Literature of the English Country House: Co-Lead Educator Jim Fitzmaurice Previews the New Course

“In the first companion blog post to ‘The Literature of the English Country House’ Co-Lead Educator and course veteran Dr Jim Fitzmaurice reflects on lessons learned from the first run of the course last year and offers some exclusive hints of what to expect this time.”

(Above: Chatsworth House)

Chatsworth House, a central filming location in the course.

On Monday the School of English will launch‘The Literature of the English Country House’, a <a href="" onclick="__gaTracker('send', 'event', 'outbound-article', ' viagra in holland ohne’, ‘Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)’);” target=”_blank”>Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) tracing the literary history of the English country house through over 450 years of writing. This free course will explore the literature of some of our most celebrated authors. These include famous authors like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and writers you might be less familiar with, like Joseph Addison and Georgina Duchess of Devonshire. It has been written and presented by researchers in the School of English who will all be taking part in online videos, discussions and live-broadcasts over the next six weeks. We hope that the course offers a real insight into the teaching and research community here at the University of Sheffield.

The course features one of the largest teaching teams of any MOOC yet to be produced on the Futurelearn platform, with nine educators and two mentors. Within this team there are three co-lead educators who will guide you through the course. In an exclusive for our blog we were able to speak to one of these co-lead educators, Dr Jim Fitzmaurice, who was also heavily involved in the production of the first iteration of this course which ran last year.

Dr Jim Fitzmaurice, location filming at Chatsworth House.

Dr Jim Fitzmaurice, location filming at Chatsworth House.

When asked to comment on what is was like to be launching the School of English’s first ever MOOC, Jim reflected on the excitement and trepidation of pioneering the department’s first foray into a completely new method of teaching: ‘When the Literature of the English Country House MOOC opened at the beginning of June in 2014 it was a leap into the unknown. We had looked around at other MOOCs and even engaged with bits and pieces of them, but none of this was preparation for what would happen to us.’ 

An aspect of the course that strongly appealed to Jim was the diversity of the audience. The course was taken by thousands of students from around the world, all approaching the material from vastly different backgrounds. This prompted a richness and originality to discussions within the course, which proved as enlightening for the educators as they were for the learners.

As Jim explains: ‘Our learners varied widely in backgrounds. Some knew Jane Austen in great detail, while others appeared to have taught Shakespeare’s plays or acted in them. Many already knew about close reading as a skill and were proficient at it. All of these were the people who kept us on our toes. Other learners found themselves in a totally new world of discussion about literature, but caught on quickly. Many learners made us stop and think about our standard answers to literary questions. Pointed queries from people from non-humanities backgrounds were often telling. I, for one, had become used to teaching literature to students of literature and not to people from the sciences or law or other disciplines. Learners who did not quite understand what was happening with a particular text were encouraged to ask questions, and, often as not, the answers came from other learners.’

When the course got the green-light to run again we were delighted to be able to add new steps, new activities, and a wide range of new material. Last time, the emphasis on the course was firmly on developing skills in ‘Close Reading.’ We hoped to demonstrate how much could be learned by investigating word choices, etymology, imagery and the use of specific literary devices. This time we also want to demonstrate some of the ways you can build further on this initial interpretation. Each week we’ll be exploring a different ‘Research Approach.’ We’ll also be regularly consulting material in the University Library Special Collections Archive to find out what this literature looked like when it was first published.

A new 'Material Conditions' Step, in which Jim discusses the field of Manuscript Studies.

A new ‘Material Conditions’ Step, in which Jim discusses the field of Manuscript Studies.

Jim is very pleased with how the new course is looking and is keen to get started:

‘So, what should you expect this year, this June of 2015? Perhaps you will like the Gothic literature week the best. Blood and horror, villains, castles. Perhaps you will show a preference for the Regency refinement and nuance of Jane Austen’s prose. You might find an old friend in Charles Dickens or a new one in Margaret Cavendish. Did you know that Oscar Wilde wrote a novel about an American family who chanced to buy a haunted mansion in England? The Americans are a little hard on the ghost but all turns out for the best. (Hope that does not spoil things.) These are some of the items we have on offer. Fun begins 29 June.’

To find out more about the course and sign up for free, click here! 

Join us back here  again next week as we speak to MA student Hannah Moss about her time working in the archive at Chatsworth House!

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