Only a short post today because I am still recovering from a stomach bug that I wouldn’t have wished on my worst enemy. Being confined to the house for several days has, however, meant that I have had plenty of time to complete the first week of an online course that I think many of you would enjoy. On the FutureLearn platform, the University of Warwick are offering a module entitled Literature and Mental Health. The idea is to explore the way in which literature can be used to understand and help alleviate times of emotional stress and mental illness. During the past week we have looked at poems such as Yeats’ Lake Isle of Innisfree, Edward Thomas’ Adlestrop and Arnold’s Dover Beach. The highlight, however, was a half hour discussion between Jonathan Bate and Stephen Fry about the way in which poetry works and how that is important in respect of stress relief. It was far more informative than many a university lecture I’ve sat through.
The course is going on to consider heartbreak, bereavement, trauma, depression and bipolar disorder, and ageing and dementia. Although it has already started you are usually able to join late and the material is there online for you to catch up in your own time. This is something that I think a lot of my blogging friends would really enjoy and it would be worth people’s while to check it out even if you didn’t go through with it as it costs nothing to sign up to. My only reservation is that there isn’t a section on poetry to alleviate stomach bugs. My own thought on the subject is that whatever else they need to be short!
Just a quick post this morning to draw your attention to a new MOOC that is starting on the 13th of January. Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Text, Performance and Culture is the first literature course to be offered by the UK MOOC platform, FutureLearn. It is being run by the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute which is part of the same University School to which I belong. Now, I can’t speak to the quality of the production values that will be involved, although if you take a look at the introductory video which you can find here then that seems to be encouraging. However, what I can speak to is the quality of the scholarship that will have gone into the materials. I work with these people week in and week out and I can assure you that they are amongst the leading Shakespeare scholars in the world; you won’t get better teaching anywhere. What is more, it appears from the clips that have been made available that actors from the RSC may also be involved. The actress reading To be or not to be is Pippa Nixon, who is currently playing Ophelia and Jonathan Slinger, the current Hamlet, is also featured.
I haven’t yet sampled a FutureLearn MOOC so I don’t know how far they’ve got with developing areas such as assessment and discussion. I do know that they themselves say they have some way to go and acknowledge that they are still learning. You shouldn’t let that put you off, though. This is a real opportunity to work with absolute experts. What is more, those of us who have been struggling with the set texts for the Coursera Historical Fiction MOOC can take heart from the fact that not only is there just one text set for this module but also that it was definitely not chosen simply because the author was available to come in for a discussion. I suppose it’s just about conceivable that someone nipped down the road, sat by the grave and asked Shakespeare whether or not Hamlet is ever really mad, but on balance I doubt it.
I’ve already signed up for this and if anyone else is thinking of doing so and would like to get together a small independent study group then I would be happy to host it. Some of us have already done that with earlier MOOCs and it’s been a really good experience. If you are interested then leave a note in the comments and I’ll get back to you.