#FLvirtualrome : An exciting MOOC about Ancient Rome

Last week I stumbled across a fantastic MOOC – FutureLearn’s course on the history and architecture of Rome.

I wasn’t looking for this course, but Rome is a city that I have recently thought I would like to visit and then FutureLearn’s newsletter listing this course landed in my inbox. I signed up, thinking this would be an opportunity to find out whether I really do want to visit Rome. I have completed Week 1 of the course and now know that I do.

It’s been a while since I have felt excited by a MOOC. I am surprised by my response. I am not a historian and have never had more than a passing interest in history. At school I had to choose between history and geography for my ‘O’ levels (that dates me!) and I chose geography. In my school days history was memorising dates and facts and I have always had a terrible memory! Of course geography and history are closely aligned so over the years when I have visited sites such as Machu Picchu, whilst the geography is spectacular, it has been impossible to ignore the history, but I have never tried to commit this to memory. Whatever sticks, sticks and I have learned that whatever sticks usually sticks because of some sort of emotional reaction.

Dr Matthew Nicholls, from the University of Reading, who is the tutor for this 5-week MOOC, is succeeding in eliciting an emotional response from me, i.e. I feel motivated. After the first week I already know that I will probably not engage in social interaction in this course. At the moment I do not want to do a history project or take this further. I just want to know enough to know what I am looking at when I visit Rome.

Why, after just one week, do I think the course is so good?

Matthew Nicholls is clearly very knowledgeable, passionate about his subject and an excellent communicator. He makes the subject come alive and is not at all patronising despite obvious considerable expertise, not only with Ancient Rome but also with technology.

The course content is colourful and lively. The text is easily accessible and there are lots of references provided to follow up on for those who want to extend their study. There are also lots of photos and the videos are very good. We see Dr Nicholls in Rome, and also in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. I never realised before that so much historical information about buildings, aqueducts, roads, sewers and people could be gleaned from coins.

But best and so impressive has to be the 3D digital model of ancient Rome built by Matthew Nicholls using SketchUp. This is used extensively to explain how Rome was built and the significance of different buildings and roads. To see how amazing this model is you would have to join this free course, or there is also a very interesting video on YouTube by Matthew Nicholls in which he explains how he built the model and how he uses it with his students at Reading University.

A friend recently told me that he didn’t think it was possible to have an emotional response to an online course in the same way as you can in a face-to-face course and implied that this diminishes the online experience. I have had lots of social experiences online over the years which have elicited an emotional response. I am intrigued that this course is able to do this through its content alone, without the need for social interaction, although there are plenty of opportunities for adding comments to the discussion forums and making social connections if you wish. Maybe I will change my mind about participating in the discussion forums as I work through the course. I think Phil Tubman’s Comment Discovery Tool, that I wrote about in a previous post, would make a great addition to this course.

3 thoughts on “#FLvirtualrome : An exciting MOOC about Ancient Rome

  1. Matthew Nicholls December 19, 2017 / 7:16 pm

    Many thanks for this kind ‘review’, Dr Mackness. I’m delighted that you are enjoying our course, and very pleased that you have picked out some of the elements that we hoped learners would find valuable. I’ve found the discussions in the MOOC very enjoyable and stimulating, but whether you take part in those or simply enjoy the content, I’m very glad that you’re finding it so rewarding. Thank you!

  2. jennymackness December 20, 2017 / 2:13 pm

    Thank you so much for your comment. As you say, the discussions are very interesting. I have been reading some of the threads and there are a lot of ‘real’ historians in the course who know their stuff! I am content just to admire their depth of knowledge, read along and learn from them too!

    I have now almost finished Unit 2 which is just as enjoyable as Unit 1. I love the images of Trajan’s column and the 360 degree panorama picture of it in situ in Rome today, alongside the virtual tour of the forum of Trajan. Trajan’s column will be an absolute must to see if I visit Rome.

    I am also enjoying the introduction of poetry as a source of evidence and like one of the discussion forum participants it has reminded me of my school day Latin classes. It’s a long time since hic, haec, hoc popped into my mind, or indeed the poetry of Virgil.

    So thank you again for this very enjoyable and wonderfully informative course.

  3. Matthew Nicholls December 20, 2017 / 5:14 pm

    You’re most welcome – so glad that you are enjoying it, and esp. the combination of archaeological and literary evidence.

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