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Time for the New Fall Season—for TV, and for MOOCs

Eric FonerThe new fall television season gets under way this week, and newspapers are full of roundups of the hottest new shows. It’s also the season for a new lineup of MOOCs, or massive open online courses, and in recent days several colleges have touted new offerings boasting star professors or popular subject matter.

Despite a host of questions about the staying power of MOOCs as a trend, more free megacourses are starting this month than ever before, with 328 new offerings, according to Class Central, a MOOC guide.

Among the biggest-name professors taking to MOOCs this fall are Eric Foner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, and Robert Pinsky, a former poet laureate of the United States. And it’s a season of firsts, including the first MOOC offered by a historically black college.

Following are a few notable new free online courses. Please share others we may have missed in the comments section.

Course Title: “The Art of Poetry”
Instructors: Robert Pinsky, a professor of English and creative writing at Boston University, and six other professors and students at the university
Start Date: September 30
Platform: edX
What’s Notable: The course aims to teach appreciation rather than provide a traditional survey. “This course is based on the conviction that the more you know about an art, the more pleasure you will find in it,” Mr. Pinsky says.

Course Title: “Chinese for Beginners”
Instructor: Xiaoyu Liu, a vice professor at Peking University’s School of Chinese as a Second Language
Start Date: Self-paced
Platform: Coursera
What’s Notable: This may be the first MOOC to teach introductory Chinese, and “there was a lot of demand” for the subject, says Nikki Garcia, a spokeswoman for Coursera.

Course Title: “The Civil War and Reconstruction: A House Divided: The Road to Civil War, 1850-1861″ (first course of a three-part sequence)
Instructor: Eric Foner, a professor of history at Columbia University
Start date: September 17
Platform: edX
What’s Notable: Mr. Foner is a rock star in his field, having served as president of the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the Society of American Historians. He is also known as a public intellectual, and his most recent book, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 2011. This MOOC will be followed by “A New Birth of Freedom: The Civil War, 1861-1865,” starting in December, and “The Unfinished Revolution: Reconstruction and After, 1865-1890,” starting in February.

Course Title: “Understanding World Religions: An Occupational Approach”
Instructor: Keith Augustus Burton, an associate professor of religion at Oakwood University
Start Date: October 27
Platform: Canvas Network
What’s Notable: The Alabama university says this is the first MOOC to be offered by a historically black college. In a news release, organizers explain why that is important: “Many have hailed MOOCs as an affordable alternative to traditional higher-education studies, but these courses have been viewed largely as educational experiments and luxuries with little relevance to students served by a majority of HBCUs.”

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