Literatures, Languages & Cultures

Sharing a love of literature with people around the world

PhD student in English Literature Carolina Buffoli talks to us about her role as a Teaching Assistant on the 'How to Read a Novel' MOOC.

Carolina Buffoli smiling at camera inside a cafe with Edinburgh Castle in the background.
Carolina Buffoli inside a cafe with a view of Edinburgh Castle

In 2017, the University of Edinburgh launched the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC), ‘How to Read a Novel’. Five years later, the online course is still going strong.

Carolina Buffoli, PhD student in English Literature at the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC), chats to us about her experience working as a Teaching Assistant and mentor on the MOOC alongside Benjamin Bateman, Senior Lecturer in English Literature.

Running twice a year and developed in collaboration with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the four-week course explores what makes a great novel by looking at the main building blocks of modern fiction using books shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize.

Participants join from all over the world, and for Carolina, the experience "has been and still is an incredibly enriching experience." 

"One of the great things about ‘How to Read a Novel’ is the myriad of directions that discussions take each week – I believe this is one of the reasons why so many people come back year after year.”

Engaging with book lovers and authors

Carolina’s love affair with Scotland started during her exchange at the University of Stirling, a part of her master’s degree at the University of Verona. After finishing her degree in Italy, she applied to study a PhD in English Literature to continue her research. Carolina is now a Tutor in Scottish Literature for undergraduate students at LLC, focusing on literary history of Scottish writers, trauma studies and Gothic literature.

I always look forward to insightful conversations with the other readers and book lovers as discussions introduce me to all kinds of new perspectives,” Carolina says. Teaching on the MOOC gives her an opportunity to learn from participants, and she reveals that she has read “amazing books that I would never have picked up if it wasn’t for participants’ recommendations and suggestions.”

Having previously been involved with the James Tait Black Prizes as a student reader and judge, the MOOC has also given Carolina a chance to connect with authors of the shortlisted books for the James Tait Black Prizes 2022: “I’ve had the opportunity of directly engaging with the authors, interviewing them on their novels and discussing fiction, writing and reading with them – a huge bonus and honour for me.”

Reconnecting with literature beyond academia

Teaching the ‘How to Read a Novel’ course has brought Carolina back to her roots and reminded her of her passion for reading: “The MOOC really is for anyone who loves reading and talking about books. I feel it reconnected me with the power of fiction outside and beyond academia.”

“As much as I continue to be extremely passionate about research, academic work and teaching, I also feel that the wider and open-access engagement the course provides is incredibly valuable in exposing the power of fiction in contemporary contexts as well as the pure enjoyment of reading.”

“The course has helped me develop the ability to talk about the writing I read, love, work with, and analyse with a wider audience.“

Sign up to the 'How to Read a Novel' MOOC

The MOOC runs twice a year. If you sign up to the course during August 2022, you will be able to finish the course over four weeks. After August, you can register to the mailing list and be notified when the new run starts in January 2023.

Sign up on the FutureLearn website

Are you in interested in a PhD in literature?

We offer two PhDs: one in English Literature; and one in Creative Writing. Working with colleagues in LLC and across the wider University, we are able to support research which crosses boundaries between disciplines and/or languages.

Find out more about PhD study in English Literature with us

Related links

Book prize shortlist shares inspiring stories

Judging the James Tait Black Prizes 2022