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Norbert of Xanten prophesies after falling from his horse and experiencing a conversion.

MOOC Takes Class on Founding Saint Far Beyond the Bounds of Campus

When the Rev. Andrew Ciferni, O.Praem., ’64 was first approached about teaching a massive open online course, or MOOC, the director of the Center for Norbertine Studies didn’t know what a MOOC was. He quickly got up to speed.

“I didn’t have the slightest idea, but they told me it would be a great way to propagate knowledge about St. Norbert, so I was in,” Ciferni says.

Ciferni teamed up with St. Norbert College president Tom Kunkel to co-teach “St. Norbert: The Man, the Movement, the MOOC.” MOOCs are free courses open to everyone and delivered via online platform. Readings and resources related to the St. Norbert course are available free via Canvas Network.

“I’m the St. Norbert enthusiast and Father Andrew is the historian,” Kunkel says. “We work well together. It should be a good program.”

The St. Norbert MOOC focuses on the life of Norbert of Xanten and his influence on the college that today bears his name – the only Norbertine institution of higher education in the world. The first live-streaming presentation was Jan. 31, with other presentations planned for Feb. 7, Feb. 14, Feb. 21 and Feb. 27. All segments are videotaped for viewing at participants’ own convenience, and will be available until March 6. Registration for the class is on Canvas Network, and remains open through Feb. 24. (Now is a great time to join this flexible class and review the first episode. –Ed.)

Kunkel says that, in addition to teaching alumni, students and community members about St. Norbert, the MOOC provides the college with an opportunity to use technology to deliver information in a new way. Reid Riggle (Education) and Sundi Richard (ITS) originally approached Kunkel about the MOOC, saying it was “a good way for the college to dip its toe into this new digital world,” Kunkel recalls.

The course provides one more example of how to teach using available technology, Kunkel says. “It’s just something we wanted to try,” he says. “MOOCs will not replace in-person classes. It’s just another offering.”

Kunkel’s interest in teaching the course grew from his plans to write a short biography on Norbert of Xanten following his retirement from the college this spring.

“A lot of the books about St. Norbert are in another language, or translated from another language, and are hard to get into,” he says. “I am looking at a book that would be easy for everyone to get into. Many of our students and alumni honestly do not know much about St. Norbert.”

Ciferni concurs, adding that is why he believes the MOOC is so popular. “We have a lot of alumni who want to learn more about the person their college is named after,” he says.

While studying in Rome to earn his licentiate in sacred theology from the Gregorian University, Ciferni had an opportunity to visit Norbertine abbeys across Europe that were hundreds of years old. “It was fascinating for me and really deepened my interest in St. Norbert and the Norbertines,” he says.

Given the medium for the class, it will not have a traditional classroom feel with a professor standing behind a podium. Kunkel says the duo will be seated and have a conversation about the saint, using the outlines they’ve put together for each segment.

“I may start out with some basic information and ask some questions and then Father Andrew will come in with some more details,” Kunkel says. “We hope to reference the materials available to class participants, too, so they can get more information. It will be a learning process [for us], but it is a great opportunity.” 

Feb. 7, 2017