Provost Jeannene Przyblyski (at left) interviews director and CalArts alumna Brenda Chapman for her Coursera class.
For parents who want to see first-hand what their students are studying at CalArts, it's now possible to get a good look without leaving home. That’s because in October, CalArts began offering classes via Coursera, the popular educational technology company that offers free massive open online courses (MOOCs) over the Internet.
Since its early years, CalArts has been a leader in developing and using technology to create art, and now it is staying ahead of the curve in using technology to teach art as one of the first producers of arts MOOCs in the country. Coursera fits right into the Institute’s pedagogy.
Through early December, parents can check out a computer programming class already in session taught by Ajay Kapur, director of Music Technology: Interaction, Intelligence and Design, called "Introduction to Programming for Musicians and Digital Artists." A new CalArts Coursera course will begin in February, taught by CalArts Provost Jeannene Przyblyski, called "Live!: A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers." Parents can enroll for free through the Coursera site (www.coursera.org ). A third class, "Creating Site-Specific Dance and Performance Works," taught by Stephan Koplowitz, dean of the Sharon Disney Lund School of Dance, concluded in November.
There are many reasons why CalArts joined the Coursera venture, according to Przyblyski. "We partnered with Coursera to jump start our efforts to use technology in teaching and learning. We also wanted to join other prestigious institutions, including research universities like Stanford, that are beginning to find out what aspects of a curriculum can be leveraged via the Internet to allow more flexibility for students," she says.
Another advantage is the ability to reach an audience of thousands around the world. As of early December, over 11,000 people had signed up for the dance class, more than 44,000 had joined the digital programming class and more than 33,000 had enrolled in Przyblyski’s art history course.
"We’re giving away classes for free, but we're also reaching a huge international student base in a very effective way. There are about 1,500 students at CalArts. If you combine the enrollment of all three Coursera classes—more than 88,000—you can see that CalArts couldn't reach that many people in 50 years through traditional classes." - Ajay Kapur, director of Music Technology: Interaction, Intelligence and Design
After teaching through Coursera, both Koplowitz and Kapur plan on piloting what is known as a "flipped" classroom for at least one of their courses taught on campus specifically for their CalArts students. In this modality, class time will be reserved for more discussion, practice, and creation than instruction. Lectures will be primarily online, which will allow faculty to devote more time to one-on-one interactions with students. Kapur says that he would like more CalArts courses to go in this direction in the future.
Przyblyski says that before the Institute makes dramatic changes to the way classes are taught on campus, the administration and faculty will need to review the experience of the Coursera classes. "We're excited to reflect on this experiment and see what results from it," she says. "It’s a lot of work to prepare a class, but it’s very interesting to challenge yourself—to teach in a way that depends on fostering a community that’s much larger than a small seminar."
Przyblyski, an established artist in her own right, focuses on how artists view the history of art in her Coursera class. She has incorporated several 10-minute conversations with guest artists discussing work that influenced them. Participants include School of Art Dean Tom Lawson and writer-director Brenda Chapman, a CalArts Film/Video alumna who shared the Academy Award for Best Animation Feature in 2012 for the Pixar film, Brave.
Participants do not receive credit for CalArts’ Coursera classes, and while there are assignments that enrich the course experience, completing them is voluntary. While the dance and performance class spanned five weeks, the other two CalArts classes are eight-weeks long.
"With a class size of 30,000, a student can feel isolated, so we've set up accompanying Facebook pages so students can feel like they’re part of a community,” Przyblyski says. “Students have also set up online discussion forums, and people are talking to each other halfway around the world. You need a strong social media component to make it most effective. That’s one of the most interesting parts of MOOCs.
"This could attract prospective students to CalArts, and recruitment outreach is partly why we’re doing it," she says. "The Coursera collaboration also raises the visibility of CalArts internationally in terms of the quality of what we do in creative fields.
"The more our quality is recognized, the more valuable our diploma. The more people know how amazing CalArts is, the more its stature increases." - Jeannene Przyblyski, CalArts Provost