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Sabato Enters the MOOC Universe with ‘The Kennedy Half-Century’

With the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy looming in November, the University of Virginia’s famed political expert, Larry Sabato, is unveiling a new online course examining Kennedy’s legacy – part of a multimedia blitz of sorts.

The four-week, massive open online course, or MOOC, “The Kennedy Half-Century,” will begin on Oct. 21, with two hours of video instruction each week by Sabato, University Professor of Politics and director of U.Va..’s Center for Politics. The course is available through Coursera, an educational website that partners with some of the world’s top universities, including U.Va., to provide free online courses. Anyone can register for the course at www.coursera.org/course/kennedy; a video trailer and other information about the course is also available at that link.

The MOOC is one of several initiatives the Center for Politics is unveiling this fall in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. Sabato’s latest book, “The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy,” will be released in October as the class begins. Also in October, the center will premiere a one-hour national PBS documentary on the same subject, which is being produced in partnership with Community Idea Stations. The Center for Politics and Community Idea Stations recently received an Emmy for its previous documentary, “Out of Order,” which is about political dysfunction in Washington.

“The University of Virginia Center for Politics has long been committed to providing accessible educational tools about American politics and government,” Sabato said. “This free, online course about how JFK and his legacy have influenced the public, the media and each of the nine U.S. presidents who followed President Kennedy is one way we can deliver high-quality instruction, at no charge, to a large audience.”

The course begins with Kennedy’s early legislative career and progresses through the 50 years since his death, focusing on how each president, Lyndon Johnson through Barack Obama, has used J.F.K. to craft their own political image. The class offers more than eight hours of video consisting of 40 lessons averaging 10 to 20 minutes each in length. Each week, there will be at least two new hours of content, including historical footage from each of the 10 presidential administrations of the last half-century. Sabato will focus four lessons around Kennedy’s assassination as the nation marks its 50th anniversary on Nov. 22.

New portions of the class will be posted to the Coursera page each week. Students who complete the course do not receive university credit, but they will receive a statement of accomplishment. More information about the course’s specifics, including a syllabus, is available at www.coursera.org/course/kennedy.

Online learning is not new to the U.Va. Center for Politics, which has provided online education tools through its Youth Leadership Initiative since 1998. The program conducts regular mock elections for students, as well as an interactive legislative simulation called E-Congress.

“For the last 15 years, YLI has developed and distributed free civics education lesson plans using the Internet,” Sabato said. “Today YLI reaches more than 50,000 teachers and millions of students throughout the country and around the world.”   

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