Introduction to Italian Opera MOOC

This fall, the staff at the Paddock Music Library have the pleasure of being included on the course development team for the Introduction to Italian Opera MOOC (massive open online course) taught by Steve Swayne. This post will take a close look at the MOOC-building process, starting with the planning of the course by the professor through the interaction of the teaching assistants with students.

Meet the Team:

The MOOC and the Library

Throughout the process, the Library’s role has grown to include many more duties than are usual with Dartmouth courses. As is the case with regular Dartmouth courses, the Library helps to locate, purchase, and prepare the content for access. However, the creation of this course has been unique in that the entire course team (faculty, instructional designer, media specialists, and librarians) have been involved in the planning, implementation, and review from the very beginning. Because the Opera MOOC has been a collaborative project, all team members not only offer their special skills but also support the work of one another through regular team consultation and stepping in when assistance is needed.

We asked instructor Steve Swayne to give us his perspective on the Library’s involvement in the creation of this course:

What has been unique about creating content for the MOOC as opposed to creating content for Dartmouth courses?

First of all, I had to rethink the order of the content. I usually begin my opera class with an introductory lecture about opera in the movies; that lecture usually takes two whole hours and uses a lot of film clips. After that, I start at the very beginning with Florence leading to Monteverdi. I felt I couldn’t start the MOOC that way, so I chose instead to look at one opera for an entire week—something I don’t do in my survey of opera—and then go back in time. It was a delight to talk about Le nozze di Figaro in this way, and I look forward to incorporating some of the first week of the MOOC into my residential course on opera.

How has your support from the Library been different in the planning of this course as opposed to your usual courses at Dartmouth?

I usually do all of my own bibliographic work when I’m teaching. I might go to a librarian for help in digitizing a resource, but I’m pretty good at tracking down materials I want to use for the course. It’s been a godsend to have Pat Fisken take over many of the bibliographic aspects of the MOOC. For example, we have what we call “baseball cards” for many of the significant persons involved in Italian opera. Pat compiled the information about their years of birth and death, their places where they worked, their best-known operas, and additional facts about their lives. She also located open source images for us to use here and elsewhere. What a relief not to have to do all that work on my own!

Do you think your support from the Library will change for your on-campus courses after the experience of working together on the MOOC? If so, how?

I wish I knew the answer to this question. One thing I imagine might occur is that Pat and other librarians will step up and make recommendations to me and to other faculty about ways they can assist us in providing additional materials for our teaching. But I have to say: the folks in Paddock have always been great in providing support for what I do.

Throughout the process of selecting recordings for the lectures, you have clearly been an advocate for using recordings that best exhibit the themes you touch on in the course. Have your views changed regarding the rigidity of copyright laws when it comes to using content for academic purposes? Do those views differ when it comes to using content in an on-campus course versus in a free online course?

I have tried to treat the content for the MOOC in the same way that I treat content for my residential courses. I understand the reflex of rights holders to want to license the distribution of their content. At the same time, I believe in the Fair Use Doctrine in copyright law, and I’ve long felt that we in academia have been afraid to exercise this doctrine to its fullest extent. In terms of this massive open online environment, I see an opportunity for rights holders to interest students in accessing and purchasing their content outside of the MOOC. I don’t see what I’m doing as a threat to their income stream. If anything, I feel I’m increasing their potential market, and I do hope that some of our students will elect to buy either access to streamed media or the physical media (CDs, DVDs) we use for examples.

The Course Development Process

processinfographicFirst, Steve writes and presents the lectures which are recorded by Daniel and Sawyer. Then, recordings are selected, digitized, cited, and embedded into the video lectures. David formats the recordings. Daniel and Sawyer edit the lectures into a series of approximately six minute clips and design graphics. They integrate the graphics and the digitized recordings into these smaller lectures. The smaller lectures are then sent to the entire team for review. The team shares their suggestions and changes are integrated into the final versions of the videos. Pat creates the citations as well as the content for a series of digital flash cards which students use to test their knowledge of operas, their composers, and new vocabulary. Memory compiles a list of online resources from which students can access the operas. Adam puts all of the lectures, assignments, announcements, and resources into the edX platform. Once the content is live, Susana, Adam, and Memory engage students through discussion posts and social media.

Course Resources

Once the lectures and excerpts have been integrated, resources for viewing full-length operas are found and made available to non-Dartmouth students. Dartmouth students have a number of reliable resources for viewing operas at their fingertips, including Alexander Street’s Video Library, the MetHD broadcasts, Met On Demand, the Naxos Video Library, and of course, our CDs and DVDs here in Paddock. One of our biggest challenges is helping the 6,000 (and growing!) students enrolled in the course who are not affiliated with the College to gain access to similar resources.

During Week Zero of the course, nicknamed the Course Overture, we provided non-Dartmouth students with a number of options for gaining access to opera. Some of the resources we recommend are free, including public libraries, Culturebox France, and the Opera Platform. Others, like memberships to Opera America and the Met On Demand require a fee. We are building a community of students who will be able not only to discuss the material we provide but who are also able to exchange resources beyond those the course team has recommended. Since the course has launched, we have found that most non-Dartmouth students are using YouTube to find full-length operas. The students often share their favorite productions via our recommender tool.

Student Engagement

In the most simple of explanations, MOOCs consist of a series of short video lectures streamed online. One staff member infamously asked the question, “What’s the difference between a MOOC and a PBS documentary?” When the OperaX team heard this question, it was met mostly with knowing laughter. Nothing against Ken Burns or Neil Degrasse Tyson, but MOOCs are light-years away from documentaries. The main difference lies in the engagement factor. The team has created assignments for the students, answered students’ questions during live office hours, and encouraged peer review. This MOOC breaks down the barrier between the lecture podium and the students in their desks. We aren’t just having students memorize facts. We are giving them a call to action. Listen to this opera once, listen to it twice, talk about it, go to a live performance of it, share a picture of you going to it, make a friend and take them to it, too!engagementengagement2

So, now that we’re pros, here’s your call to action:

1. Sign up for a MOOC at edX.org. It doesn’t even have to be our MOOC but hey, that would be great!

2. Learn something awesome about a subject you’re interested in. While you’re busy learning about something awesome, notice how you’re learning it.

3. Tell us about your experience in the comments section below!

The OperaX team strikes their best operatic pose at the course launch celebration.

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