March 13 sees 10 years since the start of the first iteration of the MOOC ‘The Ancient Greek Hero’. Happy anniversary, HeroesX!
In 2013 MOOCs — massive open online courses — were in their infancy, and this was one of the first Humanities courses on edX. The Ancient Greek Hero is based on the Harvard course taught by Gregory Nagy since the late 1970s, and has the same content as the Harvard College and Harvard Extension School versions, organized into units matching the notional twenty-four hours of class meeting time in a semester, adapted to suit online delivery. To achieve this, everything had to be produced — a massive undertaking: alongside the book, for each Hour there were a series of short video discussions which modeled Socratic dialogues; content questions; and annotation exercises designed to focus on slow reading and comprehension. The team were continuing to prepare these materials even after the launch date: “building the ship as they went along.” There were also discussion forums.
Participants enrolled from over 170 countries, with a wide variety of backgrounds and experience, and ranging in age from teenagers to very senior citizens! And with this inter-generational, global community bringing their perspectives and questions, the discussion forums from the outset played a hugely important role. In this project the ‘C’ in MOOC stands for “three Cs”: content, conversation, and community. With an opening enrolment of over 30,000 the discussion forums were initially divided into cohorts, but were soon merged, and the discussion really took off, with Claudia Filos tirelessly answering questions and providing support and encouragement on behalf of the course team. Members of the Board of Readers — an intergenerational group of researchers and educators chaired by Leonard Muellner — responded to explain or clarify, to guide and nurture the discussion, and to help people to see further connections for themselves. Inspired by the team’s open, inclusive dialogues, participants also engaged in collaborative and constructive conversations, supporting each other’s learning. If the release of content was delayed, participants continued to discuss the themes and readings. If the video captions weren’t ready, volunteers typed them up. And the ‘Friday Café’ hosted by participant ‘Myrmidon’ provided a welcoming community-building social space.
Many participants expressed how they were blown away by the project, and how it felt life-changing. In fact, there are participants who return for a second or even a third time, so they can cover more ground or read and discuss in more depth. For some, the project inspired them to continue reading other texts, to study further, and also to learn ancient Greek. The Kosmos Society (originally called Hour 25 in a nod to the twenty-four content units of the MOOC) was created and has continued to evolve to provide an online presence with those aims in mind.
Version 2 of HeroesX ran straight after Version 1 the same year: all the content was available from the outset. Version 3 ran 2014–2015 and was divided into modules, with timed release of the content. Then from Version 4 onwards, HeroesX has run twice a year to coincide with the semesters at Harvard College and Harvard Extension School. The material is released gradually to allow time for participants to slow-read and engage with the content, and with additional time at the end for those who fall behind or have enrolled later. In 2020, the end date of Version 13 was extended to accommodate the many additional learners who were signing up during lockdown.
After the first iteration, HeroesX has continued to evolve. From Version 2 onwards, some participants from earlier iterations have rejoined as forum facilitators. Additional videos were filmed: discussions of more of the focus passages, with community readings, and Office Hours covering some of the responses to Discussion Questions, and other themes and questions. Some of the self-assessment questions were amended. Based on feedback from participants, there were corrections and adjustments for consistency in the Sourcebook. Optional extras with related content were added for each Hour for those who wish to read further, especially if they are taking part a second or third time.
HeroesX is currently (January 12 – May 17 2023) on its 19th iteration, and enrolment is still open!
So, again, congratulations and a happy anniversary to HeroesX — and to all those involved in creating this very special project — for its life-changing, inspiring learning style and endlessly fascinating content.
The Ancient Greek Hero, enrolment at edX
Gregory Nagy 2013. The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA: 2013. Available online at the Center for Hellenic Studies.
Testimonials from v1 participants
Discussion forum responses from Leonard Muellner from v2
“I hope this helps” — Discussion forum responses from the Board of Readers from v3
Screenshots from the HarvardX MOOC The Ancient Greek Hero