Hillsdale College Online Courses is offering a new course on Mark Twain, his books, and short stories. Pixabay

The Mis­sis­sippi River, which runs through the stories and novels of Mark Twain, con­nects the American Heartland. Like the mighty Mis­sis­sippi, Hillsdale’s newest online course on the work of Mark Twain con­nects members of the Hillsdale com­munity from around the nation to Hillsdale College.

“Twain is such a rec­og­nizable figure,” said Assistant Pro­fessor of English Kelly Scott Franklin, who’s teaching some of the video lec­tures. “He’s got a uni­ver­sally-appealing style, and he has written stories that everyone knows and loves.”

Hillsdale College intro­duced Mark Twain: Tom Sawyer, Huck­le­berry Finn, and Selected Short Stories to its offered free online courses in October. The class, taught by Franklin and Assistant Pro­fessor of English Benedict Whalen, con­sists of nine video lec­tures. After Pres­ident of Hillsdale College Larry Arnn intro­duces the course with an opening lecture about Twain and the study of lit­er­ature, Whalen and Franklin each teach four lec­tures on Twain’s works. Franklin teaches “The Adven­tures of Tom Sawyer,” and Whalen handles most of “Adven­tures of Huck­le­berry Finn.”

“I think American lit­er­ature is a great subject for the Hillsdale College online courses,” Franklin said. “Hillsdale College is so inter­ested in how the United States has absorbed and trans­formed the Western Tra­dition, and I think our fans and partners and sup­porters out there will love this class.”

Whalen agreed.

“Because Twain’s works are so con­cerned with essential human truths, those essential ele­ments carry import to political, artistic, and sci­en­tific realms,” Whalen said. “So I think in that way it fits within every­thing our public audience should care about. Whether they’re more political or artistic, I think Twain speaks to all of that through the truths that he cap­tures and rep­re­sents.”

On-campus core and upper-level classes, such as English 360: American Renais­sance and Realism, also allow stu­dents to delve into Twain’s lit­er­ature. According to Whalen and Franklin, all types of people can enjoy Twain.

“I enjoy Twain, both teaching him to the student body at large and then also to English majors in upper level classes,” Whalen said. “He’s rewarding across the board. He’s always funny, always delightful, both to stu­dents who just love lit­er­ature and to those who are maybe a bio­chem­istry major.”

This class joins other online classes such as Great Books 101 and 102, Western Her­itage, American Her­itage, and Intro­duction to the U.S. Con­sti­tution. On top of the available core cur­riculum classes, Online Courses, a col­lab­o­ration between Mar­keting and External Affairs, also offers classes on C.S. Lewis, Shake­speare, and Winston Churchill.

With hun­dreds of thou­sands of people in one class, building a classroom com­munity is some­thing that is nearly impos­sible with online classes, proving to be one of the online classes’ only downfall.

“Obvi­ously the best sce­nario is being in the classroom because you can ask ques­tions and talk to the pro­fessor,” Director of Digital Mar­keting Jonathan Lewis said. “I’m sure that’s what probably everyone wishes they could do, but this gives the people that can’t make it here or are past the college age that would still love to learn, the oppor­tunity to. We’re just doing the best we can to allow people access to all the stuff we love here.”

With 2.4 million enroll­ments and 1.5 million stu­dents (because one student can enroll in mul­tiple courses), the classes are reaching people across the nation. These classes, however, aren’t just for people past college age.

“Gen­erally our audience is an older one, so it’s a lot of people who are con­tinuing learning,” Lewis said. “Although we do get a lot of reports of home­schoolers using them or fam­ilies using them, and some­times those stu­dents matric­ulate here.”

Com­paring the media work he did for this class to the articles he writes, Franklin says that it’s sat­is­fying to teach a really broad audience because it’s like expanding the classroom to the world.

“I think prepping the lec­tures was a lot of work,” Franklin said, “but deliv­ering them and recording them was a lot of fun. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”