Taking the Arts Online

Ed-tech start-up Kadenze launches an online education platform specifically created for creative arts courses.

June 16, 2015

Online learning platforms are out of tune with creative arts education, according to the ed-tech start-up Kadenze.

Its platform, which launches today, aims to become a hub for online courses in art, design, music and other disciplines underrepresented online. Those courses have proven challenging to teach to an audience in dozens, let alone the hundreds or thousands, as faculty members struggle to translate face-to-face instruction to an online setting or evaluate students based on highly personal work. As a result, massive open online course platforms often feature lineups heavy on courses in which student performance can be determined with quizzes and peer-graded writing assignments.

“It’s great that you can learn math and engineering and all these things that are out there,” said Ajay Kapur, Kadenze's CEO and co-founder. “We want to bring creativity into the mix.”

Art schools and departments, Kapur said, have been “left out” of the rise of MOOCs and other forms of online education, so Kadenze (pronounced kah-den-zay) is forming a loosely defined network of art schools interested in advancing online creative arts education. Its launch partners include Princeton and Stanford Universities, California College of the Arts, the California Institute of the Arts, Cornish College of the Arts, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Goldsmiths University of London, Otis College of Art and Design, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Seoul Institute of the Arts, the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Saint Joseph in Macau, among others.

Some of those institutions -- including CalArts, CCA, Otis College, SAIC, SeoulArts and Saint Joseph -- will offer for-credit courses through Kadenze priced at $300 a credit hour. Students not pursuing credit can opt for a $7 a month membership fee, or view the course content (but not participate) free. Of the 21 courses planned for today’s launch -- 4 of which will start right away -- 9 offer credit. Students who opt for credit will receive a transcript, but the credit may not transfer to a different institution. Nor are there any set pathways to enrollment.

The art schools will get “a percentage” of the revenue, Kapur said, but he did not specify how much.

Jeannene M. Przyblyski, provost at CalArts, said the college will offer credit to students it does not currently enroll -- in other words, as a form of extended education.

“From the outset, we were always really interested in the notion of a MOOC as a social community, and then the question is, how could that social community be a creative community?” Przyblyski said. “People think about artists as being alone in their studies. That’s a part of it… but the fact of the matter is that it isn’t really art until it’s out in the world and people respond to it.”

Kadenze is positioning itself as a cross between a MOOC provider and an online program management company. Like Coursera or edX, Kadenze will offer free versions of the courses offered on its platform, but like a 2U or Academic Partnerships, the company also offers instructional designers and animators to help its partners with the production aspect of online education.

The platform also comes with tools and features developed to benefit students and faculty members of the creative arts. For music students, that might mean the ability to upload uncompressed audio files, for art students, a personal portfolio to showcase their work.

Perry R. Cook, professor emeritus of computer science and music at Princeton and executive vice president of Kadenze, added that an upcoming introductory programming course will use machine grading to run student-written code to automate part of the evaluation process and simultaneously detect plagiarism.

“These are all built-in tools that we created from scratch, because they weren’t anywhere else,” Cook said.

Anecdotes from faculty members behind some of the first courses that will be made available on the platform suggest Kadenze has been willing to build infrastructure on a course-by-course basis. Christopher D. Chafe, director of the Stanford Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, said Kadenze was willing to invest “top-notch resources” in the courses the center will offer on the platform. For example, Chafe’s online jamming course, which will debut later this year, needs to be optimized for students to connect together over the Internet.

“Optimization is going to have to take into account a whole bunch of factors -- the equipment they’ve got, the time zone they’re in, their music interests,” Chafe said. “I could never really have taught this as a classroom course.”


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