A MOOC for International Jazz Day

I’ve been involved in a few MOOCs before and have been exploring them from the point of view of my day job. So far I’ve not managed to complete one but it hasn’t been the reason I’ve been following them. Some, especially the ones on the subject of learning technology itself have had bewildering amounts of information. It seems as though some of the learning technologists on them are spending a good portion of their waking hours reading, posting and tweeting to the echo chamber. However, this one is different. I’m taking the course because I want to take it for itself. It’s entitled ‘Introduction to Improvisation’ and is being run on Coursera by Gary Burton. Not only is Gary a Professor at Berkeley, counts Chick Corea and Pat Metheny among his former pupils and is known to be a great improviser, he is also generally considered to be the best vibes player that has ever lived. Quite a CV eh? It was interesting that in a recent MOOC seminar one of the Professors present said, when looking at a Berkeley MOOC, “Who are these people?” and then argued that the people running the courses might as well just be actors. Well, the teacher being the best person in his field who has ever lived is good enough for me. He has even managed to get Learning Technology into the latest issue of Jazzwise magazine.

One very interesting element of this course is that Gary Burton has long been involved in Berkeley distance education and their online programme. This shows in the opening videos for the course. In fact he spends the first four videos talking about the course, what’s expected and the challenges of learning online. Peer review is a key element of the course and he carefully points out that comments should be supportive helpful and constructive. There should be no ridicule and that in a course of this nature “a lot of respect is called for”. Although there has not been any peer review yet the early comments on the forums seems to be following that advice. Sadly this has not always been the case in other MOOCs I have been on. He also points out that the course will not lead to success overnight or even during the duration of the course. Improvements and success will be seen in the weeks and months to come after the course has been completed. This is something that is true with all learning but that is not always acknowledged in an employability driven, satisfaction survey obsessed and learning outcomes focused world.

There are not as many short quizzes in this course so far. In previous courses there were lots of multiple choice quizzes where by watching the videos you could get the answers correct without actually having to learn anything. Not that I’m against multiple choice questions but using them just as a way of demonstrating you have remembered what you have just watched doesn’t seem to be the learning revolution trumpeted by Daphne Koller et al. Instead the assignment for week one is to analyse as short improvisation by Mr Burton himself and then to record your own improvisation of the same tune using the backing track provided. These will then be peer reviewed. Some people are pretty daunted by the second part of the assignment as they are either new to Jazz, improvisation or both. (There seem to be quite a lot of prog rockers on the course. Down with Edupunk. Eduprog lives!) However, others seem to have been inspired by the culture of ‘a lot of respect’ and have already started posting their improvisations. The respect culture seems to be there in the comments as well – these are general comments rather than peer review. Some people are clearly early in their musical careers but the comments have been really supportive and constructive. None of the YouTube style ‘you suck man’ comments.

I plan to blog throughout the course on http://inveniotech.blogspot.co.uk/ and I plant to complete this one.

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