Online Professional Development: Challenges and Rewards
What Was Artworlds Online?
In Spring 1999, the Getty Education Institute (GEI) offered Artworlds Online, an online professional development course focused on Los Angeles-centered lesson plans and activities that it had developed. The course is archived online at http://www.artsednet.getty.edu/ArtsEdNet/Resources/Worlds/Prof/Artworlds/index.html.
The mission of the GEI--which had been one of the programs of the J. Paul Getty Trust until June 1999, when it ceased operation--was to improve the quality and status of art education in the nation's schools. From the GEI's founding in 1982, professional development programs for teachers already in the classroom had been developed and offered. The programs often included a component in which museums in the community were part of consortium that offered professional development, and the programs' multifaceted approach to art education included a strong focus on original works of art.
Most of the GEI's professional development programs were regional in focus and were not available to a national audience. As part of a institute-wide research and development effort to explore creation of programs on a national level, the GEI's team for ArtsEdNet, its web site, began to develop online professional development programs. The GEI's professional development programs were documented in Wilson, 1997.)
Artworlds Online was the first (and last) of these online programs. By completing the 12-week course, participants would receive three salary credits (also known as continuing education credits) from Arizona State University. (Salary credits are points that teachers can use to demonstrate their continuing education. School districts have different rules regarding salary credits, and participants in Artworlds Online needed to establish ahead of time whether their school district would accept the salary credits. These credits are not the same as graduate credits, which can also be offered for online professional development.)
The GEI's goals for Artworlds Online were to
The ArtsEdNet team hoped in the long run to develop online courses that would be easily replicated and self-sustaining.
Although Artworlds Online was the first full-scale professional development program that ArtsEdNet had offered online, it was not the GEI's first online course. It had been proceeded by a course called Artworlds Professional Development offered in Summer 1998 that gave one graduate credit at Arizona State University. It was not widely marketed, and none of its five participants were awarded the graduate credit point. However, the ArtsEdNet team did learn many valuable lessons through this course on information architecture for courses, mentoring of participants needed, and the technology demands on participants.
ArtsEdNet's online professional development programs had been preceded by a number of moderated listserve discussions on various artists or issues in art education. These had begun shortly after ArtsEdNet went online in 1995. The ArtsEdNet listserve proved immensely popular immediately with art teachers and teachers who include the arts in their teaching. The discussion mostly consisted of tips on using art materials and classroom management. The GEI had a broader approach to art education that includedóin addition to artwork created by studentsóexploration of the work of artists from global cultures, understanding issues in art (aesthetics), and reading and writing about art (art history and criticism).
To broaden the discussion on the listserve, the ArtsEdNet team created question and answer sessions with artists and with educators that complemented material on the web site. These discussions included interactions with and about:
Through these discussions, the ArtsEdNet team developed an awareness of issues that concerned teachers, how to present information online in a way that would not be overwhelming to them, and some of the nuts and bolts concerns that arise from the use of e-mail and Web technology.
Based on these experiences, the ArtsEdNet team began to develop Artworlds Online in the fall of 1998 for presentation in the spring on 1999. The team for this projected consisted of:
Dr. Candy Borland, ArtsEdNet project director
Dr. Mary Erickson, Arizona State University, curriculum development and online mentor (consultant)
Dr. Faith Clover, Arizona State University, curriculum development and online mentor (consultant)
Kathy Talley-Jones, project manager (consultant)
Adrienne Lee, course coordinator (GEI staff)
Marlin Mowatt, ArtsEdNet webmaster (GEI staff)
The content for Artworlds Online was based on a series of curriculum units called Worlds of Art that had been developed in conjunction with the Getty Information Institute's LA Culture Net initiative. The 12-week course was developed by Drs. Erickson and Clover. Great care was taken to ensure that participants were challenged but not overwhelmed by the course, and it was reduced in size and scope a number of times.
The ArtsEdNet staff considered a number of online course software providers as well as institutions to offer salary or graduate credit. It was decided to use the most simple system possible, based on experience with the previous course and the ArtsEdNet listserve. It was the staff's observation that most of its audience had a fairly low familiarity and fluency with software and the Internet. Technical issues dominated the first course and consumed much of the time of the participants and the mentors. Therefore, Artworlds Online consisted of:
There was no threaded discussion and none of the other bells and whistles used in online courses offered by universities and other providers.
Salary credit was offered through Arizona State University because of Dr. Erickson and Clover's relationships with the online course staff there. Participants registered and paid through Arizona State University. The course fee was $99 (most similar online courses cost around $400), and in the evaluation participants' expressed willingness to pay that much for the course. The fee was kept low to mitigate any inconvenience to participants for this shakedown cruise, and students were aware that they were part of a research and development effort.
Artworlds Online was based on the Worlds of Art curriculum materials. Worlds of Art (http://www.artsednet.getty.edu/ArtsEdNet/Resources/Worlds/index.html) is a collection of curriculum resources and professional development activities designed specifically to make use of the cultural resources and heritage of Los Angeles. It formed a self-contained module within ArtsEdNet that was also accessible from the Getty Information Instituteís LA Culture Net.
Through Worlds of Art, the GEI encouraged teachers and students to understand the concepts of artworld and culture and explore the art and culture of some of Los Angelesís multicultural communities.
The Internet, with its power to link communities and allow groups to speak in their own voices, had been underutilized by teachers in their exploration and understanding of their local cultural heritage. Through Worlds of Art, teachers gained not only a sense of their own physical surroundings, but a thorough knowledge of how the Internet can be used to enrich and add substance to their art instruction.
Worlds of Art used a discipline-based approach to art education; the lessons were interdisciplinary, thematic, and inquiry based. In addition to increasing student understanding of culture and artworlds through its lesson plans, Worlds of Art also provided innovative and interactive professional development opportunities with a graduate credit option for teachers.
There was some concern that the art of Los Angeles might be too parochial for a national audience (an international audience, as it turned out), but most of the participants had a strong interest in the multicultural focus of the artwork discussed. These works included:
African American artists (http://www.artsednet.getty.edu/ArtsEdNet/Resources/African/index.html):
Willie Robert Middlebrook, In His Own Image,
from the series Portraits of My People
Mexican American murals (http://www.artsednet.getty.edu/ArtsEdNet/Resources/Murals/index.html):
Judith Baca, Division of the Barrios and Chavez
Navajo artwork in Los Angeles collections (http://www.artsednet.getty.edu/ArtsEdNet/Resources/Navajo/index.html):
Anonymous, Chief-Style Blanket, Third Phase
Part of the course consisted of explorations by participants of cultural web sites, particularly those focused on the artworlds concerned in the Worlds of Art curriculum units. Their explorations were focused by specific questions that they reported on by e-mail to the group. The ArtsEdNet team hoped that discussions of related issues would arise spontaneously. Because there were up to 64 participants, however, the volume of e-mail that each participant received was enormous, and students felt constrained by the amount of communication involved.
The following were the stated objectives for participants' learning through Artworlds Online:
More specifically, participants will:
The GEI used several methods for getting the word out about Artworlds Online:
A total of 64 participants enrolled in the course, 52 of whom completed the course (evidently a very low attrition rate for an online course). That nearly half of the participants enrolled based on information through focused listserves suggests this as an attractive and inexpensive means of marketing online courses. (Listserves are free to join, of course, but there may be staff or consultant time used to join and post messages so that they are welcomed and not perceived as spam.)
The target audience for Artworlds Online was educators, specifically art K-12 art specialists or classroom teachers using the arts in their teaching. The participants for Artworlds Online were for the most part art or music teachers (34). The balance were general classroom teachers (10) or English or social studies teachers (10), museum educators (6), school administrators (2), and graduate students in education (2). Participants came from 25 states and five countries (Canada, Great Britain, Japan, New Zealand, and Thailand).
Participants accessed the course in a number of ways:
Of the participants, 63% used a PC, 37% used a Macintosh. None used Web TV or any other type of web access.
This was the first online course for all participants but one. Most (100%) said they would be interested in further online courses offered by the GEI.
Most of those who replied to the query had access via a 56K modem (50%), 28.8 (21%), T1 (4%), and ISDN (4%). The balance (21%) did not know what kind of modem connection they had. More than halfóin spring 1999óhad been using the Internet less than a year. 40% had an Internet connection in their classroom.
The ArtsEdNet staff had set 65 as the cutoff for enrollment, not expecting to come anywhere near this. When 64 people had signed up, there was some discussion that they should be divided according to interest groups with Dr. Erickson mentoring one group and Dr. Clover the other. The participants themselves did not want to divide the group up, however.
Most of the participants found the course to be about as difficult as expected. The course developers put a great deal of effort in balancing the numbers of hours that students spent online and in completing assignmentsófrom four to six hours per week. Some took much moreóup to 36 hours a week!--partly because of technical problems that they had (losing files, bookmarks, inability to use e-mail and browser programs) or because they had slow modem speeds. 96% said that the level of effort was worth the outcome.
In a survey following the completion of the course, participants gave the following feedback:
Topics the participants would like to see in the future included:
Cost and Time Needed
As might be expected, developing and running Artworlds Online was expensive. Developing the course required:
The course mentors did not reply to specific e-mails on a daily basis but each wrote one e-mail a week that gathered issues and comments that had come up during the week. While this minimized their need to interact with participantsóalthough they had a lot of e-mail to read every weekósome participants wished for more personalized interaction with the instructors.
All but the web implementation and course coordination were in consultation to the GEI. Because regular e-mail, browser, and web technology was used, time needed for programming was kept to a minimum. None of the technology proved problematic except to participants who were utter novices to the web and to computers. The course took about six months to develop and implement.
It was the hope of those involved that refinements could be made to the Artworlds Online course and that it could be offered in the future with much less overhead and perhaps break even or make a profit. However, this did not happen because of a change in focus for the Getty Trust web programs.
In addition to learning that running an online course is an expensive and time-consuming process, the ArtsEdNet team also learned that:
If museums or other educational institutions other than universities or school systems that have a curriculum infrastructure wish to pursue offering courses online, the following suggestions can be kept in mind:
Wilson, Brent. (1997). The Quiet Evolution: Changing the Face of Art Education. Los Angeles: Getty Education Institute.