“The recent development of MOOCs (massive open online courses) can provide museums with valuable possibilities for education, community outreach and multi-disciplinary collaboration.”
The quote above by David Greenfield, a doctoral candidate in Learning Technologies at Pepperdine University, was part of a paper entitled “MOOCs, Museums, and Schools: Natural Partners and Processes for Learning” presented at the recent Museums & the Web Conference in Portland theorizing about the potential of partnerships with schools and community members in developing online museum courses. Museums are already starting to realize those possibilities in the area of online courses.
The Museum of Modern Art, the Tate and my own North Carolina Museum of Art are currently offering extended online courses similar to MOOCs. These courses are different from each other in content, audience, and style, yet they are all pioneering engagement with local, national, and global audiences through objects in their specific collections. Their experiences offer important lessons to future museum MOOC-makers.
Why Museums Can Excel Online
Why are museums uniquely suited to be leaders in this field? For one, museum education is predicated on informal, constructivist learning approaches which encourage the learner to control their learning. Similarly, online courses allow students to go through the content at their own pace, constructing their own meaning from discussion forums, assignments and projects. Deborah Howes, Director of Digital Learning at MoMA, said, the pairing of museum education and online learning is, “conceptually, very much aligned.” She continues:
“Museum education teaching is based on the curiosity of people who come from all different walks of life and have any number of questions about what excites them. Teaching online, we offer different kinds of learning experiences–videos of behind the scenes tours, slide shows of art works, DIY experiments–and students explore this variety according to their own interests to create meaning.”
Second, museum learning is often social. Visitors come in groups, field trips, or with families to share the experience of looking at and discussing objects. Learning Management Systems like Blackboard, Moodle, and Haiku allow for similar discussions and facilitate group collaboration.
At the North Carolina Museum of Art, students who might live hundreds of miles away can work together on a video project and post art projects to receive peer feedback. MoMA and Tate also encourage this type of online community through discussion boards. MoMA online course alumni have created their own Facebook groups to extend the learning community, some of which are in their third year of operation
MOOCs Multiply Museum Outreach
Online learning can offer virtual windows to the extensive, beautiful, and awe-inspiring collections that museums have to offer. The NCMA is located in the middle of North Carolina, a state 560 miles (900 km) long. The virtual courses offer both synchronous and asynchronous components. Each week the instructor is in charge of opening the module (or unit) and hosting one live class with students. Otherwise, students go through that module and complete assignments at their own pace. Modules can include articles, assignments, discussion forums vocabulary wiki’s and/or multimedia. Over half of our online high school students live hours away and may never have even heard of their state art museum. Online, they can take our courses, be exposed to art spanning 5,000 years of all mediums, including sculpture, photography, paintings, and mixed media.
Once students take online classes at NCMA, we want to find ways to bring them to the brick-and-mortar building. To do that, we host exhibitions that highlight work from our online courses, which encourages students to visit the NCMA in person (see photo). We’ve also offered field trips and buses to our annual teen event.
The Tate’s reach stretches nationally and even globally. Rosie Cardiff, e-Learning editor at Tate, found that 31% of her students based outside the United Kingdom, with just under 10% living in Australia and New Zealand. Similarly, MoMA has both a national and international reach. A woman from rural Canada who took one of the online courses thanked Howes for the opportunity to interact with a global community of contemporary art lovers that she could not find locally. “A museum can provide that type of community and support,” Howes says.
Financing Remains a Challenge
Both the MoMA and NCMA courses started because of grants from Volkswagen and Wells Fargo Foundation, respectively. Both of these grants end soon, and both institutions are seeking future funding for the growth and expansion of the courses. MoMA charges $150–200 for their self-guided course and $200–350 for their instructor-led courses. Those fees will help sustain the program, whether or not they receive a future grant. The NCMA, on the other hand, does not charge for their courses, instead, high school students receive school credit. While we encourage students to visit the NCMA to see their exhibition or attend a field trip, we don’t have additional funds to cover their travel.
In Tate’s case, Rosie Cardiff explained that “initial funding for developing the courses came from the Tate Online core budget.” Tate charges £20 ($31) for unlimited course access. Cardiff says the courses “have now paid for themselves and cover costs of ongoing maintenance and copyright fees, etc., but they don’t generate much in the way of profit.” When asked what advice she would give to future museums or institutions looking to invest in developing online courses, Cardiff advised thinking “carefully about the business model for the online courses if you are planning to use them to generate revenue. Courses can be costly to produce and you need to think about ongoing maintenance costs, especially if the courses are tutored.”
Cardiff and her team presented an evaluation of their courses and their changing business model at Museums & the Web 2012.
Grounded in Specific Collections
As museums create online courses, resources, or distant learning programs, Howes advises they “think creatively about the unique qualities of their collection and what that could offer to a global audience. Anyone can do a course on modern art if they have a collection, but how do they offer a unique look on this topic?”
Similarly, the Tate and NCMA courses offer visitors opportunities to engage with and respond to art specific to their collections. The NCMA courses use art in the permanent collection as catalysts for learning about topics such as game design, advertising, fashion, photography and videography. The multimedia we provide include videos of art in the galleries, interviews with museum staff or local, North Carolina experts in that particular field. All three museums offer opportunities to watch video interviews with artists, curators, or experts, as well as demonstrations of artist technique and process.
Full Speed to the Future
David Greenfield believes that when it comes to museums and online learning, “we’re in the evolutionary stages of what’s going on.” As pioneers of a new educational format, museums join with for-profit companies like 2U and Coursera in shaping a field that is rapidly changing. In fact, as of May 1, 2013, MoMA, along with the Exploratorium in San Francisco, has announced a new partnership offering professional development MOOCs for K-12 teachers.
“Museums”, says MoMA’s Deborah Howes, “have a chance to rewrite art history in a way that is relevant to where they are.” MoMA, Tate, and NCMA are already doing just that.
ONLINE COURSE DETAILS:
- Audience: lifelong learners, general public
- Cost: varies from $150-350
- Length: 5-10 weeks
- Course topics (selected): From Pigment to Pixel: Color in Modern and Contemporary Art, Experimenting with Collage, Modern Art 1880-1945, Materials and Techniques of Postwar Abstract Painting, etc.
- Instruction: Self-guided and instructor-led options
- Audience: North Carolina public high school students
- Cost: Free; only available to high school students for credit
- Length: semester
- Course topics: Videography, game design, fashion, advertising, photography
- Instruction: Instructor-led
- Audience: lifelong learners, general public
- Cost: £20
- Length: 6 units per course, self-guided
- Course topics: Artists’ Techniques & Methods, Introduction to Drawing Techniques
- Instruction: Self-guided
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
EMILY KOTECKI: Associate Coordinator of Teen and College Programs at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Emily creates online and onsite programming for these audiences, including art competitions, arts councils, and developing online courses. Prior to museums, Emily worked at The Washington Post as a multimedia politics producer covering the 2008 presidential campaign. She received her received her Master of Arts in Teaching from The George Washington University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Journalism from American University. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyKotecki or visit www.emilykotecki.com. Emily’s postings on this site are her own and do not necessarily represent the North Carolina Museum of Art’s positions, strategies, or opinions.