In 15 years of teaching, University of Pennsylvania classicist Peter Struck has guided perhaps a few hundred students annually in his classes on Greek and Roman mythology through the works of Homer, Sophocles, Aeschylus and others – "the oldest strands of our cultural DNA."
But if you gathered all of those tuition-paying, in-person students together, the group would pale in size compared with the 54,000 from around the world who, this fall alone, are taking his class online for free – a "Massive Open Online Course," or MOOC, offered through a company called Coursera.
Reaching that broader audience of eager learners – seeing students in Brazil and Thailand wrestle online with texts dating back millennia – is thrilling. But he's not prepared to say they're getting the same educational experience.
"Where you have a back-and-forth, interrogating each other ideas, finding shades of gray in each other's ideas, I don't know how much of that you can do in a MOOC," he said. "I can measure some things students are getting out of this course, but it's nowhere near what I can do even when I teach 300 here at Penn."