The interesting thing about today’s report in the New York Times (“Harvard Asks Graduates to Donate Their Time to Free Online Humanities Class”) ( http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/26/education/harvard-asks-alumni-to-donate-time-to-free-online-course.html?ref=education&_r=0 ) is not that Greg Nagy has 27,000 students enrolled in his course Concepts of the Ancient Greek Hero. It’s been a popular course at Harvard for decades. Enrolling that number of students in a Massive Open Online Course is no surprise.
But Harvard is asking alumni not just to enroll but to “donate their time and intellects” as mentor and discussion group leaders. They can add a personal, (though not quite face-to-face) dimension to the experience of reading Homer and other classical texts under Greg Nagy’s guidance.
Why should it stop there? Are we asking enough of our students and alumni in the humanities? Only about one college or university in ten offers any program, even a rudimentary one, in Classics. As a result most college students in the US today have at best minimal access to the literature and cultural experience of the ancient Greek and Roman world -- few courses, even fewer teachers with real expertise in that area, and little encouragement from advisers. How are they to gain an opportuno9tuy that the curricular structure now denies them?
Are MOOCs the answer? Too early to say. But if not, let’s come up with ideas for something better. In the meantime, hats off to Harvard for asking more of its alumni than just money.