In a library in Pavlodar, Kazakhstan, this spring, a group of about 20 people gathered around a common interest in poetry.
Their interests intersected in a course based on the massive open online course in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program titled “How Writers Write Poetry.” Former English Language Scholar Harry Leeds, a writer now living in Minnesota, taught the class using a new digital tool created by the international writing program called MOOCpack.
Program staff said MOOCpacks allow anyone around the world, including those in areas with limited internet connectivity, to access resources to moderate a massive open online course, or MOOC, in a community framework.
Anyone can enroll in an open online course for free and there is no application requirement to enroll. The writing program began offering its massive open online courses in 2014.
The International Writing Program will launch an online portal for accessing MOOCpacks on Thursday called the Iowa Writing Program Online Campus. Materials for an open online course called “How Writers Write Fiction” will be available through the portal from Thursday.
During the Leeds course, a group of about 20 students met regularly in one of Kazakhstan’s American Spaces – libraries set up under a US State Department program – to write, discuss poetry and watch videos of speakers such as former American Poet Laureate Robert Hass.
Course writers covered topics ranging from their own feelings to philosophy to fun, up-tempo poetry, like a poem about a cat getting used to its new bed, Leeds said.
He said the MOOCpack provides valuable resources, including videos.
Leeds said that although the concept of writing workshops is foreign to many of its students, the group developed a camaraderie during the two-month course, something that is unlikely to happen in an online course. typical.
“They were able to build a community with each other,” Leeds said.
Susannah Shive, distance learning coordinator for the International Writing Program, said the MOOCpacks aim to help isolated communities around the world access open online courses and connect communities. face to face. MOOCpacks contain videos, suggested readings and reading questions, among other materials, that potential course leaders can access even in low-bandwidth internet settings, she said.
Shive said MOOCpacks are another way to access online courses in areas where writing workshops may be limited. The International Writing Program hopes they will increase global participation in writing classes.
“We want everyone to have access to these things,” she said.
Shive said she doesn’t know of any other colleges or universities that offer tools similar to MOOCpacks.
Jeffrey Lauber, MOOC Research Fellow for the International Writing Program, said in an email that staff had reached out to American spaces around the world about MOOCpacks, and Leeds had accessed an early version of a MOOCpack in the American space of Pavlodar before the program launched its portal. . He said the program focuses on reaching out to countries with the lowest internet connection speeds.
Lauber said that while the international writing program may not always have a response, contacts from 10 countries have so far expressed interest in MOOCpacks, including individuals in Nigeria, Nepal, Kazakhstan, in Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cambodia.
He said the International Writing Program has also reached out to other English-speaking fellows around the world to organize their own creative writing workshops.
International Writing Program Director Christopher Merrill said the open online course in writing fiction includes videos from authors such as Angela Flournoy, recently named to the National Book Award longlist, talking about writing topics. He said the course will cover the “nuts and bolts” of writing as well as the habits of good writers.
Merrill said the MOOCpacks will allow more people to benefit from “Iowa’s creative writing education model” and explore their interest in writing.
In addition to the International Writing Program, the University of Iowa also houses the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Iowa City is one of 11 UNESCO-designated Cities of Literature in the world.
“What we’re trying to do is bring some of that magic to places, writers, and students who won’t have the chance to come to Iowa,” he said.
Lauber said that even in areas where the internet is readily accessible, MOOCpacks will create opportunities for people to engage with their communities and advance their writing with each other.
“Some people just learn better when they can engage with a group of people in a face-to-face environment rather than online,” Lauber said.