From MOOC Student to Published Author: English Comp Course Inspires Writers Around the World
Denise Comer’s English composition MOOC was one of Duke University’s first open online courses when it launched in March 2013. Comer, who is the director of Duke’s First-Year Writing program, doesn’t merely instruct students to use correct grammar and construct well-organized paragraphs. She helps students think of themselves as writers and learn how to use […]
Denise Comer’s English composition MOOC was one of Duke University’s first open online courses when it launched in March 2013. Comer, who is the director of Duke’s First-Year Writing program, doesn’t merely instruct students to use correct grammar and construct well-organized paragraphs. She helps students think of themselves as writers and learn how to use writing to share their expertise with the public.
“One ongoing concept in the course, by virtue of it being a MOOC, is that writing should be read. Writing facilitates exchange and dialogue and helps advance knowledge by being public,” said Comer.
Several students have taken that lesson to heart, and have seen their writing assignments from the course published in newspapers, blogs, journals, and other formats.
Rediscovering the Thrill of Writing
Jayalakshmi Sengupta lives in Dehli, India, where she works as an editor at a book publishing company. Earlier in her career she worked as a journalist, but after several years of being out of the profession she didn’t know how to get back into writing. She found few opportunities for continuing education in India, so Sengupta sought international options and found Comer’s class on Coursera.
Taking English Composition I reminded her of the excitement of her days as a rookie journalist. Having her work read and evaluated by other students in the course—a process called peer review—made the class even more enriching.
“The peer review process was an excellent system whereby I got to examine my writing from a number of different perspectives,” she said. “This helped in enriching the quality of my essays. In a short span of a few weeks, I had learnt to question more deeply, research more accurately and write with more passion and confidence.”
For her final project for the MOOC, Sengupta wrote an op-ed about violence in Afghanistan and India’s role in establishing peace in the region. In August, it was published in the Huffington Post’s India edition. Since then, the Huffington Post has published another piece of her work, and she hopes in the future to contribute her writing to newspapers across the world.
Introducing a Seminal Text to a New Audience
Camilo Florez is a biologist who grew up in Colombia and now lives and works in Alberta, Canada. “Writing can be incredibly intimidating,” he said, particularly because English is not his first language. English Composition I was an opportunity to gain more confidence in his writing by participating in a course designed specifically to support emerging writers.
Florez decided to write a book review of The Natural Philosophy of Plant Form, an influential botany text by Agnes Arber first published in 1950. “It may sound odd, but I wrote this article to understand Arber’s theory better. It was more like writing for self-learning.”
In addition, Florez wanted to introduce the work of Arber, a British scientist, to scholars in South America, so he targeted Revista de Biología Tropical, a peer-reviewed journal well-known in the region. His review was accepted and published in the journal’s summer 2015 issue.
Bringing a Personal Perspective to a National Issue
Yuichiro Chikamochi is an English teacher and translator who lives in Okayama, Japan, a remote part of the country. He wanted to hone his English writing skills and signed up for the MOOC because he found more traditional, in-person programs too expensive and too far from where he lives. For his op-ed assignment in the course, he wrote about his personal perspective on a growing trend in Japan of men taking on greater roles in child-rearing and household duties.
He submitted it to four publications, and after a year of feedback and revisions, it appeared in the online and print versions of Japan Times, an English-language newspaper. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it on their website and, most surprisingly, in print,” he said.
Finding Confidence to Share One’s Own Story
Beverly Reed Scott, who lives outside of Chicago, Illinois, has no formal educational background in writing, though she had studied storytelling and teaches women to use the spoken and written word as a means to self-empowerment. She signed up for the MOOC to see what it would be like to take a course from a major university such as Duke.
“I realized I could be successful in a course that I was certain was for ‘real writers,” Scott said.
The course inspired her to prepare the first volume of a serial memoir she was working on for publication. “It no longer seemed like a suspicion that I had something to offer the world with my story, it became a responsibility.” Scott’s memoir was published by an independent press and is now available on Amazon as a paperback and a Kindle ebook.
While being published isn’t a requirement for Comer’s MOOC, the course does include a guest lecture by expert op-ed writer David Jarmul, and Comer encourages her students who have been published to share their experiences with each other through the course discussion forums. “There are many different levels of experience and sophistication among the learners,” she said. “Hearing stories about writing accomplishments from one another is inspiring for them.”