Take This MOOC: Literature and Mental Health

Literature and Mental Health is actually a course I stumbled on thanks to Learning How to Learn (which I’ve previously reviewed here) and their weekly email newsletters. I was too late to sign up for it initially, but opened again in January and finished up the first week in March. (Don’t worry: these courses often repeat! Sign up now if you’re interested in taking the course in the future.)

Literature and Mental Health is another offering from FutureLearn, like Inside IELTS (see my review here, including some comments on FutureLearn). It’s presented by Jonathan Bate, Paula Byrne, and was developed by the Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick. As the name would suggest, Literature and Mental Health looks at how literature, particularly poetry, might be beneficial in treating mental illness. The course focuses on six particular issues related to mental well-being:

  • Stress
  • Heartbreak
  • Bereavement
  • Trauma
  • Depression and Bipolar
  • Aging and Dementia

Literature and Mental Health, like Inside IELTS, is presented only in English. The literature in question is English, and the course draws particularly from the British literary traditions. Nonetheless, the course seems to have been enjoyed by learners all over the world, judging by the comments in the course discussion.. There are transcripts of every video, which EFL students will no doubt find helpful. (There is the occasional hiccup in the transcripts, but for the most part they’re quite good.)

As I mentioned earlier, the course focuses almost exclusively on poetry. I am notoriously indifferent about poetry, and so I would have appreciated equal attention paid to prose throughout the course. Nonetheless, I appreciate that Literature and Mental Health drew from a broad scope of English literature, from the 1600s until today. The poems selected represent a lovely cross-section of the English language and how it’s developed over the last 350 years. EFL students might find some of those older poems intimidating, but you might be surprised at how how much you can take away from a poem, especially if you read contemporary discussion and analysis alongside of it.

There are no quizzes or other recall assignments involved. Instead, there are periodic, optional “activities” connected to literature-adjacent research: can reading poetry improve mood? what makes poetry easy or difficult to memorize? Students who find themselves stressed over MOOCs because of assessments or grades would do well to start with this one, as it’s incredibly low stakes.

Finally, the course draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources. Every unit includes interviews with other writers, poets, or British cultural luminaries. Additionally, a medical professional always anchors the initial discussion on the week’s focus, so that the discussion of the literature is always grounded in what the medical world knows about that particular condition. Even if you don’t get anything out of the poetry, you might learn something new about mental health!

Take This MOOC: Inside IELTS: Preparing for the Test with the Experts

My schedule was fairly hectic in 2017, so while I found room in my schedule for a good MOOC (Mindshift, from the same people behind Learning How to Learn), I didn’t find time to review it here. This year I’m managing my time a little better, and so I can sit down and give you my thoughts about Inside IELTS: Preparing for the Test with the Experts.

This course is offered on another MOOC website, FutureLearn. Like Coursera, FutureLearn offers courses for free but provides the ability to “upgrade” your participation, which includes a certificate of completion. Unlike Coursera, standard FutureLearn MOOCs aren’t available after their time runs out, even if you successfully complete them; for that, you need to purchase the upgrade. So a FutureLearn course is a little more time-sensitive than a Coursera course.

Inside IELTS is a well-organized, easy-to-digest look at the IELTS Academic test, one of the premiere international ESL tests. Many universities and employers use an IELTS score as part of their evaluation. (If you’re studying English to get into a university, this probably isn’t news to you!) Inside IELTS is a five-week program featuring video interviews, lectures, reading, and practice question. The material includes an explanation of the different assessment criteria and bands that the test evaluators will use as well as going through the test structure itself. The actual lessons break down into:

  • Academic Writing
  • Speaking
  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Putting It All Together

Inside IELTS is presented only in English; the course organizers recommend an English level of B1 or so to be able to understand the bulk of the material. However, all the videos are subtitled, and transcripts are also provided. The target audience is obviously EFL students, but instructors might also find it useful to go through to familiarize themselves with the IELTS test structure and format (if they aren’t already). Inside IELTS also goes over some test-taking tips that can be applied generally to any English test, rather than just the IELTS.

There are quizzes throughout, but they are low-stakes and aren’t tied to your completion of the course. You’ll also have the opportunity to evaluate sample responses yourself to get a feel for what the standards are.

Inside IELTS is five weeks long and, including the practice assignments, consists of three hours of work per week for a total of fifteen hours of instruction. The first week is already up, but it shouldn’t take long to catch up! Otherwise FutureLearn will send you an email when the course is ready to repeat itself.

Take This MOOC: Learning How to Learn

First of all, what is a MOOC? “MOOC” stands for Massive Open Online Course: free courses you can take online, usually alongside dozens, maybe hundreds of other classmates from around the world. They’re created by professors at prestigious universities and experts in the field and usually consist of video lectures, readings, and homework assignments.

Whenever I have a lull in my schedule, I like to see if there are any MOOCs coming up that pique my interest. I’m a member of Coursera.org, but I hear that edx.org also has a lot of great classes and will be looking into it in the future. MOOCs can be hit or miss, so I thought I’d collect some of the hits here.

The first MOOC I’d like to recommend is Coursera’s Learning How to Learn. It was created by Dr. Barb Oakley and Dr. Terry Sejnowski and is offered on Coursera via UC San Diego.

In my experience, it’s really easy for MOOCs to fail. There are two traps they end up falling into: (1) spoonfeeding you almost no information, or (2) throwing you in the deep end right away. Learning How to Learn charts a middle course; it might even err towards spoonfeeding, but because the information is immediately applicable to learning and habits generally, it maintained my interest throughout the course. The videos were short and punchy, making them the perfect thing to watch while taking a break from something else. There are quizzes with every module, but to be honest they are low stress and not excessively challenging. They’re clearly designed to repeat and reinforce information rather than to challenge students or freak them out.

Learning How to Learn covers these areas:

  • What is learning?
  • Chunking
  • Procrastination and memory
  • Renaissance learning and unlocking your potential

The video lectures are in English, but if you’re not comfortable enough to take an entire course in English, the subtitles have been translated into a variety of languages: Arabic, French, Russian, and Chinese (among others). As far as I’m aware, the quizzes are still in English, though I could be wrong.

The most helpful parts for me came in the third week (procrastination!) and in the weekly email digests. I finished the class long ago, but I still get the weekly “Cheery Friday Greetings” newsletter. Normally email newsletters are not my bag, but Dr. Oakley and Dr. Sejnowski manage to dig up a lot of great book recommendations on memory, learning, and psychology—it’s a really great free source, in my opinion, especially for anyone studying or teaching a foreign language.

Overall it’s a casual but nonetheless helpful MOOC that I think anyone, especially students, can immediately apply to their lives. Take it! Let me know what you think!