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A class where opening minds, not earning credits, is the point


Tuvan throat singing was never in my repertoire, says Tamar Lewin for the New York Times. I had never heard of Tuva, a small Russian republic north of Mongolia. And until the third week of “Listening to World Music,” a free online course taught by a University of Pennsylvania professor, I did not know that the human throat was capable of producing two notes simultaneously. But after listening to a lecture on Tuvan culture and history and viewing throat-singing videos, I was hooked on the sound — a deep buzz saw with high overtone whistles — and was happy to watch the assigned 90-minute concert by a touring Tuvan ensemble. I wrote the required essay that night, the Tuvan steppes still on my mind. Three days later, I was given five essays by classmates to grade. (With 36,000 students enrolled, peer grading was the only practical way that Coursera, the company offering the course, could assess students’ work.) I had my doubts about the process, but to my surprise, the process was interesting and useful and taught me as much as the lectures did…

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