University of Virginia

The University of Virginia scholar, who teaches a free online course on Thomas Jefferson that will debut Monday, is struck by the paradox of a slave-owning Founding Father who espoused liberty. Onuf’s own political sympathies lie with the party that opposed the nation’s third president.

“I’m a native New Englander,” Onuf said, “and if I had my druthers, I’d probably be a Federalist. But he is a fascinating guy.”

For U.Va., Jefferson is indispensable and omnipresent — the founder of a public university that aims to live up to his vision of an “academical village.” His enduring fame as the author of the Declaration of Independence also gives the university in Charlottesville endless opportunities to promote its brand around the world.

It is no accident, from a public relations perspective, that U.Va. timed the online course “Age of Jefferson” to begin on Presidents’ Day. It also is no accident that the university will offer subtitled versions in Chinese and Spanish in hopes of tapping audiences in Asia, Europe and Latin America.

Anyone with an Internet connection can take the course, for no charge, through the website Coursera or view it through the application iTunes U. The massive open online course, or MOOC, is a joint venture of U.Va. and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. It is U.Va.’s 12th MOOC since the school began offering the courses a year ago. Others have covered topics such as the history of the modern world, business entrepreneurship, the influence of President John F. Kennedy, effective classroom teaching and the physics of how things work. Those who pass the courses don’t receive any credits toward a U.Va. degree.

A senior U.Va. official said the MOOC should not be seen as a marketing exercise.

“This is meant to be a serious course on Jefferson,” said Jeffrey W. Legro, the vice provost for global affairs. “It’s not Jefferson 101.”

MOOCs, which have proliferated in the past two years, are sometimes described as a disruptive force that will “democratize” the elite level of higher education. Skeptics say such claims are overblown.

If Jefferson were alive today, the debate over the direction of higher education in the 21st century might have resonated with him. The revolutionary leader founded U.Va. in 1819, a decade after the end of his presidency.

U.Va. is hardly the only university with a Founding Father tie-in. George Washington University said it is exploring the possibility of a MOOC on the first president. James Madison University said it does not have a MOOC on the fourth president but is developing courses related to Madison and his Montpelier estate.

Onuf’s course is a six-week study of Jefferson’s thought, using video of lectures the emeritus professor gave last year at the university and at Montalto, a peak overlooking the Monticello estate.

Source:- http://www.newsleader.com/article/20140216/NEWS01/302160014/U-Va-launches-free-Thomas-Jefferson-course-online?nclick_check=1



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