I have never professed to be among the intellectual elite and I’m pretty sure if you could locate them, my high school math and science teachers would corroborate that statement. Some of them might even express a degree of surprise if they knew how far I have been able to make it in this little life of mine. Because, truth be told, I’ve held my own in the world of academe having completed more than one undergraduate degree and another beyond that. And since I’m tooting my own horn anyway (it’s what us shallows do), I’ll be so bold as to add that every once in awhile I write a pretty mean blog post. There are even the odd times that I run into people that I can confidently say I might even be smarter than. Like the cashier at the big box store I visited this weekend who, when presented with a rain check I had received the previous week looked like a deer in my headlights as she proclaimed “I don’t know what to do with that”. Or the supervisor she called over who, looking rather perplexed, shrugged her shoulders while echoing that sentiment. Now it’s been more than a few years since I have worked in retail but having mastered the “self-checkout” at the grocery store I took a flyer and suggested they scan the barcode on the slip I handed them just to see what might happen. And as Tom Cruise would say, mission accomplished.
Perhaps I was riding that wave of confidence when I decided it was time for me to kick it up a notch and experience the ivy league. How, you ask, did little old me manage to infiltrate those hallowed halls? Well I haven’t actually “been” inside them but I am taking a course at Harvard, online, in something called a MOOC. Now I realize not everyone is as familiar with the term as I am because, in case I have never mentioned it, I spend most of my daylight hours working in the world of online learning. And in that world some consider MOOCs to be the best thing since sliced bread, if you can pardon the vernacular. So, you ask, what is this thing they call a MOOC? Here’s the learnin’ part of the post. MOOCs are “massive, open, online courses”, massive because they attract hundreds of thousands of people; open because they are free; and online because that’s how you take them. For the most part they’re taught by big name professors from even bigger name schools who videotape their lectures so that those of us who can’t be there, can be there. And that’s how I ended up at Harvard, taking a course with what appears to be a lecture hall full of law students.
Now I don’t know about you but I have always thought that, unlike me, the students at Harvard really are members of the intellectual elite. Let’s face it, the list of Harvard attendees reads like a “who’s who” of well, everyone. I mean you’ve got your Presidents, your Nobel Prize winners and your game changers the likes of Misters Gates and Zuckerman, all with Harvard parchment on their walls. I suppose that’s why I had high expectations, so much so that I was a little concerned about my ability to comprehend the level of discourse that I assumed would be elicited from this group. And it quickly became clear that my professor (well I am taking the course) was want to engage the students in dialogue around tough philosophical questions, like whether it was ethical for a group of shipwrecked sailors to decide to kill and eat one of their mates in order to save the rest. Now most of us probably don’t want to imagine ever being in this particular situation but, nevertheless, we surmise that the answer to that question would be both difficult and complex. Which is why I was a tad taken aback when a pretty cool looking guy in the front row put up his hand and, when called upon, stood up in front of hundreds of his classmates, not to mention his esteemed teacher, and confidently stated that he would, in fact, sacrifice one for the good of the others. When asked to explain the premise upon which his decision had been made, he took a moment to think about it and then replied “ya gotta do what ya gotta do”.
Okay, so it’s not exactly what I was expecting. No matter. When I finish the 5 multiple choice quizzes and final multiple choice exam I’m going to get a certificate. From Harvard. And you better believe I’ll be hanging that up on my office wall.