Weekly Round-Up: MOOCs Edition


Unpublished DFW essay: The influence of cat memes, MOOCs, and the Internet on modern literary fiction writers.

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “MOOCs” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

After a short winter break, we’re back and ready to get back to work. As it tends to happen, two weeks of events and news have piled up: the weather turned nice and then terrible again; the defense budget is shrinking; thanks to the influence of capitalism, Arizona is now only a little less crazy and discriminatory than I once suspected; Ukraine ousted its president and then Russia behaved like a scorned lover; #AWP14 annoyingly monopolized my Twitter feed; and I’ll be spending part of my Sundays for a few weeks with a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) from Yale on financial markets.

There’s some lively debate about the social utility of MOOCs, both within academia and tech entrepreneur circles. Some of the criticism leveled against MOOCs is rather valid, while some of it is simply unfounded alarmist paranoia. Truthfully, I fall somewhere in the middle of the debate, that tricky balance between a business model that’s too heavily influenced by corporate profits and a social venture with a global mission of building a quality, accessible, and sustainable education model for the modern era. Like many, I have had a few false starts with MOOCs, and I’ve yet to complete one from beginning to end. So this is a test of my commitment to the MOOC model, I suppose. I read somewhere that if I publicly declare my goal then I’m far more likely to complete the goal. So, I am testing that theory, along with usefulness of MOOCs. I’ll keep you posted.

And for those of you living in and around NYC, Phil will be reading all over the city this week from Redeployment. After you listen to him read, buy his book, which is due out on March 4th. We can’t recommend his work enough, if only for the simple power of sentences like these: “So that’s your story, the story you wanted to tell me. Now what?”

Here we go.

  1. Speaking of social utility, a recent collection of essays, MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction, is stirring public debates around the usefulness of MFA programs generally, but perhaps more specifically this collection is offering, if for the first time, a truly complete lens into the life ­– and economics ­– of the modern working writer. Two of the essays I’ve read thus far – Alexander Chee and Emily Gould – have each, in their own ways, totally and completely blown me away. Both essays uniquely employ the author’s personal and financial struggles in order to highlight the many different reasons why writers choose to attend writing programs, poorly spend their book advances, or refuse to find regular jobs after it all falls apart.
  2. A local newspaper in Colorado Springs, Colorado, The Gazette, is running a powerful series on a rather complex issue facing some of America’s combat veterans who were discharged with an OTH, or other than honorable discharge. To be honest, as a veteran myself, I am not sure how I feel about this issue. But, if history has taught us anything, it’s that morally complicated social issues such as this require both nuanced thinking and a collective sense of responsibility to fix.
  3. The Boston Globe decided to run another poor example of reporters pushing an agenda on the sexiness of special operations and its (lack of) connection to elite athletes. According to the paper, Boston College’s Alex Amidon ‘may’ leave football for a Navy SEAL dream (the original story had him leaving, but was later amended to include this, ‘Clarification: BC associate athletics director said Amidon had not yet made a decision’). This is all rather silly to me, because there have been plenty of elite college athletes who have served in the military since 9/11, and some of them even served in first-tier units. For instance, my boat crew leader in BUD/S was the starting middle linebacker for San Diego State’s football team in the early 2000s, who never made a big deal of his football past or his direct from OCS to BUD/S path. He was a solid officer who treated me well, and was always willing to get wet and sandy with the rest of us mortals.
  4. From the Daily Beast, you can read Brian Castner’s exceptional review of Redeployment. After that, check out the ‘Books of the Times’ review in the New York Times, as well as the reviews in Men’s Journal and New York Magazine.
  5. The great Denis Johnson has new fiction in this week’s New Yorker. And for those of you unfamiliar with his work, his collection, Jesus’ Son, is one of the best story collections. Ever. Period. Full Stop.
  6. Thanks to the power of Twitter, Amtrak will be offering residencies to writers. After you figure out how to apply, you can read an essay in the Paris Review from Jessica Gross on writing on trains. And then re-read why some of us just want the world to be a little less loud, especially in the quiet car.
  7. Not sure how they did it, but warontherocks.com interviewed Chairman Dempsey on the profession of arms. I could listen to General Dempsey talk all day, which might have something to do with his graduate degree in literature from Duke. If you want more Dempsey, you can watch him on Charlie Rose. If you want more debate on the profession of arms, check out Adrian Bonenberger’s op-ed in the Washington Post and Maj. Matthew Cavanaugh’s post on warcouncil.org.

Have a great weekend.


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