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English and cinema studies professor Peter Decherney’s new Hollywood course will be released through Penn’s Online Learning Initiative.

Credit: Courtesy of Thomas Wolf/Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps you’ve always wanted to learn about film, but have never had enough room in your schedule for a cinema course. Maybe you just have an undying love for movies. Either way, there’s a new course at Penn that might be right for you.

A new online course called ‘Hollywood: History, Industry, Art,'is launching Nov. 1.

Taught by Peter Decherney, a cinema studies and English professor, the course is a Massive Open Online Course which will be offered for free by Penn’s Online Learning Initiative through the platform EdX.

The course charts the history of Hollywood’s creation, growth and impact. It covers a variety of topics such as the beginnings of film, the effects of World War II on the industry, censorship and the blacklist.

Decherney is also affiliated with the Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition at Penn Law School. He holds a secondary appointment with the Annenberg School for Communication and has written multiple books on Hollywood.

The course was previously released on Oct. 20 in a modified form as part of an annual series of alumni-only online classes. Limited to 500-700 alumni, the course required a nominal fee and sold out on the first day.

“It’s really kind of hard to keep up with,” Decherney said. “We have this tremendous range of people, of backgrounds. Some people are in the industry; some people have children who are in the industry, which is a motivation to learn more about it, but a lot of people are just interested in movies and in media because they like certain genres or they’re interested in technology.”

The alumni version of the course is paced over 4 weeks, with different topics being covered each week.

The free public version of the course, which will open on Nov. 1 at 2 p.m., is designed to be self-paced.

“It’s like Netflix,” he said. “The whole season’s up [at once]. Some people will binge; some people will take months and months to do it.”

Decherney and other collaborators worked for over a year to adapt his traditional lecture course into a MOOC. The online course uses video, clips, interviews, music, discussion forums and self-guided assessments to convey the material.

“We worked really hard to put together what originally I was thinking were lectures, but soon I started to think of them more as scripts. You talk a little differently when you’re on camera and the background is important. We wanted a context that made sense for the material.”

As of now, approximately 12,000 students from all over the globe have registered for the course.

“It’s overwhelming, I can’t even really get my head around it,” he said. “I’m fascinated to see what people have to say and I’ve been really interested in the discussions already, and especially having a global audience just gives you a different perspective of the material.”

Looking forward, Decherney hopes to be involved with the online course for a long time and possibly incorporate new material, such as 60-second response videos and maybe even community teaching assistants. He also hopes that colleagues will use the course as a multimedia textbook.

“It’s a course for some people, and for some people it’s a community,” Decherney said. “It’s a place to talk about film.”

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