A Q&A on the launch of Penn State's first MOOC

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State launched its first massive open online course (MOOC), Introduction to Art: Concepts and Techniques, yesterday -- an effort that has been three months in the making. Anna Divinsky, lead faculty member of the Digital Arts Certificate Program at Penn State, has been instrumental in creating the first of the five courses that Penn State is offering this year on the leading MOOC platform, Coursera.

Penn State has been an active participant in the online learning community since opening the World Campus in 1998, but MOOCs are different in that they’re not just open to tens of students -- but tens of thousands. MOOCs also are free and provide their participants with powerful, motivational learning environments.

Recently, Divinsky and Keith Bailey, the assistant dean for online learning in the College of Arts and Architecture, sat down to talk about art, MOOCs and what the massive online revolution means for the future of Penn State.

Q: Can you give us insight on why Penn State wanted to be part of the world of MOOCs? 

Bailey: There’s a couple of reasons. First, we wanted to explore how we could reach a completely new group of students, such as those who haven't considered Penn State before. Also, there were several unique challenges that we were interested in exploring. One was the very interesting question of how we could take the traditional use of artwork and studio instruction and translate it to an online environment. The second challenge was how to manage the social aspect of such a massive course. How would we handle grading and evaluating the work of thousands of students? 

Q: Yes, how do you handle evaluating so many students in a subjective field such as art? 

Divinsky: Taking an art course online as opposed to being in a traditional studio environment is a completely different experience. Students enrolled in an online art course need to be self-directed and not rely on the continual guidance and feedback from the instructor. Instead, instructional art technique and brainstorming videos, featured artists videos, text, quizzes and detailed assignments are utilized as teaching tools. However, sharing artwork, completing a grading rubric and providing each other with constructive critique will be the most important teaching tools in the course. The learners will have an opportunity to show their creative process and receive suggestions from others enrolled. This ongoing discussion will demonstrate the unique and diverse perspectives of the individuals participating in the Art MOOC. 

Q: Art is such a broad subject. What sorts of topics will you be covering in this MOOC? 

Divinsky: This MOOC will focus on the introductory language, concepts and techniques of the visual arts. Students will learn to look at art constructively and to express themselves creatively through their art making. It will introduce the students to various art genres and movements, as well as famous artists and their works. Students will have to respond to the covered material by creating original artworks and explaining their artistic intentions through short artist statements. The MOOC is designed to accommodate different types of learners by offering two types of tracks. While one track focuses on exploring content, the other one encourages further experimentation and art making, thus recognizing every participants' versatile abilities and time commitments. 

Q: You’re breaking new ground at Penn State; this is the first of the University’s MOOCs to launch. What are you most excited about in producing this MOOC? 

Divinsky: This collaborative effort between the College of Arts and Architecture, eLearning Institute and Education Technology Services has been an extremely fulfilling experience. My teammates and I are very excited that this course will reach a huge and diverse audience. We are thrilled that so many students can be exposed to art and share their creative energy on a global level. Also, the amount of data gathered from the work produced by the students can be a great resource for research and the understanding of art in an online environment. We already have thousands of enthusiastic learners from all over the world sharing their artwork and ideas and we are really looking forward to seeing how they will progress and evolve through this seven-week experience. 

Q: Why do you think MOOCs and online education have surged in popularity so quickly in the past year? 

Bailey: The media has done a lot with creating all of the publicity. People see all the coverage MOOCs have been getting, and that they're free, and they want to jump on this huge wave of innovation. At some universities, a lot of the fervor has been created because faculty have never taught an online course before. It’s their first taste of online learning. Here at Penn State, we have a long history of distance learning, so for us, it’s been more about what we can learn from this new platform. 

Q: What do you hope comes from Penn State’s partnership with Coursera? 

Bailey: For Penn State, I see it as an exploration and opening of a discussion about what new opportunities we have in the realm of online learning. It helps us question whether there’s something new we can offer. I also hope that the MOOC can act as an introduction to our University for students who may not have considered us before. It’s another channel to share with students all the great things Penn State has to offer.

Contacts: 
Last Updated July 16, 2013