For the Masses: U.Va. Offering 11 MOOCs This Academic Year

Fewer than 20 University of Virginia students may snare a classroom seat in English professor Bruce Holsinger’s new “Historical Fictions” seminar this fall. Holsinger hopes, however, that the online version of the class will draw thousands of students from around the world to interact with his seminar students and to dive into the genre and craft of historical fiction.

Registration opened this week for “Plagues, Witches and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction,” the massive open online course − or MOOC − version of Holsinger’s seminar. Scheduled to launch Oct. 15, Holsinger’s MOOC is one of 11 scheduled to be taught this academic year by U.Va. faculty.

The online courses range from Darden School of Business offerings on business strategy and business innovation to a Curry School of Education course on “Effective Classroom Interactions,” politics professor Larry Sabato’s John F. Kennedy-themed course, “The Kennedy Half Century,” and courses on Buddhist meditation and Thomas Jefferson.

The latest rollout of MOOCs taught by notable U.Va. professors is a continuation of the University’s partnership with Coursera, which also offers an online platform for courses offered by Stanford University, Princeton University and other leading academic institutions. The University entered its agreement with Coursera last summer, marking its effort to expand the reach of U.Va.’s academic offerings to a global audience interested in sampling free, noncredit versions of courses offered on Grounds.

Holsinger said he has already recorded, with the help of several assistants, seven of the online lectures for his eight-week MOOC. U.Va.’s Clemons Library, one of the University’s pavilion gardens and Edgar Allan Poe’s former room on the Range serve as the settings for different lectures, along with other University locations.

In addition to teaching the new course, Holsinger is the author of “A Burnable Book,” a historical novel set in London in 1385 and featuring John Gower and Geoffrey Chaucer, scheduled to be published by HarperCollins early next year. The course will introduce students to some of the classic historical fiction works of Charles Dickens, William Wells Brown and other notable authors. The course also will feature recorded discussion seminars with five accomplished contemporary writers of historical fiction, including Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks and new U.Va. professor of creative writing Jane Alison.

Along with the recorded discussions, the seminar will feature the opportunity for online students to follow up with the novelists in online forums and chats.

Holsinger said he also aims to incorporate the academic community’s debate over the viability and educational value of the MOOC model into his online course. Rather than shying away from the ongoing discussion on the perceived merits and shortcomings of online learning, Holsinger said he will make them one of the “subplots” of the course.

“My hope is to use the on-Grounds class in part as a kind of laboratory for thinking critically about the MOOC,” Holsinger said. “Many of my students probably will be participating in the MOOC, but I also want them to be critical observers of it.”

A schedule of the upcoming MOOCs offered by U.Va. faculty:


  • “Foundations of Business Strategy,” Michael Lenox (Darden School of Business), six-week course starting Sept. 2
  • “New Models of Business in Society,” R. Edward Freeman (Darden School of Business), five-week course starting Sept. 2


  • “Plagues, Witches and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction,” Bruce Holsinger (Department of English), eight-week course starting Oct. 15.
  • “Effective Classroom Interactions,” Bridget Hamre, Grace W. Funk, Allison P. Leach and Kathy Neesen (Curry School of Education), four-week course, start date TBD
  • “The Kennedy Half-Century,” Larry Sabato (U.Va. Center for Politics), four-week course starting Oct. 21


  • “Design Thinking for Business Innovation,” Jeanne Liedtka (Darden School of Business), five-week course starting Nov. 5


  • “Grow to Greatness, Part 1,” Ed Hess (Darden School of Business), five-week course starting Jan. 20
  • “The Modern World,” Philip Zelikow (Department of History), 15-week course, start date TBD

Coming this spring

  • “Grow to Greatness, Part 2,” Ed Hess (Darden School of Business), four-week course, start date TBD
  • “Buddhist Meditation,” David Germano (Department of Religious Studies), start date TBD

In the works

  • “Age of Jefferson,” Peter Onuf (Virginia Foundation for the Humanities)

Media Contact

Lorenzo Perez

College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences