Penn's 'ModPo' MOOC partners with the New York Public Library

Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman created an American tradition of radical poetry about 160 years ago, and this year, Penn’s Kelly Writers House (KWH) and the New York Public Library (NYPL) have created a radical way to teach it.

Starting this fall, New Yorkers enrolled in Al Filreisonline Modern and Contemporary American Poetry class—or “ModPo,” as it’s known to its 80,000-plus participants—will be able to discuss course content with their virtual classmates in person. Filreis is the Kelly Professor of English in the School of Arts & Sciences and faculty director of the Kelly Writers House.

In addition to online activities such as discussion videos and forums, and live webcast sessions, New York learners will also have the opportunity to take part in self-directed gatherings, which Julia Bloch, associate director of KWH, says will focus on “collaborative close readings of the poems we study together in ModPo.”

Bloch says “the librarians and researchers at NYPL have been incredibly generous and generative” in thinking of ways to make ModPo course materials available to students. She adds, this is “especially exciting to us, since we often use our platform to encourage students to reach out to their public libraries and independent bookstores to get their hands on books by the poets we discuss.”

Like three stars falling into alignment, the NYPL is actively seeking to steward more adult learning opportunities; Coursera, the online platform which hosts Penn MOOCs, just launched an initiative to provide spaces technologically outfitted for online learning; and Penn recently renewed its commitment to online learning as part of its efforts to increase educational access as outlined in President Amy Gutmann’s Penn Compact 2020.

For KWH, these three synchronous initiatives translate into an “opportunity to forge an affiliation with free, nonprofit, public resources such as the NYPL,” says Bloch. “Collaborative partnerships like this one are at the heart of our pedagogy—and our commitment to keeping our course a completely nonprofit venture.”

For Edward Rock, director of Penn’s Open Learning Initiatives, the opportunity is a powerful one.

“With its partnership with the NY Public Library, ModPo is demonstrating yet again how the internet can facilitate real arts education for the general public,” Rock says. “For Penn, it shows another way in which we can extend our reach. Penn’s mission is the creation and dissemination of knowledge, and Al Filreis shows enormous creativity in figuring out good ways to do so.”

The gatherings will take place every Thursday throughout the 10-week ModPo session, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Hudson Park Library in Greenwich Village, 66 Leroy St. Filreis himself will convene the first gathering on Thursday, Sept. 11.