●The quizzes are tricky, but not too tough. Twenty questions, multiple choice, once a week. I don't give them too much effort. I make a fair number of educated guesses. It is essential to have watched the lectures because the questions delve into a high degree of factual detail. I don’t want to be a spoiler for those who might take these quizzes in weeks to come. Suffice it to say that you might lose a point, or a fraction of a point, if you can’t recall the particulars of manufacture and commerce in one part of the world, or of military confrontations in another.
It’s nice to get instant feedback. You only get once chance to submit a quiz for a score. But the score comes back right away. If I average at least 65 percent I’ll get a statement of accomplishment. If I average 85 percent or better I’ll pass with a “distinguished” notation. Under the course rules, I can submit quizzes after the deadline. For each day late, my score gets docked 5 percent.
There are zero stakes here other than my own ego. But most of us are fascinated by quiz scores, right? So I’ll confess that I do take note of each fraction of a point that I miss. On Jan. 29, for example, I got 18.55 points on the Week 3 quiz out of a possible 20, stumbling on a couple questions about the Napoleonic era.
●The students are inspiring. I’m one of 47,000 who signed up for this course. Through Zelikow, I posted a query on a discussion board asking students to e-mail me about their experiences. I’ll write another item on that soon. But I thank and salute the many who replied to the query. Among them: Konstantin from Kiev, Ukraine; Anne from Vienna via England; Sandra from Germany; Pamela from Brazil; and Richard from Mansfield, Pa. How and why adults pursue lifelong education is an important topic that we education writers too often ignore. Clearly the appetite for learning is huge. One wonders whether colleges and universities, especially those with public funding, should do far more to sate it.
●The professor matters. I’m not really trying to butter up Zelikow. My grade in this course will be totally objective. And of course there are plenty of great books and classes on modern world history available elsewhere.
But it is striking that without paying a dime in tuition, I can study global history from an eminent professor at a world-class university who has been a player himself in the upper levels of U.S. government. Zelikow was on the National Security Council staff of President George H.W. Bush; he is on President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board; he served on the same board under President George W. Bush; he was executive director of the 9/11 Commission; and, in brief, he did some other important stuff.
All of that comes to mind when you’re watching his lectures. Zelikow projects an air of authority and ease with the material, like he’s telling you about the modern world not just as a detached scholar but as an active participant in its affairs.
Example from his first lecture in Week 6: “We’re going to start with a little talk about the age of imperialism. I wish I could promise you that this is going to involve great tales of derring-do and heroic action. Unfortunately, it probably will not be quite that interesting. In fact, parts of this whole story are really pretty dreadful.”
Now, I’d better take that quiz.