Science Fiction & Fantasy Wrap Up

Recap: Fantasy & Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World

This was a decent class with some amazing fellow students and on subject matter interesting that I find interesting.  It also had distinct downsides.

Taking this class also requires a significant time commitment, and even as a quick reader I experienced difficulties staying on top of the assignments, often choosing to not complete all of the readings when presented with several books in a week.  The course description says 8-12 hours of work per week - a week that includes likely 2 hours of lecture video, reading several hundred pages, writing a short essay, and evaluating other student's essays.  Completing the coursework would have been distinctly easier had I not also enrolled in a second MOOC, and if I was willing to read only the assigned coursework for 10 weeks.

I found the format choice a bit odd.  Each unit began on a Thursday with a 2-3 minute "before you read" segment that sometimes gave a little about the book, but mostly served to wish us happy reading for that unit so as to not spoil the ending of the book.  The essay for that unit was due Monday night, the lectures for that unit were released Tuesday, and we were required to complete our peer reviews by Thursday morning.  Most of us needed to start the next unit's reading as soon as (if not earlier) we finished the current unit's reading.  I would have preferred to have some of the lecture videos released a the start of the unit for context and food for thought as we delved into the book of the week.  As it was, by the time I got to the lecture videos for a book I was mostly disengaged with that book and in the midst of the text for the next assignment.  Overall not a big issue with the class, just something that I would have preferred otherwise.

My biggest issue with this course lay in how it was taught.  The professor obviously knows the subject matter, however with limited exception, the class videos are simply reused each time the class is taught.  A few of the weeks Professor Rabkin added a very short video in response to forum activity, but otherwise we were given no original content.  Class interaction consisted of forum discussions with peers and occasionally TAs, and the peer reviews of each other's essays.  The inability to respond to peer reviewer's comments I can digest as par for the course, I am not quite so accepting of lack of response and flexibility in the course itself.

Over all I feel that it was the students that made this class engaging and inspiring, not the professor.  This has nothing to do with his lecture content, but rather the format he chose to run the class.  However the content was interesting and I'd rate the class experience as about average for a distance learning environment.  If it is a class you are interested in he future sessions are available at the link above.

For those interested, here is a list of all of the mini essays I wrote over the course of the class:

Household Stories / The Brothers Grimm
The Brothers Grimm & Clever Deception

Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass / Lewis Carroll
Alice, a Stranger in a Strange Land

Dracula / Bram Stoker
Dracula and Carnal Women

Frankenstein / Mary Shelley
Frankenstein, or, the Folly of Man

Selected short stories / Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hawthorne & Beauty

The Invisible Man / H. G. Wells
Invisible Man, The Invisible Man

Herland / Charlotte Gilman Perkins
Herland and gender expression

The Martian Chronicles / Ray Bradbury
The Martian Chronicles, a distopian dream

The Left Hand of Darkness / Ursula K. LeGuin
The Left Hand of Darkness and "otherness"

Little Brother / Corey Doctorow
Little Brother & Security Theater

EDIT: Another issue I discovered with the class is the grading.  We were instructed that a very small percentage of what we read should earn 1s or 3s, but that most should get 2s.  Now that the certificates are available I find that basically we were instructed to give everyone Cs as grades with occasional Fs and As... which means even though I did better than average on several essays and did more than required, my numeric grade is rather horrifying.  When it comes down to it I know the class if really pass/fail, but I still find it upsetting.


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