Art of the MOOC: Merging Public Art and Experimental Education

The rise of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) has taken advantage of the increasing ease with which digital technologies can be used to broadcast and interact, creating broad communities of educators and learners.

Long-standing distance learning course providers such as Open University have benefitted from (and adjusted to) the widening range of technological tools, communication methods and digital educational resources. The design of MOOCs responds to the changing learning patterns that Schuurman presents in Tweet Me Your Talk: Geographical Learning and Knowledge Production 2.0 (in the The Professional Geographer, 2013) responding to our ‘lifestyle of interrupted, fragmented learning’. 

Art of the MOOC: Merging Public Art and Experimental Education, a recently launched project led by Dukes University, working with International collaborators and participants, provides both online and off-line tasks to combine theory and practice based learning and create real-world outcomes. The Art of the MOOC responds to distracted learning with rapid-fire lectures, diverse content and varying short-form methods such as lectures, quiz’s and off-line opportunities for critical thinking, further reading and self devised work.

The first module Public Art and Spatial Politics, highlighted “The fact that notions of ‘the public’ are often full of social tension and ‘public space’ itself is often a contended site”; presenting different artists approach to creative practice in the public realm; the work’s power to alienate or engage the surrounding environment and communities. Having looked at the range of approaches, from ‘Plop Art’, large government or corporate sponsored civic sculptures to more vernacular, ephemeral and participatory forms, we’re invited to stage our own social method or world-wide/flashmob intervention – displacing a common object or action or large scale happening.

Neck Chand's Rock Garden Chandigarh; Underpass, Bangkok; Manchester Day Parade

Neck Chand’s Rock Garden Chandigarh; Underpass, Bangkok; Manchester Day Parade

Future modules include: Experimental Pedagogy; Fictions, Alternative Structures, and Mock-Institutions; Aesthetics, Art History, and Cultural Institutions; Embodied Knowledges; Activism and Social Movements.

The course is about stimulating agency but Participation both activates and requires many of the resources presented in the ‘Choice Framework’ presented by Kleine in ICT4What. Material and financial resources are requisite, without the physical and infrastructual ICT connections you’re out. Direct natural and geographical resources can be ignored, beyond what is required for production (or if you happen to live in NYC and can attend some of the lectures in person) but reingaged in the optional project work, which involves people and places.

Human resources are key, our health, and education and skills are engaged in interpreting the course content and producing the project assignments. So too are Psychological, Information, Cultural and Social resources, these make up the rich tapestry of our experience and our agency.

The arts can help to break-down disciplinary and social boundaries, utilise and remix social and cultural capital, allow all to engage in more challenging, more democratic cultural, educational and civic practices.

But this is idealistic, if not utopian thinking, we must remain grounded in reality, alert to the barriers that restrict and prevent this; whether the material and personal obstacles that Kleine refers to or inappropriate tools and methodologies.

Arora and Rangaswamy’s article Digital leisure for development: reframing new media practice in the global South, further explores the  issues that differing social, economic and geographical contexts can present.


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One Response to Art of the MOOC: Merging Public Art and Experimental Education

  1. Matthew Robinson says:

    One point that doesn’t seem to get mentioned often regarding MOOCs is accessibility based on language. Most are offered only in English, even if the MOOC itself is about learning another language (for example, Dutch:

    Although English is often considered the world’s lingua franca (, offering a course only in English instantly alienates the billions of people who don’t speak the language. Although, using English as an academic lingua franca does actually make sense, as English likely has more than 1.5 billion speakers worldwide (including non-first language speakers). English-language MOOCs are offered in a wide range of subjects spanning many websites, and are aimed at generally anyone who understands.

    Interestingly, MOOCs from China tend to be offered only in Simplified Mandarin (unless provided by an institute in Hong Kong, in which case Traditional Mandarin is likely to be offered, but not Cantonese, despite that being one of the two languages officially spoken there, the other being English), and are often about Chinese topics, seemingly aimed at Chinese people. This could be construed as criticism, yet it might be that China is trying to focus on providing free education for its own citizens first, as poverty is still rife in the country.


    On a personal note, I think MOOCs are great. I’ve studied several in the past about topics that are hard to come by or study by oneself, as they give structure and guide learning, rather than having to dig through Wikipedia for hours finding information actually related to what you want to learn and getting lost or sidetracked in the process.

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