DURHAM - James Krasner fell in love with the Harry Potter series the way many parents did - while reading it with his children.
As an English professor and teacher of English education at the University of New Hampshire, Krasner saw more than a beloved tale, but a way to teach middle school students language arts in a way that is relevant and engaging to them.
Most recently, he and other colleagues were tossing around ideas for massive online open source courses, or "MOOCs", the "new hot thing" in online-learning.
He said it seemed a great teaching tool and Harry Potter the perfect medium.
"Because not only do the kids love it and they'll pay attention to it, but (J.K.) Rowling tied her writing and content so thoroughly to mythology and etymology and fairly direct academic concerns," Krasner said. "So you can talk about grammar and Greek and Latin roots and the Trojan War without even hardly going off topic if you are talking about Harry Potter."
"Harry Potter as Storytelling: An Online Adventure for the Young Fan" is the first MOOC for fourth- to eighth-graders that UNH has offered. The format allows students from all over the world to participate in the courses when it is convenient for them.
"Educators are interested in this for many reasons because it is basing learning more on participation than a person standing in front of people talking," Krasner said.
He said the "click" culture of the web allows students to free-associate from one subject to another.
"This is a nightmare for teachers, of course, because teachers are always going to be trying to get student attention in this narrow channel," Krasner said.
But he said this works to a teacher's advantage in a course on Harry Potter, because so many subjects tie together.
"We wanted to craft (the course) in a way where it is really fun but really addressing it in an academic way, because if it is just goofing around, you can do that on your own," Krasner said.
The course will consist of five classes, each with a specific academic focus. Each class will have several five- to 15-minute lectures based on passages from the Harry Potter books, as well as optional creative writing assignments.
Each lesson moves back and forth between a variety of skills, including language and grammar use, characterization, identifying themes, punctuation, vocabulary, historical and scientific writing, mythology, sound devices, and figures of speech.
UNH also is planning to include game-like elements such as allowing students to choose a character, earn points or badges for their house, and unlock certain areas in their houses.
All of the classes align with common core curriculum standards with information online for teachers that lines up individual lessons with particular skill areas of the curriculum standards.
"Educationally, the great gift J.K. Rowling has given us ... is a kind of common language which is rare in contemporary culture," Krasner said.
The two-week course runs from July 15 to July 26 and is open to students entering grades four to eight. The cost is $200 per student. To register or for more information, visit www.unh.edu/liberal-arts/potter-storytelling.html.