Yes, I Finally Enjoyed History Class!

Monday marks the last official day of the massive open online course (MOOC)The Kennedy Half Century,” in which I’ve been enrolled for the past four weeks. The course, taught by Larry Sabato, has been, in a word, excellent. My last blog post talked about the engaging stories and tales of life experiences from the instructor that seemed to make such a difference for me in this course. Here’s a little bit more about my impression of the MOOC “The Kennedy Half Century,” now that it’s over.

The Kennedy Half Century Course, Taught by Larry Sabato via Coursera.org
The Kennedy Half Century Course, taught by Larry Sabato via Coursera.org

“The Kennedy Half Century,” as stated above, was a month-long course, and each week comprised several lecture videos that began with John F. Kennedy’s rise to power and ended with the “Kennedy effect” on each of our presidents subsequent to his death. The course site also offered numerous (optional) discussion board forums where students could ask questions, share ideas, and provide opinions. The course ended with a ten-question quiz that was required only if the student wanted to earn a certificate of completion (which I did).

What did I especially like about this MOOC?

First, the course content not only was interesting but also was provided in a way that kept me eager to learn more. I am not, and I have never been, a history buff whatsoever; in fact, before this course, I had little idea what the Bay of Pigs or even the Cuban Missile Crisis was. The fact that Sabato could make me enjoy such history lectures, and that after I had finished one week’s lectures I was eager for the next week’s to begin, continues to amaze me. Sabato was factual but certainly not dry, he related personal experiences that made the material more “real,” and the videos were not simply a talking head or a bunch of PowerPoint slides but, instead, also included photos and videos from the fifty-year era that made the content come alive. In the past month, Sabato has made me more interested in the political events of my lifetime (which, by the way, began in 1962, just one year before JFK’s death) than I have ever been before.

Second, I appreciated that I was not required to participate in any assessments to check learning. Rather, I was free to do as little as watch the lecture videos or as much as post questions and responses on numerous forums, read Sabato’s new book on the topic, review the timeline created about the era, and more. My focus was definitely the videos, though I have purchased the book and plan to read it shortly.

Third, materials in the MOOC were provided in a timely fashion, and I never experienced issues accessing them. The lecture videos opened as soon as I linked to them and streamed extremely well.

Fourth, Sabato’s videos were produced quite well. They appeared to be high definition, and I enjoyed seeing Sabato positioned comfortably in front of the camera, with attractive scenery around him. He spoke in a manner that made me feel as though he were speaking to me, not simply reading a script, and his posture was relaxed, not stiff or nervous.

Last, I enjoyed seeing others’ posts on Twitter about the course, and I loved knowing that my own tweets were being read and shared. Occasionally, I would tweet something about the course, and seeing that it was retweeted (and once even replied to by Sabato himself) made me feel that I was part of a true learning community.

In summary, “The Kennedy Half Century” was, in my opinion, a well-thought-out, highly engaging online course that was top notch in teaching about the Kennedy years, the Kennedy assassination, and how JFK has factored into our nation’s and our subsequent presidents’ actions. The course is a great example of what a quality MOOC is, and I hope to enroll in more MOOCs that can motivate and interest me to the extent that this one has done. Thanks, Larry Sabato and “The Kennedy Half Century” design team!

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