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'The Ancient Greek Hero' Comes to edX

When CB22x: “The Ancient Greek Hero” debuts as one of edX’s first humanities courses this spring, the class will face an entirely new set of challenges than those faced by its quantitative predecessors.

CB22x, the online version of professor Gregory Nagy’s long-running course on ancient Greek heroes, will reach an anticipated audience of 40,000 when it starts this spring as part of edX, the online learning venture started by Harvard and MIT.

“Because we are a humanities course, what we need is a kind of variation of the Socratic method,” Nagy said. “Dialogue is more important than getting X amount of information uploaded at any given moment.”

Departing from the structure of his lecture course, Nagy will conduct dialogues with colleagues about the course’s assigned reading.

To encourage a more interactive experience, a technological development to facilitate private and public commentary is being developed for the class, which, according to Nagy, is the College’s longest continuously running course.

“We’re building a massive annotation tool, which will allow students to comment on any portion of course material, including video, audio, images, and text,” said Jeff Emanuel, HarvardX fellow for the study of the humanities.

Through the tool, students will be able to make private comments, which can be exported as course notes. They will also be able to respond to forum discussions.

According to Emanuel, 14,000 students have already enrolled in CB22x and participation is expected to triple. To accommodate the high enrollment, the CB22x team has been working with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Registrar to recruit past teaching fellows and students to serve as mentors for a “Board of Readers.”

Nagy said having mentors who have already taken the course and done the readings will greatly improve the experience of students who have not previously been exposed to the analysis of classic literature.

“The more people you have there, the more individual interaction you can have. [Having that] is obviously a challenge in a massive, open online course,” Emanuel said.

Although still in the development process, another technological tool will allow instructors to graphically see how the course is engaging participants at a macro level. Instructors will be able to see correlations between demographic characteristics and students’ analysis of the text, according to Claudia P. Filos, the course’s content editor.

CB22x will focus on analyzing ancient Greek texts, including Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Additionally, students will have free access to the electronic version of Nagy’s new textbook, “The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours.”

“It’s not for money. It’s a labor of love,” Nagy said.

—Staff writer Amna H. Hashmi can be reached at amnahashmi@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter at @Amna_Hashmi.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CLARIFICATION: Feb. 7, 2013

An ealier version of this article stated that students in this spring’s CB22x: “The Ancient Greek Hero” will be given free access to professor Gregory Nagy’s textbook “The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours.” To clarify, students enrolled in the course will be allowed to access the electronic version of the textbook free of charge.

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