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PhD student, Anna Girling, talks to us about her role as a Teaching Assistant on the 'How to Read a Novel' MOOC.

Photo of Anna Girling
Anna Girling at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

This summer, the University of Edinburgh launched the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC), How to Read a Novel, led by Dr Alex Lawrie, Lecturer in English Literature.

Developed and delivered in collaboration with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the online course explores what makes a great novel by looking, over four weeks, at the main building blocks of modern fiction using books shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize.

PhD student, Anna Girling, has been working on the MOOC as a Teaching Assistant (TA) and mentor, having previously been involved in various e-learning initiatives, both in Canada and the UK, as well as a number of reading groups.

She says “It’s been fascinating to get a ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse at the work that goes into developing and running online courses; the principles behind them, and the practicalities of running them”.

Developing teaching skills in a new environment

Having grown up in Edinburgh, Anna studied English and Modern History at St Andrews, and English Literature at York University in Toronto, before moving back to the city.

After a few years of working in various roles (including latterly for the NHS), she applied to the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) to study for a PhD in English Literature, focusing on Edith Wharton, with Dr Andrew Taylor as her supervisor.

Self-funded, she continues to work part-time, including (during term time) in a teaching role on our English Literature undergraduate programme.

Making relevant use of her time during the summer months, How to Read a Novel has offered her “the chance to develop my teaching skills in a new environment, and with a range of participants, of all ages, with a huge range of reading interests, and from all over the world”.

A reminder of a love of reading and talking about books

The role of the MOOC TA/mentor is to make the online course even more accessible to individual participants, including through the use of social media.

Anna says “Joining in with the online discussions has been a real eye-opener: I have been continually impressed by the level of engagement of the course participants, and by the lively conversations about almost every aspect of reading!

I would like to think that I will come to my future undergraduate tutorials with my facilitation skills sharpened by the experience.

On a basic level, it has reminded me how much I love reading and talking about books. As a PhD student, you rarely have time to read for “fun” and so I have been very grateful for the chance to read some of the amazing contemporary novels (around which the course is based) that I have been wanting to read for a while”.

UPDATE (NOVEMBER 2017): How to Read a Novel will be running for a second time in January 2018. Booking is now open.

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Related links

The James Tait Black Prizes | University of Edinburgh

How to Read a Novel | FutureLearn