Stirling Road library embraces online learning

January 8, 2016

From the SunSentinal

by Helen WoltContact Reporter

Forum Publishing Group

Libraries have always fostered learning. But the Friends of the Stirling Road Branch Library are taking this into the 21st century.

The library support group hosts a local meeting place for massive open online courses, known as MOOCs. MOOCs are taught by professors at top universities. Thousands of selections are offered online through sites such as EdX and Coursera. Students can enroll for free classes that don't offer credit or pay a fee for those that award certificates.

Usually, people take the online classes as a solitary endeavor. But the Friends have discovered that studying collectively has advantages.

"When you sign up for a course, most people don't finish," said Friends co-president Hannah Hostyk. "It requires a discipline we want to have but don't."

Meeting as a group with a shared interest makes learning enjoyable, Hostyk said, and it creates a sense of community. She said she acts as moderator and leads discussions.

The Friends have organized two MOOCs that meet at the library. Its first last summer covered the history of China taught by a Harvard University professor. In the fall,University of Pennsylvania faculty led a poetry class.

During the library's China session, several students had traveled to the People's Republic. They'd bring in pictures and anecdotes to share with the group. Before long, classmates started taking turns providing egg rolls and other foods.

"It was a lot of fun," said Friends co-president Julie Mukamal. At first, she had no special interest in Chinese history, but said the class was "fantastic."

"I learned a lot," Mukamal said. "I wouldn't have had the stick-to-itiveness by myself."

The Hollywood library is one of a few in the U.S. that puts on the communal MOOCs in a public space. About 20 students watch the online lectures on a large screen in a conference room. Anyone can join and no exams or homework are given.

"All that's required is a sense of curiosity," Hostyk said. "We encourage people to be open minded and to want to learn something."

To take its MOOC meet-ups to the next level, the co-presidents are putting the next course selection up to a vote. They're inviting the public to choose from nine courses ranging from dog cognition to contract law. Class will start later in January.

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