Coursera: hope it works!

This week I’ve started on my first class with Coursera – “Think Again: How to Reason and Argue.” My instructors, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong of Duke University and Ram Neta of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, tell me, “We are officially the largest course that Coursera has offered so far.” Woo-hoo! They also tell me I’ll be able to start meeting with my classmates (more than 1,000, as I recall) in Google Hangouts starting next week. “We are proud to be piloting this feature, which is a collaboration between Coursera and Google,” they report.

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong is Chauncey Stillman Professor of Practical Ethics in the Department of Philosophy and the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke. Ram Neta is an associate professor with the Philosophy Department at Chapel Hill.

Sinnott-Armstrong is lecturing this week. Rather than sitting in a big lecture hall listening to my professor who is waaay down in front and can’t see who’s sleeping in the back, I can listen to my prof as if I’m sitting in his office with him, having a cozy one-on-one. It’s nice. He tries, and succeeds, at being amusing as he explains the ABCs of arguments – what they are and are not, philosophically, what forms they take and what purposes they serve.

His lectures are broken up into short segments, 7-13 minutes, each covering a specific topic, neatly organized. He broke the ice with students on “Day 1” with a YouTube video interlude featuring a Monty Python take on argument. You can find the syllabus for this course here. I’m enjoying this philosophical perspective on argument. While I wanted to major in philosophy in undergraduate school, my pragmatic self told me it would not be practical (shows how ignorant I was…). Through doctoral studies I became a scholar of rhetoric and a practicing rhetorical analyst. I completely missed some of the basics, such as the philosophical study of reasoning and argument. Thanks to Coursera, I can catch up.

Among other social-media tools, Coursera is using Meetup to help students organize into smaller discussion or study groups. With 13,699 “Courserians” in 1,506 cities, Meetup has already enabled (as of today) the organization of 1,628 student “communities,” in New York, Moscow, Athens, Bangalore, London, Moscow, New York, Toronto and elsewhere.

The purpose of Coursera is “education for everyone.” Yay! With college tuitions rising and developing nations struggling to educate their people, it’s a highly worthy goal. I hope we make it!

Coursera could become a shining example of why the U.S. of A. and the world need to keep the Internet free and open. See Free Press Free Press for more on that subject, and if you can make it to Denver April 5-7, 2013, I urge you to attend Free Press’s National Conference for Media Reform National Conference on Media Reform. It’ll be a rousing event!

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