The Science of Happiness at WestTown Library: A CPL MOOC!


Once students' computers were set up and introductions made, the online program began

"The Science of Happiness" peer study group for an online university class through the Chicago Public Library began in the West Town Branch Library, 1625 W. Chicago Ave., Tuesday evening. It is a free Chicago Public Library (CPL) MOOC (mass open online course) with a Learning Circle. 

For seven more weeks, students will be part of a psychology of happiness online course developed by edX from the University of California (UC) Berkley. The course is designed to help students discover what happiness is and why it matters to each of them. 

First meeting
As everyone was working on getting their computers setup, some students talked about why they liked taking this course with a Learning Circle. 

"Online is good but you miss the interaction," said one student while another said that, "You experience a class differently when you have a group." 


Shelley Hughes works with students as they all try to connect to the program via the local WIFI

Shelley Hughes, who heads up adult education in the West Town Branch, said that while the course is a 10-week course and most CPL branches are having six-week Learning Circle meetings, she is doing eight. The students can complete the other two sessions on their own. 

During the introduction of the course, a picture of the branch's exterior was shown, prompting the inevitable question about the scaffolding around the building. Hughes explained that the scaffolding will remain in place for the foreseeable future, since there is no available money to replace the window casings that are dangerously loose on the upper floors. [The building is a City of Chicago building.] 


Students help each other, another advantage of Learning Circles

The broad range of the students' background and interests was revealed as they introduced themselves and stated why they joined the class. One student is a museum educator who looks forward to learning about some basic psychology information and a better understanding of happiness.

Two are visitors from Seattle. They learned about the course and were interested in the subject matter and the experience of the Circle. The Seattle Library is well known, according to Hughes, but it does not offer programming with Learning Circles. With encouragement from Hughes, they will be going home to recommend that the Seattle Library consider adding this type of adult learning programs. 

Another student has been interested in positive psychology since she read about a Harvard professor teaching a course about happiness. He went from having a few students to having the most popular course at Harvard. 

"I spend a lot of money on therapy so I thought....," began another student's introduction, which was then interrupted with laughter. Others are interested in learning more about themselves, while others are curious. 

Previously a children's librarian, Hughes' most favorite thing since becoming an adult librarian was the Learning Circle she conducted this spring. This new course appears to be another potential success story. 

The course
According to Berkley psychology professor, Dacher Keltne, he has asked students if they would use a happiness machine, if there were one. For the most part they have said, "No." They want to find happiness on their own. 

For ten years, according to a Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Science Director, Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkley, researchers have been developing a road map for the pursuit of happiness. They have learned that approximately 40% of our happiness is determined by our daily activities NOT our genes. 

This course is based on what they have learned, what the components are for a happy life and some how-tos. Part of the learning will include understanding the power of social connections and the science of empathy. An impressive array of guest speakers will add to the learning experience.

There are no pre-requisites for this course and anyone interested in joining this class has until the next session, Sept. 13, to join the group. 

Here is what the California instructors have to say about this course. 

The Mass Open Online Course opens learning to the world from global sources. The concept was introduced in 2008, peaked in 2012 and, according to some, have proven unsuccessful due to the very low completion rate. 

"Our first class this spring, about creative writing, had eight out of ten students complete the course," said Hughes. This would appear to indicate that the concept does work for some.




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