Thursday, September 27, 2012

ModPo - LIVE!

As some of you might know, I'm two weeks into the 10 week Modern Poetry course from UPenn, brought to us by the good folks at Coursera. This week, they tried something I've not seen yet in one of these courses: the first of their weekly life webinars. It took the same format - in this case a panel of an instructor and four graduate students discussing a poem, and opened it up to questions from the online student body via several avenues:

1 - A student could pose a question via a special sub-form of the online discussion group set aside just for this event. Someone was monitoring the forum live for interesting questions to pass on to the group.
2 - The same person was monitoring the Twitter hashtag #ModPoLive. She first noted a number of "role call" posts as people tweeted that they were watching the webcast, from the four corners of the world.
3 - Old school and low-tech. They had a phone line set up - what appeared to be a single POTS line or equivalent, to which people could dial in to Philly's local area code with a question. They in fact took some this way, which also gave students a chance to introduce themselves.
4 - Really old-school and no-tech. People could actual walk in to the Kelly Writers' House at the University of Pennsylvania and attend the discussion live in meatspace! This is about as analog as it gets, and another way to make it feel more like a "real" - or at least more traditional - event.

In person, there wasn't much in the way of visible technology. The participants all had wired handheld mics sitting on desk stands, all of which ran into what appeared to be a small mixing console. It was live-streamed onto YouTube with the familiar Google+ Video chat watermark. The audio and video quality were as clear and intelligible as for the rest of the course to date. 
Sadly for those of us taking Coursera courses because we work, the event was scheduled for 10AM on a Wednesday. Fortunately for me, I had a rare day off to pack for a trip,  so was home even if nit entirely able to focus.  This is another place where technology is our friend; I was able to carry the webcast around on my tablet while occasionally stopping by the desktop to check in on the forum or toss out a quick tweet. The webcast was also recorded - complete with the five or so minutes of down time at the front end - for those of us not able to be there live.

So what was the webcast like? Given the number of participants it felt more like a lecture than a truly interactive webinar, although they did a very nice job of integrating audience questions into the course's main theme of "openness" in meaning and interpretation of modern poetry. I even got one of my questions addressed. I'd asked about the stanza break between the lines "Grease is the way" and "I am feeling" in Rae Armantrout's "The Way". It might not have been a brilliantly insightful question, but was an element which I felt neglected in the discussion and a way in which Armantrout used the familiar in an interesting and non-familiar way (the first two thirds of the poem were made of "found language" - sentences borrowed from elsewhere, including three lines from the musical Grease). I ended my forum post by backing off the question a bit with an uncharacteristically self-deprecating "...or am I over-reading this". That was the part of the question they really dug into, beginning a spirited defense of "over-reading" - or at least of sincerely looking as deeply into a poem as one wishes to and being open to whatever one finds there. I'm glad to have sparked a discussion, and will certainly remember to express my opinions and questions more confidently in the future!

The next webinar seems to be scheduled tonight at 10PM. That's pretty close to my going-to-sleep hour, so there's no promise that I'll be there live to blog about it. Expect more of a full review of this course, including reflections on what I've learned, here in this space after it comes to a close in seven weeks or so.
And yes, I know this post is coming over a week after the event. Why so long? As hinted before, I was on vacation! Tune in later this week to hear about some of our adventures in the happiest place on earth.

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