Rochester

History of Rock, Part One covers the history of what became rock and how from 1900-1969. From "The World Before Rock and Roll" (OMG! There was a world before?) through "Psychedelia," (Looking forward to that one!) I am unable to rate the course in its entirety at the moment because I've not finished it yet. However, as someone who has experience with online courses, both MOOCs and formal tuition based university courses, this is going to be one of the better ones. Prof. Covach is passionate about his subject and that is the top requirement for teaching a course of this nature. I enjoy his lectures immensely and the suggestions of musical examples are perfect for the week's coverage. The video/audio quality is the best I've experienced in MOOCs so far making the listening stress free. The absolute best part about Prof. Covach's teaching of this course is the fact that he posts leading questions to guide students in the discussion board. This leads to much more scholarly discourse. In the other MOOCs I've taken the prof is basically invisible except for the pre-recorded lectures. You cannot ask questions; you are left to your own devices to guess what you should take away from the course in the way of learning objectives, and discussions tend to fly off the topic and into space, which is what you might expect when there are tens of thousands of students from all over the world talking in one space! Don't get me wrong, learning does take place in any general discussion amongst that many humans from so many different cultures (which is why I'm an online only learner), but the serious students who've come to the class wanting to leave with the same knowledge as the "expert," or who would like to be challenged on the subject, still need a place to go to find that. It's like one of those giant conferences you sometimes go to. Some sessions are for serious learning but others are just for fun and interaction with others that share a common interest. Prof Covach also responds to student questions (not all of course) and even sometimes takes part in the "for fun" discussions at times. This is a first in my experiences with MOOCs, but it enriches the course so much that it puts it head and shoulders above the others I've taken!