Alumni take poetry class through e-mail

By Andrea Ahles
January 26, 1995
The Daily Pennsylvanian

Penn alumni are once again doing homework for class, but this time it is over the Internet.

More than 100 alumni are participating in a modern American poetry course taught by English Professor Al Filreis.

The idea for an alumni course on the internet was discussed by Filreis and Elsie Howard, president of the General Alumni Society and a 1968 Women's College graduate, as a way to get alumni intellectually back in touch with the University.

"They really feel a loyalty to Penn," Filreis said. "It occurred to us to do this course to get them involved again."

Alumni were invited to sign up for the course through an advertisement in the alumni magazine, The Pennsylvania Gazette. To register, they simply had to subscribe to alumverse@english.

The class also has two teaching assistants -- Carlos Decena, a 1995 College graduate, and College junior Christy Goralnik -- who e-mail topics for discussion regarding the assigned poems.

"What we're about to do with this course is to depend on asynchronous response as the only means of learning," Filreis said in the introductory message to the alumni.

The first assignment was to read and comment on an Emily Dickinson poem. After the first 14 days of class, the alumni sent 7,304 lines of electronic mail -- equivalent to 346,019 bytes.

"I came in one day and I had 90 e-mails in my mailbox," said Joanne Borthwell, a secretary in the provost's office who is taking the course.

The overabundance of e-mail is burdensome to those who receive the messages at work. Several alumni said that having 100 people discussing poetry on the Internet is too many.

"I think there should be a limit to the number of people that take it so there can be a real exchange," said Annette Weinberg Zelman, a 1960 graduate of the Women's College. "Some people do have that going and have a system where they can get their messages flying faster."

Instead of reading all the messages as soon as they come in, several alumni wait until the weekend.

"I'm hooked up all the time at work but I usually [put] them off to another mailbox until next weekend," said Elizabeth Rehfeld, a 1987 College graduate.

Despite having to wade through a lot of e-mail each day, alumni said they are enjoying the class.

"I think it's wonderful since you can do it at your leisure," Borthwell said.

This project is a nice beginning for an idea that might develop into future courses for alumni, Borthwell added.

"It's the first class on the Internet and I wanted to have a view of what the future might be," computing and technology employee David Deifer said.

There have been several heated discussions about Dickinson, and right now the class is reading Walt Whitman.

"People seem to be getting into the poetry and enjoying writing about it," Rehfeld said.


Document URL:
Last modified: Monday, 02-Aug-2004 17:04:34 EDT