Lord of the Rings Online Course Attracts 40,000 Students


Imperial Intelligence
Jun 13, 2012
Lord of the Rings Online Course Attracts 40,000 Students

Lord of the Rings Online is the subject of a college-level online course that follows Tolkien's narrative across three mediums.

Video games pop up in the world of academia every now and again, being used as tools to teach anything from Norse folklore [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/7.392543-Ohio-Students-Learn-Art-From-Minecraft]. Now you can add narrative studies to that list, as Professor Jay Clayton of Vanderbilt University is teaching a class revolving around Lord of the Rings Online. The six-week class is titled "Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative." It's offered part of the free online education hub Coursera, so while students won't earn any recognized college credit, the course will include university-level lectures from the professor, online seminars, and in-game interactive assignments.

Professor Clayton is a gamer as much as he is an educator, and his lectures reflect that. "I'm a literature professor so I've always been teaching English classes in relation to digital culture," he says. "I believe I began with Myst as the first game I put into an English class." As video games have evolved, so too have his studies: "Online Games" reflects on the strengths and limitations of the novel, film, and video game by observing how Tolkien's story has shifted to fit into each medium.

The course currently ongoing, with more than 40,000 students registered. Not all of those students are likely participating to the fullest, but Clayton doesn't mind. "I'm not so concerned about people mastering a skill or coming away with a specific comprehensive set of knowledge," he says. "It's a class about enhancement. People take the class voluntarily to think more and reflect more."

Source: Penny Arcade [https://www.coursera.org/course/onlinegames]



Non-gamer in a gaming world
Nov 20, 2009
Yeah, I'm one of those "auditing" the course (ie downloading the videos to watch later).


Welcome back Commander
Jun 2, 2009
Good on him, there needs to be more like him that think outside the box and make use of the potential of videogames.


New member
Dec 19, 2010
That is cool. It's a good way to teach literature as it modernizes it well beyond the typical "read The Great Gatsby and analyze the language used against the time period...blah blah blah". You get what I'm saying. The fact is the "classics" aren't for everyone. Though I will say, if you have interest in writing, you couldn't possibly look exclusively at videogames and hope to become a halfway decent writer... but I digress, I won't rant about cliche!

Back OT: Glad to see some people aren't afraid to take steps towards the future rather than let a field like literature become stagnant.


New member
Jan 22, 2013
Oh hey, I remember seeing this in Coursera. Almost applied too, then I watched the guy's introduction to the course and decided against it. It's great information for people unfamiliar with videogames in general, but most people in here will probably live without it


Notably Neutral
Jan 12, 2010
Honestly a LOT of literature/english courses these days are MOSTLY driven by lots of in class discussion, freedom of topic heavy essays (or how to approach the goal of the paper) and light on the work and demanding on the participation.

It results in a lot of students, myself and others around me I've noticed, being really engaged in the class and doing quite well.

Granted anyone can come to one of those classes and talk out their ass for 50 minutes to an hour and a half and they're not some kind of end all be all class structure... But they are popular and typically for good reason.

To implement a video game into that kind of course would only magnify the interest in said course by, oh let's say... Ten? Fifteen fold? That sounds about right. I would gamble that if my Fantasy Literature course included an in class tutorial session for D&D that it would probably double its size quite quickly. And honestly, I won't be shocked if the professor does that considering he's quite a fan of the series.


The end is nigh.
May 24, 2010
Ah. I thought it was a Lord of the Rings online-course, not a Lord of the Rings Online course. That makes a big difference.

For me that distinction makes it far less interesting than I at first thought. I'll just add that I got to take a course at my university last year (for genuine credits) on the History of Middle Earth. The prof simply treats the Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales as real primary source documents for Middle Earth and then teaches a History course on that material (which is pretty great!), so the method and skills employed are indeed appropriate for a History course.

If anyone gets a chance to take a course like that I would definitely recommend it!

All that being said, I don't doubt that this course would be both fun and insightful in its own right.