What is Literature From Anywhere?

Literature From Anywhere is a nine unit sequence (three units over IAP, six units in S14) was designed for students who will be on campus during IAP but enrolled from abroad during the spring term.

The subtitle for AY 13-14 and 14-15 is "The Engineer's Guide to Paradise Lost."  John Milton's Paradise Lost, a book length epic poem that is a classic of the English literary canon, retells the story of mankind’s creation and fall story from Genesis. As told by Milton, this is a story of origins – of the universe, of human beings, of gender and the family, of political life, and of evil.  It is also a story of revolutions, beginning with the story he elaborates of Satan’s rebellion against God.  Milton used the poem to grapple with key existential and political issues, and he did so in unrhymed poetry of staggering power and beauty; students typically find its level of difficulty noticeable but manageable.

How did Literature from Anywhere come about?  In fall 2011, I heard Ian Waitz -- the dean of engineering -- give a talk about the future of engineering education.  A lot of the ideas in this talk were intriguing or inspiring, among them a project to engage students in making videos to teach others the basic concepts learned in their engineering courses (adapting an idea made famous by Sal Khan).  Another idea was to redesign MIT courses in order to enable undergraduates to spend one semester doing coursework remotely while they did service, research, or interned somewhere else in the world.  That sounded really exciting, but I couldn't help thinking that those students would be lost to those of us teaching in the humanities, arts, and social sciences -- as our subjects would in turn be off limits to them until they returned to campus.  These two ideas came together and, with generous financial and logistical support from the School of Engineering and the Alumni Class Funds, Literature from Anywhere was born.  As the practical realities of course and degree requirements came clear, the design evolved. What emerged in AY 13-14 was a class focused on a single, big literary text; beginning with three weeks of intensive, face-to-face work before moving to asynchronous, online interaction; and paired with an on-campus class reading the same text at a slight time-lag, who became the beta testers for a set of multi-media "reader's guide" materials that the online students produced.

This IAP, we will begin Milton's story of the universe again, and rewrite the Engineer's Guide, using lessons learned in the first iteration.