Tag Archives: MOOCs


20161113_172142Here’s what I’ve been paying attention to in my world to avoid the nonsensical but-far-from-funny farce of Washington DC. A MOOC about history and constitutional issues in the Muslim world; books about the controversial Mitford Sisters in the war years and about troubled detectives and dastardly deeds in darkest Scandinavia; a Netflix series, The Crown which is the most enticing period drama this year, almost better than Downton, about the world as lived by Queen Elizabeth in the early years of her reign and…finally…movies. All chock full of a real world far less tawdry than our current DC drama.

Three movies have stood between me and despair. Enticing, thoughtful, heartwarming movies. Let’s begin with Moonlight because it is surely Oscar material and also the most difficult to describe. I’m sure it’s clear, or at least will be when you read this, that I am about as far from an informed movie reviewer as one could get—on the other hand I do love them and I go on this annual winter movie binge so why not share some thoughts?

Moonlight is basically about a black kid growing up in the Liberty City ghetto of Miami. A Gay Black Kid. And we all know if there’s one nasty prejudice that’s been shared by all races, colors, creeds, it’s homophobia. It’s not an easy story but so immediate, so hating, so loving, you come away profoundly affected, not the least because the acting is absolutely top form.  I’m attaching the link for the excellent NYT review so please read it. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/21/movies/moonlight-review.html?_r=0

I want to share some thoughts that may or may not make sense. Moonlight is a coming-of-age story in the best and deepest sense of the word. A vulnerable gay kid growing up under the most bleak of circumstances. What struck me rather forcefully is that because this film is not about a black kid growing up gay and there’s an accompanying story with white people around, and it’s not about the great divide between blacks and whites, and it doesn’t give us any messages about race—it becomes this moving, thoughtful, beautiful, gay-kid-growing-up story. It’s so tender and personal and insightful with all of the characters, places, situations. So how to say this: To Me: because it all takes place within the black American world it simply becomes about this kid and his story. Like Boyhood plus. I loved this film. Second film in a row on Sunday and I never moved a muscle—almost shed a tear now and then but it’s not really a sentimental film either. It’s just really really fine moviemaking.

Queen of Katwe. Here’s where I can do some travel name-dropping. I’ve spent a few days in Kampala, Uganda with my friend Jill so of course I took this all very personally. I admit to not seeing slums quite as dire as Katwe but did see a variety of situations from comfortable middle-class to pretty grim housing situations. Queen of Katwe is the classic feel-good story. Poor kid makes good under the most difficult of circumstances. What makes it most interesting is that it takes place in the Ugandan slums of Katwe (whose fascinating history you might want to check out on Wikipedia), and that everyone except the two stars (Oyelowo is British Nigerian and Nyong’o is Kenyan Mexican) is Ugandan. No whites of African or European origin are thrown in for good measure and middle class Ugandans have major roles as well as the dispossessed of Katwe. So I loved this film too. It’s not quite as powerful as Moonlight but it made me happy—and that’s okay once in awhile. And of course the actors, both Hollywood and local, are brilliant. David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o…need I say more. Also Madina Nalwanga, not a name yet but really fine.     http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/10/05/496425623/photos-theyre-  all-kings-and-queens-of-katwe

A Man Called Ove. Okay so I felt very much at home here. Old cranky but good-hearted Swedish guy (old cranky Swedish guys are a lot like old cranky Norwegian guys) has life tragedies of the universal sort: fired from his job, deceased wife to whom bad things had happened, annoying neighbors, a deep desire to kill himself—well maybe that latter isn’t universal but you see where I’m going. May as well say this up front, It’s a solid film of the sentimental sort but…of course…I enjoyed it especially because It Is Scandinavian. And there were a lot of old white people in the audience that looked just like me—not like the evil-voter kind of old and white! It’s a nice film, but maybe one you don’t have to see right away, although don’t miss it forever unless you really dislike cranky old white guys—oh dear, we have a new government full of them don’t we? Ove is much smarter and nicer than that though.




Remember College before it was just about how much money could be earned…

Remember signing up for classes—way too many which you desperately wanted to take—you perused, selected, changed, added, selected another, reconsidered, ‘Oh wow, gotta take that…history of everything and there’s literature by everyone.’ Maybe I loved it all so much because I was already a 26-year-old with two small children and had been waiting to start college since I was 18.

As I remember it was all perfect, but the best day of any semester was going to the bookstore to pick out those gigantic information-weighted books and carrying home an armload of worlds. Even Trigonometry had its own torturous appeal.

I loved and still love the look and feel and energy of a university campus above all other places. I did the MSW program at San Diego State University not so very long ago—and am still working off the student loans, joking (sort of) that my tombstone will say ‘She just made her last student loan payment.’ Visiting my granddaughter on the UC Berkeley campus has been a pleasure, and just a bit of a wallow in nostalgia, even though I never lived on campus or for that matter made it to a school of Berkeley’s stature.

That was then, this is now. I still love that sense of the big wide world of possibility that a campus offers and  think if I were doing this all again I would become a history professor so I never had to leave that leafy bookish coffee-fueled environment (but then I realize the energy to deal with campus parking has long dissipated).

Now, even being in love with the idea of school-forever, it nevertheless makes me tired to think of all the studying and listening and testing and writing (and parking) that goes into getting those degrees. However…thank the gods-of-learning-new-stuff, something like that is still possible at my advancing age.

There remain bona fide universities with ivy-wreathed buildings and brilliant professors teaching classes about Everything—with reputable on-line programs. Some are straight-up, for–credit certificate or degree-earning programs like my writing classes from UCLA. They are a little expensive but offer qualified part-time teachers, a fair amount of work and critiquing, and grades are issued (important to me since, as I’ve claimed before—I’m always at-heart the third-grade teacher’s pet).

And then there are the MOOCS which is what the next few Parts/Post will describe. Yes, I’ve written about Massive Open Online Courses before but I’m always amazed at how many people are still unaware of them. Stay tuned…I’m through with my university history now…on to the main event. Part 2: MOOCS and ME. In a day or two.




Sunday afternoon. Cleaning. Decorating–wrapping all of those Christmas lights purchased for the misbegotten book tree around a red table where they look quite festive. It’s all good.

Now I want to begin the end of ModPo, the wonderful poetry MOOC. And it has been enjoyable, informative, even challenging but I’ve lost interest after the New York School. Not wanting to be a quitter however here begins the countdown with the Language Poets. Ron Silliman’s “Albany.”

That we are “languaged” beings is not a phrase I’ve ever heard or considered before but it is often used in ModPo especially now in this time of the ‘language poets.’ I like it and, more surprisingly, the language poets with their disjointed memoir-poems are both readable and fascinating. I’ll say more tomorrow and include an excerpt but now I’m tired and a review of the first four seasons of Downton Abbey will be on soon. Can’t miss that.

Here’s the weekend in a couple of photos.




Who knew there was a school or sub-school of poetry labeled I-do-this-I-do-that?

The New York School of poetry was just full of surprises for me. Since I had barely ever heard of it of course that would be true. But that I would come to enjoy it and almost want to read more than assigned in the class was the real surprise. Hmmm? Why would that be?

We read a poem or two of Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Ted Berrigan and Bernadette Mayer. Never heard of them you say? Where did Robert Frost go? Much less ‘the friendly cow all red and white…’ These are not them!

Well some of the poems by these famous New York School poets are easy, some are hard. What they have in common—for me—is they’re all lists.

Yes, really. The I-do-this-I-do-that genre (can I say that’s a genre?) is really a listing of the day’s activities. Interestingly listed, purposefully listed, cleverly listed. Still…a list.   Like Frank O’Hara’s A Step Away From Them where the first stanza goes like this:

It’s my lunch hour, so I go

for a walk among the hum-colored

cabs. First, down the sidewalk

where laborers feed their dirty

glistening torsos sandwiches

and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets

on. They protect them from falling

bricks, I guess. Then onto the

avenue where skirts are flipping

above heels and blow up over

grates. The sun is hot, but the

cabs stir up the air. I look

at bargains in wristwatches. There

are cats playing in sawdust.

I am learning to care about poetry like this—a sort of big picture has to appear which, thanks to Professor Al Filreis, emerges in the introduction to each section or ‘school.’  I must figure out what the big picture means to me and, in the case of the New York School, it’s this. First of all, like the Beats and San Francisco and the sprawl of mid-America, these New Yorkers seem very intent on describing the look and feel and mood of their city. I feel my obsession with ‘place’ satisfied. Secondly, they are almost always listing these things; their poems are like diaries. Since I love lists and diaries and journals, again I feel connected. Okay so this is a little silly since I’ve only read a few of these poems. But it makes me like them and be curious enough to keep talking ModPo forever like my friend Bob.

Here’s an easy one that I like very much.

“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” by Bernadette Mayer

Moon out and no snow yet November first

The first anniversary of our wedding and

The day before election day, 1976, yesterday

Was Halloween, next Friday I have an appointment

With the dentist and the following Tuesday is

Lewis’s thirty-second birthday, exactly one week

After that Marie will be eleven months old.

The day before yesterday we turned the clocks back

One hour which made it seem like every day

Will have an extra hour in it, not only of darkness

But of just plain time, the time I used to spend

Skipping lunch is longer, the time for dinner

Is too early now, the time for sunset comes too soon

The time between dinner and Marie’s bedtime is too long                            When it’s time to go to bed there’s still a few hours left

To read, I’m dreaming twice as much as before

I spend all my new time lying in bed thinking.

Last night I saw “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”

And tonight when I came into my room to go to work

I found an old seed pod on the floor by my desk.

In the movie if you see one of these it’s time to die.

It’s time to write some letters, good cold air

Comes in my window, it wakes me up, we had a bottle

Of champagne and Marie went to sleep without crying

It’s time to read Fielding’s Guide to European Travel

And the Alice Toklas Cookbook again, a few books by

John McPhee

Our new American Heritage anniversary dictionary,

The Adventures of a Mathematician by Stanislas Ulam

And The Wild boy of Aveyron by a behaviorist psychologist

About a boy brought up by wolves.

The poet is a new mother married to another poet and obviously keeping herself sane by putting the ‘list’ of her daily activities into poetic form to remind herself that, after all, she is a poet. And as the Professor Al pointed out, the last line may reference her exhaustion and thoughts of her daughter having some occasional play dates with the caretaker wolves.

I’ll save the hard poem for next week after I’ve had a talk about it with Bob my poet advisor.

Here’s my photographic version of  I-do-this-I-do-that




Poetry, Carrots, the Bosque=Perfect Day


At this moment I am perfectly happy. You know that feeling/happy-place/emotion/moment-in-time when it strikes. Yes? Me happy. Perfectly happy. Immersed in the moment.

Very early morning I dip into poetry again. Am I interested? Still don’t know. But I am finding it pleasurable with morning coffee. Goes on awhile. Emily, Walt. Have always known how important they are in the world of poetry. Certain I’ve read some in college classes labeled 101/ 201, maybe 301.

Cloudy. 9am. A walk. The Bosque. Three jackets (two too many). God of Walks. Thank you for the clouds. Please let New Mexico have more. I want to put my arms around this morning and the clouds and fall. Could I plead to the gods of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Nudism, Buddhism, Wiccanism, Hinduism, Vegetarianism to give us New Mexicans more clouds?

LATER: It is a normal fall day, i.e. cloudy, chill (but not too…), windy, leaves blowing about, even a few sprinkles of rain. Walt and Emily are my new best friends. My old friend Bob started telling me a year or two ago that I must take Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, a MOOC taught at the University of Pennsylvania. I said, “Yeah, great idea, I’ll do that…sometime.” I thought maybe, maybe not; I know zero about poetry; haven’t really been interested in poetry; why start now (except that Bob does usually have good ideas).

There are exceptions to my lack of poetry-love:  Do not go gentle into that good night (Dylan Thomas) and To His Coy Mistress (Andrew Marvell) come to mind. The latter undoubtedly because of an excellent teacher.  And every poem in Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, one of the few books we owned when I was a kid. Memory.  Mom waxing poetic while baking creamy, fruit-filled things: The friendly cow all red and white, I love with all my heart, She gives me cream with all her might, To eat with apple-tart. That’s a poem.

 EVEN LATER TODAY: Made garlicky braised kale to go with milk-cooked grits for lunch tomorrow. And brown sugar and butter glazed carrots. For breakfast. For dessert. For lunch. For a midnight snack.

Stayed cloudy all day.

I had some wine and more poetry with my carrots.


The Bosque on a November morning.

The Old Fishing Hole…
In honor of Whitman…Leaves of …well just leaves.
More leaves, different stage  of death.
More leaves, different stage of death.
End of the leaf road.
End of the leaf road.
Down by the riverside.
Down by the riverside.
They're a chorus line.
They’re a chorus line.
Viewing stand. Need chairs.
Viewing stand. Need chairs.



What if I bought a powerball ticket and won $20 million? What if the Bulgarian banker—who can’t spell but has access to my great-uncle’s safe deposit box which contains another $20 million which can be forwarded directly to me if only I will send a measly 5K for postage—is for real and I send the 5K and $20 million is credited to my checking account.

Then, instead of only writing on weekends, I would slave over this hot keyboard all week long. At my desk at 8am, wrapping up a productive day of many words at 5pm. Right?

Whatever. Life is good at the end of a long day with words words words. Second week of my new UCLA class, Using Found Texts: Deepening Your Writing. Of course I love it. What’s not to love—it’s a class. With assignments. And a teacher. I so never emotionally moved on from Sixth Grade.

Then I watched the lectures for my new MOOC. French Revolution from the University of Melbourne. Possibly the best one I’ve taken so far. Although Old Globe/Ageing from University of Pennsylvania was excellent as well. So Coursera is one of or possibly the main purveyor of these classes and it is much better organized and more user friendly in every way than its rival, EdX which I think is connected with Harvard.

Okay, now my favorite time of a word day. To bed with Bad Blood, my latest and one of my favorites in the Swedish Noir line.


MOOCs Again

Of course I'm interested in Scandinavia. Here's NESET in Norway.
Of course I’m interested in Scandinavia. Here’s NESET in Norway.

Just finished Scandinavian Film and Television from the University of Copenhagen via Coursera. It has taken awhile to adjust to the idea that MOOCs weren’t created to entertain me; they exist to educate. What a concept! That does mean the instructors are not necessarily charismatic but they do seem to be scholars of the first order. Who are, after all, the people best equipped to educate us. I like the word ‘educate.’ In some societies and times people who educate are honored and even well-compensated for sharing their knowledge. The U.S in the 21st century unfortunately is not one of those societies. The truth is that Coursera would not be offering me this wonderful learning opportunity if it did not see profit in its future.

For now though I am most appreciative of this opportunity. So what did I learn? Being enamored of all things Scandinavian, this class affirmed some things I already knew, for example Babbett’s Feast and Dancer in the Dark are brilliant films and the new Nordic Noir TV series are much more interesting than your average television fare. And opened my eyes to some things I did not know, especially regarding the earlier quite distinguished history of the avant garde and eclectic (and, it seems the almost always dark and psychologically-weighted) in the Scandinavian film world. Of course I’ve known of Ingmar Bergman (mostly of interest to me as Henning Mankell’s father-in-law) but now I realize I must see some of his films—maybe not all, but some.

Finally I was especially attentive to the last sessions with a good overview of the present and future of Nordic Noir on the small screen. I’ve watched the BBC version of Wallander, Scandinavian (and American) versions of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, original Danish Borgen, American version of The Killing and now must move beyond one episode of Lillehammer and also check out the Annika Bengtzon series. There’s more of course but those are my favorites or at least the ones I know the most about. Thanks to Netflix I can see them all and, hopefully, even more in the future since Netflix is very involved with the Scandinavian film and TV world.

So did this MOOC open new worlds to me? Well, no. But it certainly enhanced what I know about a world in which I am most interested. Yay MOOCs, yay Coursera and thanks University of Copenhagen (I now forgive you for so thoroughly confusing me with Kierkegaard.).

Now I switch to The Emergence of the Modern Middle East from Tel Aviv University. Here I am learning a great deal of new information. Even though I’ve tried to read and pay attention, and have traveled some in the Middle East/Arab/Islamic world, I am still fearfully ignorant. I was a little reluctant to take a class on the Middle East from an Israeli University but if one cannot trust Universities and scholars to be relatively unbiased then there is no place to go for truth. And even though I’m only through the first two sessions it is feeling like real history, not at all propagandized. I hope that is right. The professors in these two classes are very alike. They are obviously intelligent, knowledgeable and articulate; showmen they are not. I like them better for that.

Cairo, 1089
Cairo, 1989

MOOCing Again

Remember MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses. A smorgasbord of learning about practically any topic you can imagine offered by the world’s best universities. Generally For Free!  My friend, the consummate student, turned me onto this singular resource last fall. I jumped in and signed up for two classes in subjects of ongoing interest. I am sorry to say I finished neither, partly because a lot of late fall stuff of life. I loved the lectures from Princeton on world history; I was in a state of some confusion with the lectures on Kierkegaard from the University of Copenhagen but I knew they would be excellent exercises in thinking if only I could focus. The other reason I so easily dropped the project was that it all felt a little bit like the Montgomery Ward catalog that arrived every spring and fall when I was a country kid in Minnesota. I picked out six or seven outfits I had to have, had to, had to…  .. I usually got one or two. So the catalog was indeed a “wish book,” my mom’s name for such tempting tomes. Just like the alluring array of possibilities when I go on line with Coursera.

Do not give up, I said to myself, this is too amazing. And I didn’t.  Now I am in the middle of Scandinavian Film and Television, again from University of Copenhagen. I’m watching all of the lectures this time. I could do more, join in discussions, read more and watch additional video, but there are too many other things in life that are taking my attention and sucking up my energy. What I want is information, knowledge, entertainment that’s not stupid. Although admittedly sometimes I want stupid entertainment, but only sometimes. I want Scandinavian film instead of NCIS. Well maybe in addition to NCIS.

The class is so smart and Scandinavian-serious. What I’ve learned so far is quite a bit of historical and artistic info about some films I’ve seen and many I haven’t. I am playing my Norwegian role and pretending I have a natural affinity for these mostly avant-garde and usually dark and stark visuals and stories. I do get it, being naturally an optimistic pessimist, believing the worst of people but always thinking I’ll only experience the best. Make sense? Why should it? I’m watching CNN’s dogged pursuit of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and I’m drinking my second beer.

“All right, Good Night”  the co-pilot said. This is a good story to be told many times in Scandinavian and American crime novels. Probably also to be narrated by Malaysian and Chinese writers except they do not really do not do crime as well as we northerners. Actually many years ago an American mystery writer wrote a very scary novel about a hijacked airline and poisoned passengers still upright, but dead, in their seats when the plane landed. I keep envisioning that, having flown a lot during the past few years. However this post is about MOOCs.

A bit later. I’ve eaten my comfort food dinner and watched more airline mystery. I’ll go back into the contemporary world of dark Scandinavian art first thing in the morning.  Looking forward to it. Now, even though I do not respect CNN as a NEWS organization very much anymore, I do watch when I’m obsessive about an event like this. And I do want to respect them. It’s just hard when they do Justin Bieber specials. Do the Norwegians and the Swedes and the Danes stoop that low? Will Aljazeera go there eventually? I was awake at 4am, now it’s 7:55pm, almost time for bed.

The Magical World of MOOCs

Trying to spice my life up after all those Scandinavian murder mysteries.
Trying to spice my life up after all those Scandinavian murder mysteries.

I am watching a lecture on Kierkegaard titled “Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity.”  If I were smart enough I could stream pertinent points of the lecture from my Surface through my brain onto my fingers on the keyboard of my PC and straight to this post. It would have been my first absolutely intellectually-informed post.

The truth of the matter is I can barely understand the professor even with my face practically pressed to the computer screen, blocking out all other sound and movement. Jon Stewart, professor at the University of Copenhagen, is a superb lecturer and if I were a full-time student I would be reading everything from Plato through Kierkegaard. I would be pondering reading pondering listening pondering writing and enjoying my handsome youngish professor strolling through the libraries and about the campus of this beautiful university in history-rich Denmark. But I am not that. And this is not easy.

When I went to Coursera and EdX sites and starting perusing the lists of classes from the world’s major universities with the most stimulating of subjects I had that ‘kid at the candy store’ sensation. It was magic and all for free!

I signed up for classes in history and philosophy and more. I blogged about  “A History of the World since 1300” already and it is indeed enjoyable and doable. As long as I don’t try to write the papers, join the discussion groups or think of myself as scholar as opposed to an education groupie. I read the book and watch the lectures. So far so good. I’m learning a few new things while totally enjoying the world-wide perspective.

Then the Kierkegaard class began. I enrolled because I always declare my religion to be existentialism and Kierkegaard is one of the early existentialist thinkers (I think…but we’re halfway through the class and that hasn’t been mentioned yet?)  This is hard. After Plato I gave up on the readings. Hegel is impenetrable and I’m frightened of Kierkegaard’s writing. So for now it is just Jon and me. And Jon I am trying very hard to understand. Really.

Wonder if he has any IKEA bookcases.
Wonder if he has any IKEA bookcases.

First Day of Class

Not quite like I remember it; instead of finding a seat in a classroom (for which I probably searched at least 20 minutes) and waiting with baited breath to see who the professor will turn out to be I’m sitting in my living room/study in front of my computer—waiting to see who the professor will turn out to be! What are the odds though that Princeton University is going to allow itself to be represented to a zillion eager learners worldwide by anyone but the best?

 So there I was Sunday afternoon right at the time the first two lectures were being downloaded—in my living room—in front of my computer—in my sweats—with my Costco green tea (no wine in class)—becoming one with those eager learners.

 It was great. I am once again a happy student. And it’s free. And from Princeton.  This class is “A History of the World since 1300.” It’s accompanied by a textbook titled “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart.” The professor is a guy named Jeremy Adelman and yes, he is very good. This is a regular Princeton upper-level undergraduate course and it feels like exactly the right way to start down this life-long learning path. I think I was looking forward to an age when I never exercised, just watched junk TV and lived on doughnuts, cigarettes, wine and coffee. Alas, that time never seems to arrive. I guess it’s just all abs class, all spinach, all study right up to Bingo and gruel at the Home.

 There have been a few computer glitches so I haven’t finished watching the second lecture yet but I can already tell this is a very good thing. I do read a fair amount of history but it’s always era/person/region specific so there is always that sense of not knowing exactly where what you’re reading fits in with everything else going on in the world at that moment in time. This is one of those survey classes I’ve always loved but a bit modernized so that Africa and Islam are given an equitable share of ink.

 So far so good. I think I’m a MOOC fan.