September 2014

Scene4 Magazine-The Steiny Road  To Operadom - Karren Alenier -
Karren LaLonde Alenier

A Massive Open Online Study Group
Under the Microscope

On the eve of ModPo 2014, the third offering of University of Pennsylvania professor Al Filreis' Coursera massive open online course Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo), the Steiny Road Poet is positioned to open a new ModPo study group on "Food," section 2 of Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons.


You many recall, Dear Reader, her February 2014 Scene4 report called "Tender Buttons—100 Years" that said the Tender Buttons massive open online study group (MOOSG) was still working away despite ModPo having finished its ten-week run in mid November 2013.






What was it like studying inside the discussion forums after the course finished? Steiny is pleased to report that the study sessions ran pretty much with the same enthusiasm and numbers of working participants.


Here is a summary list of how the TB MOOSG worked:


Duration: mid-October to mid June with several breaks usually a week long.


Number of discrete study sessions: 40


Total number of participants: 24


Core working group participating in 20 or more sessions: 8 (including Steiny)


Number participating in 10 or fewer sessions: 11


Number participating in 11-19 sessions: 5


Average number of participants per session: 7.8




You may recall that the ModPo MOOC attracted over 40,000 students of which 2,000 were actively engaged. Participation in the ModPo discussion forum helped students process what professor Filreis was offering in his live panel discussions with his teaching assistants, videos, and links to poems and commentary. The Tender Buttons MOOSG offered a learning group inside a larger learning group. Steiny with occasional help from The Buttons Collective, the name the study group chose for itself, posted the results of each study to her personal blog, except for the first five subpoems which she analyzed and wrote about on her own. She began the Tender Button MOOSG with subpoem 6 "Dirt And Not Copper.".




Among the visible people participating in the study group were those who actively made comments that were discussed, those who acted as catalysts asking questions but not often adding commentary, and those who came only to kibbutz or socialize. People who participated socially (approximately 9 people) were not counted in the 24 or the head counts by study session. While Steiny participated in all the study sessions, one person on the other side of the world from Steiny participated in 38 out 40 sessions. But no matter how few sessions, many made significant breakthrough observations.


The highest count by session was 14 people discussing "A Piano." just after the ModPo course concluded its ten-week session. The lowest counts occurred during the review of subpoems 1 to 5 ("A Carafe, That Is A Blind Glass." through "A Piece of Coffee.") which coincided with intense work going on within ModPo where students were trying to catch up on the work as the course moved into its last weeks.


While more than 24 people were visible participants in the TB MOOSG, the study sessions were viewed usually at a count three times higher than the posted number of comments. In other words, some people were unseen observers, who made no comments. Here are some examples: the discussions for


"A Piano." subpoem 17: 932 views to 235 posts  (3.96 views to each post),


"A Little Bit Of A Tumbler." subpoem 38: 303 views to 84 posts (3.6 views to each post),


 "Peeled Pencil, Choke.", "It Was Black, Black Took.", and "This Is This Dress, Aider." subpoems 56-58: 726 views to 288 posts (2.52 views to each post).




Given the geographic spread (participants were based in Australia, South Africa, The Philippines, United Kingdom, Canada, and both coasts of the United States) participants could be seen posting at all hours of the clock. When new discussions opened, sometimes within hours, a rapid exchange of comments would happen such that people would stay up later than they should have and missed out on sleeping. Steiny dubbed this jetlag without jet. She also had trouble keeping up with documenting the discussions. Just like Stein's work, often the TB MOOSG comments were not linear and difficult to thread together.


It remains to be seen if the same level of enthusiasm will occur for the "Food." section of Tender Buttons. The plan is to open the study session in early October, the week professor Filreis discusses Gertrude Stein. One of the Buttons who promised to return for section 2 suggested that he wants to encourage newcomers to participate. That means making sure some discussion of Stein has happened with the ModPo MOOC. As for Steiny, she may try to write up her thoughts on subpoems of "Food" before she opens discussion on them so that she has a leg up on documenting the discussions. While Stein is unpredictable, Steiny feels like the boot camp of "Objects" prepared her for what lies ahead and she knows what she learned from The Buttons Collective was invaluable.


* "Tender Buttons—100 Years" Scene4 February 2014

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Scene4 Magazine — Karren AlenierKarren LaLonde Alenier's most recent book is The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas. She also writes a monthly column in Scene4
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