An Online Mormon Literature Course?

9.26.12 | | 15 comments

itunesu_iconWhen I was given an iPhone for Christmas last year, I began exploring the apps and other materials that are available for the iPhone and came across iTunes U—Apple’s open courseware platform, which currently hosts thousands of “courses,” all available for free. [Unfortunately, since Apple's courses are generally just video or audio files of lectures, they aren't fullfledged courses.] Apple isn’t the only platform. Perhaps better known is MIT’s Open Courseware project, which includes 2,100 courses (full-fledged courses this time), also all for free. There are many others also.

But I didn’t find any courses in one of my principal areas of interest: Mormonism.

I did find one course in the Apple iTunesU catalog (other than the theater courses about the Book of Mormon musical!) that included Mormonism in its description, apparently a lecture by Richard Bushman in a series of lectures at the Claremont Graduate University, but other than that Mormonism is completely ignored in online courses.

I suppose that isn’t too surprising, given that Mormonism doesn’t attract all that many courses anyway. But in another sense, Mormonism (and Mormon Literature in this case) seem like the perfect subjects for some kind of online course: It is of limited appeal in any one area, but could attract enough students online to justify a course. Also, nothing about the subject requires sophisticated computer programs or hard-to-find resources that make it easier to teach the course in person.

I have, of course, looked at BYU’s independent study catalog, but the number of courses is underwhelming compared to MIT’s catalog (to say nothing of the fact that courses cost as much as $500). And the Mormon courses in that catalog are limited to those in the religious studies department—so they are basically the same courses available at your local Institute, and, of course, Mormon literature is excluded.

We’ve talked here on A Motley Vision before about the problem of the relative ignorance of Mormons about their own literature. As Americans we consider American Literature important enough that it is a required course in High School. I know most other developed single-language (or 2 or 3 language) countries do the same (I’m not sure what they do in a place like India). But we don’t have any way of letting Mormons know about Mormon literature.

Regardless of whether Mormon literature is as important as a national literature, I think it would be much easier for Mormons to understand their heritage if such a course were available.

I don’t know about the various other platforms that are available, but Apple’s iTunesU appears to be fairly open — not only Universities but other academic and quasi-academic organizations also post their courses on its platform. If the “course” is just a series of recorded lectures like those on iTunesU, it should be relatively inexpensive to put together — provided enough “experts” could volunteer their time to the project.

So, what do you think? Would it be a good idea to put together such a course?

15 comments: “An Online Mormon Literature Course?

  1. Ardis

    That would be fun, either to work on, or to take.

    I suspect that a careful combing of the AML lst archives would produce a substantial number of posts that could be plugged in as readings in such a course, if AML would arrange to share them or even host such a course.

  2. Kent Larsen Post author

    Ardis, I think your blog has already provided a very large archive of potential short stories and poetry that could be read for such a course. [Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!]

    I really don’t think that finding readings is much of a problem. But, there is likely material from the AML list that could be useful (FWIW, I have much of the old archive here on my hard drive) — especially literary criticism that could lead to better evaluation of texts. The AML annuals and Irreantum archives, as well as other academic studies done in magazines like Dialogue, BYU Studies and not-mormon-specific journals of literature.

    Wm., as I said above, I have an archive of much of the AML list — from when I joined it.

  3. Th.

    .

    I have some bad news. American Literature is not a required course in many, many places. Thank standardized testing and state standards.

    In other news, I think this is a terrific idea. What would be the course goal? My thought is a survey for the initial course, then get student feedback for where to go next for more specialized courses.

  4. Laura

    I’m with Th. on this one. Survey course first and then build out from there.

    Where’s Tyler on this? Isn’t he teaching a Mormon Poetry class and the U of Idaho? And didn’t Scott Hales do something like this at one point? Please correct me if my memory isn’t serving me well.

    And,yeah, what would the objective be? In my very non-academic experience it’s waaaay easier to get people to read recently published novels than old poetry and short stories.

    That said, I have 20 ish year old “Introduction to Mormon Literature” homemade textbook that a friend gave me. She took the course at BYU in the early 90s from Eugene England. I’ve read the thing cover to cover and love it.

    Or you could start with Richard Cracroft’s online anthology and just lecture about that.

  5. Saskia

    I think that would be amazing. Mormon lit deserves some recognition.

  6. Kent Larsen Post author

    I must admit that I haven’t thought too far about this. I don’t know what the objective of a first course should be. Do you have suggestions?

    I guess I kind of assumed that it would be an “Introduction to Mormon Literature” course, but not much beyond that. I just thought I’d throw out the idea and see who salutes!

    Laura, I agree that Scott and Tyler would be helpful with a project like this. I do know that Scott taught a course along these lines, but aimed at those who are already pursuing an English major in college. It seems to me that an initial course ought to be aimed at a broader group — perhaps college graduates (in other fields), for example. I don’t know about Tyler’s poetry course.

    I would, Laura, be very interested to see the “Introduction to Mormon Literature” England materials you have. I agree that something like that or Cracroft’s online anthology would be good. Or even, the Cracroft and Lambert A Believing People, which is perhaps a bit difficult to get since it is out-of-print.

    If you all think this is a good idea, what should be the next step?

  7. Tyler

    Unfortunately the MoLit class I was putting together didn’t pan out. I’m still hoping to teach one somewhere someday, though.

    As for an online course in MoLit, I think it’s a great idea. My initial answers to your question, Kent, about what the next step should be are to consider more questions, like:

    *What kind of structure would we want the course to have/follow and which kind of structure would be most beneficial for introducing people to MoLit (since that seems like as good an objective as any on which to focus our time and energy, at least in the beginning)? Should it be:

    a) Lecture-based, wherein an expert on a particular genre, topic, author, etc., just records her/himself talking about said genre/topic/author and we post a video and/or audio file for others to access and listen to at their leisure?

    b) Seminar-based, wherein someone knowledgeable about a genre/topic/author puts together a group of readings and hosts, leads, and records a real-time discussion about those readings using some sort of open access web-conferencing software? An alternative approach would be to get at least two critics together in such a seminar and to have them discuss a text/series of texts (although this might be less for the intro course) or even to host a series of seminars in which we invite writers to talk about their work and answer questions from those in attendance. These recordings could be linked to from a course homepage.

    c) Text-based, wherein we cobble together a reading list of readily available content (primary and secondary resources) and let people make their way through the list as time and interest dictate?

    d) some combination of the above or that I haven’t considered?

    Additionally, should the course follow a linear progression, moving, say, through a series of units, or should it be offered in nodes such that participants can make their way through it according their own interests? Or both so that participants can choose what best fits their personal objectives for participating?

    *Would we want the course to engage people actively or passively, by which I mean what level of participation do we want from participants? Beyond readings/lectures/seminars/etc., do we want to offer challenges that encourage people to create content in response to the course material? And by “create content” I mean that they would write MoLit of their own (new stories, essays, poems, etc.) and/or write about the texts discussed.

    *What kind of license would we want the course to have? We obviously want it to be open, but the content (the readings and the course structure) ought to be somehow protected. Perhaps a Creative Commons license is something to consider?

    *For the course texts, would we use an existing textbook/anthology or create one of our own using materials that are already available and/or that we have received permission from the authors to make available to participants?

    *Do we want the course to be monolithic (i.e., something we create once and post online as a completed whole) or do we want it to be dynamic and expansive (i.e., something we create and post online, but to which we continually add new content as it becomes available)?

    These are just some questions that came to mind as I considered the possibilities of such a course. There are most likely others that haven’t crossed my mind.

    I’m happy to contribute what (little) content and course-building expertise I can to the project. For instance, I’d love to help design the structure and to design and host a webinar or series of webinars on Mormon poetry and/or Mormon criticism.

    It might also be useful to consult Gideon Burton, who has been doing some pretty cool stuff with the intersections between literature and digital culture.

  8. Th.

    .

    The Institute here did a course on Mormon arts a couple years ago, primarily lecture based. I was brought in to do the fiction day and Carol Lynn Pearson to do the poetry. Anyone serious about pursuing this should contact MJ Pritchett who taught the course and has already put thought into it.

  9. Kent Larsen Post author

    These are all great suggestions. Now if we can just get Gideon, Tyler, Scott and MJ in a conversation to work out the details, we might have something!!!

  10. Scott Hales

    “I’m happy to contribute what (little) content and course-building expertise I can to the project. For instance, I’d love to help design the structure and to design and host a webinar or series of webinars on Mormon poetry and/or Mormon criticism.”

    Ditto. (Except…swap out poetry for fiction.)

    Also, for the record, the class I taught was general education, not one designed for English majors. They don’t trust me enough to give me the keys to that car yet. ;)

  11. Joe

    While I am probably not qualified to contribute, I would definitely enjoy the fruits of your efforts.

  12. Inari

    I too am a prospective student. :)

    And from that point of view I could try to answer some of Tyler’s questions:
    -For structure I imagine I would best respond to a combination of AV material (either lectures or seminar recordings) and some kind of reading material if one feels like pursuing it further. Sort of like NPR’s Planet Money does their podcasts: the audio episode stands alone, but they put all sorts of relevant links and pictures and what-all on the blog-post about that episode, for further perusal.
    I would also rather see a non-linear choose-your-own-adventure type episodic approach by topic where one can skip according to their interests. I know looking at my iTunesU and podcasts list, I am dreadfully bad at going at something steadily episode after episode, and much better at listening to the things that have an interesting-sounding description.

    -Participation-wise I think it would be wonderful to invite it – in a way that doesn’t mean some poor volunteer ends up with a non-paying full-time job of reading through everything. Perhaps AMV, or another blog set up for the purpose could give space for the content produced as response to this course. Or maybe like in a class where everyone writes the assignment but only one or two are read out loud for the entire class to hear, people can send in their text but someone somewhere decides whether it is posted on the blog.

    -Licence question I skip because I have personal problems with all that copyright stuff and I don’t want to get on my high horse about that here… But creative commons something is a good way forward.

    -Text list question I also skip since I’m not the person to answer that…

    -Whether to be one big thing or a more serial/episodic thing, I’d say from an early participant’s POV a more gradual approach would seem less daunting and would keep me coming back (I say this as I look at that link to the Academic Earth website in my favourites and how little love it has received… there’s just too much to choose from on there!) but then again when it’s a large collection of things it is easier for a student to pick and choose according to their interests, and it has a greater chance of there being something that catches the eye of different people. The danger with gradually adding to a thing is that it fight fizzle out and die with only a few episodes out there; the danger with a big one-time submission is that it will fizzle out and die before anything has been posted. :P

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