MoMA Gets in on the MOOC Craze, Teaming With Virtual Ed Giant Coursera

MoMA Gets in on the MOOC Craze, Teaming With Virtual Ed Giant Coursera
MoMA's first MOOC, "Art and Inquiry", will be taught by Lisa Mazzola

While universities from Harvard to Pratt are grappling to deal with the impact of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on traditional forms of education, controversial online education provider Coursera has just announced a partnership with the Museum of Modern Art to provide professional development MOOCs for primary and secondary school teachers. The first MoMA MOOC, “Art and Inquiry,” which commences on July 29, is a free online course that instructs teachers in “museum teaching strategies” for the classroom. 

Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, formerly of early MOOC provider Udacity, launched Coursera in April 2012 with $16 million in venture capital. They now have over four million users, or  “Courserians” as they call them, and 83 institutional partners including Princeton University, Berklee College of Music, the California Institute of the Arts and the American Museum of Natural History.


While MoMA already provides online courses at the cost of $150-$350, as well as a “Learning website” that provides things like slide sets, videos, and images to teachers for free, this venture combines the two by providing an online class to teachers at no cost. The Coursera class, which already has 8,000 enrollees, is being created by Lisa Mazzola, MoMA’s assistant director in charge of school and teacher programs. According to a description on Coursera’s website, it will “introduce ways to integrate works of art into your classroom by using inquiry-based teaching methods commonly used in museum settings.”

Deborah Howes, director of digital learning in MoMA's Department of Education, says that the current MoMA learning website is not enough. “Teachers also need modeling and mentoring on how to use museum materials and teaching methods effectively,” Howes wrote in a blog post on MoMA’s website. “We offer some on-the-ground teacher workshops on this subject, but we never have enough space or time to accommodate the large number of teachers who request help.” 

While MOOCs have recently produced a lot of hype, with Harvard and MIT launching their own Ivy League MOOC website called edX, many educators and experts are wary of their rapid proliferation. Although the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently pledged $3 million to MOOC-related grants, Dan Greenstein, the head of postsecondary success at the Gates Foundation, has expressed concern. “For the presidents and chancellors I’ve met with, their innovation exhaustion comes out in an obvious and growing frustration with MOOCs,” Greenstein wrote in an Inside Higher Ed op-ed. For them, MOOCs are a perfect storm of hype, hyperbole, and hysteria – and yet many have plunged headlong into them without a real clear sense of why or how MOOCs can help more students succeed.”

The relationship between arts education and MOOCs is a fraught one. Recently, Pratt Dean Andrew W. Barnes told his staff that he did not support the Brooklyn art college joining in on the MOOC trend, although Pratt has not created any official anti-MOOC policy. “As more and more universities migrate toward the MOOC movement, the difference between what they do and what we do will become more apparent,” Barnes wrote in an email sent to faculty and staff. And, the choice students will have about college will make us more attractive in much the same way that organic produce and locally sourced restaurants and community-based stores have become more attractive. 

On the other hand, while the MOOC issue remains unsettled in the halls of higher learning, the MoMA MOOC may turn out to be an interesting alternative for providing free and expert arts education to primary and secondary school teachers amid the menace of declining arts education funding nationwide.