Trends in Online Music and Art Instruction

Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have taken the world of higher education by storm. Coursework for many programs is easily adaptable to the MOOC format of online-only education, but what about those disciplines that require hands-on training and research, such music and art? Instructors at many colleges and universities are exploring that question with new online courses that bring art and music to students through their internet connection.


Music education in the digital age

The storied Berklee College of Music has partnered with Southern New Hampshire University to offer the first entirely online MBA in music business. The program, launched for the 2013 fall semester, includes online MBA courses through SNHU, and music business and marketing classes from Berklee. The degree takes as little as 21 months to complete and is available to students around the globe.

Georgia Tech' School of Music is also getting in on the act with its very first MOOC. The six-week Survey of Music Technology course, taught by professor Jason Freeman on the Coursera platform, started during the fall 2013 semester. The program focuses on the fundamentals of the music technology and has drawn thousands of students, reports Technique, the Georgia Tech magazine.

Students are definitely interested in exploring music and art through online courses. Take the tale of pianist Jonathan Biss, who expected 1,000 students to enroll in his course on Beethoven's sonatas. Instead, the course, offered by Coursera and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, welcomed over 32,000 students in early September, according to Quartz.

Art moves out of the studio and into the virtual classroom

It isn't just music lessons finding their way onto the internet. Courses focused on art instruction have launched recently as well, including one of the first MOOCs presented by Penn State. Introduction to Art: Concepts and Techniques debuted over the summer, and is the first of five free courses Penn State plans to offer through Coursera.

Anna Divinsky, one of the teachers instrumental in creating the MOOC, explained the challenges and expectations of the course to Penn State News. "Students enrolled in an online art course need to be self-directed and not rely on the continual guidance and feedback from the instructor," Divinsky pointed out. "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."

Expanding the study of music and art

Music theory can be difficult enough to teach in the classroom, which might be one reason few instructors have attempted music theory instruction online. A new application called Harmonia, created by professor Heinrich Taube at the University of Illinois, could change all that.

Harmonia is the first app from the University of Illinois to appear in the iTunes app store. After years of working in computer music production, Taube went back to the classroom and was astonished to see teachers still using the classic tools of paper, pencil and chalk -- a tedious way to complete assignments and an even more time-consuming way to grade them. He started working on a music theory program in 1996.

"This is so much better than paper," Taube told Phys.org. "It's the only way that music theory can participate in massively open online courses. If a university wants to have an online academy for music theory, you need something like this." Taube expects to begin using the application to teach undergraduate students this year.

As more teachers and students brainstorm ways to bring music and arts to those who study online, applications such as Harmonia will likely become commonplace. As that happens, more students will be exposed to the wonders of art and music. Anna Divinsky sums it up in her interview with Penn State News: "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."