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Losing my MOOC virginity with Jazz MOOC

Introducing Jazz MOOC!
(Copy of my blog post on

First of 3 parts.
Read part 2.
Read part 3.

Last week I joined my first Massive Online Open Course from Coursera. This is one of several mass-education platforms established in the US, with  increasing numbers of free courses on a wide range of subjects. So, after having to feed it my email address and then waiting to receive an email, I was finally invited “in”. I then had to complete a questionnaire so they could know all about me. I lied. I’m Evadne Hatstand, 23 years old and from Baltimore.

So I joined my first MOC last week. A massive online course. My first emotion was excitement – it was a course on jazz improvisation from Berklee College of Music led by vibes man Gary Burton. Sorry, MOOCs on “organic chemistry” and “circuits and electronics” just don’t do it for me. Jazz MOOC had attracted people from all around the world – mainly US, Spain, and few from the UK. Most people seemed to be pretty competent musicians (all readily providing their links to YouTube and Soundcloud back-catalogues), and most seemed to be professionals doing something interesting with their lives already.

My initial excitement of doing something so awesome then turned to bewilderment. OK this thing is laid out as a website with links to the left and forum items to the right. I know I’m not stupid, but, I just didn’t have a clue what to “do” next. I watched some introductory videos from the originator, (oh yes, the content is not “open” either and none of the stuff if open licensed or accessible in any form other than a video). They gave an example critique was music featuring Gary, Pat Metheny, Antonio Sanchez and others – the top guys in the world. I saw them at the Newport Jazz Festival last year and they are immense, fluid, complicated.

Antonio Sanchez (left) and Pat Metheny (right), Newport Jazz Festival 2012. Photo by Viv. Oh, that’s me!

The example piece was so er, fluid, complicated, that you didn’t know what section was what? How can I evaluate the “bridge” section? I wouldn’t know the “bridge” section if it came along and bit me on the butt. So I thought I’d go and hang out in the forum. There was a burgeoning thread on “what instrument do you play” which was nice. I put some comments on but had no conversations with folk. It felt very isolating. I KNOW what it felt like! When you are standing at the bar being ignored and everyone around you is getting served. YES! I was in the forum saying stuff but there was no chat. Perhaps it was the time difference. Or perhaps nobody likes me. #Paranoia.


I loved the thought of doing homework again. I was already practicing all my best student excuses. I had my 6 grandmothers’ funerals lined up and everything. There were two assignments in week one, – to critically evaluate a jazz standard plus a recording of three rounds of our own improvisation (which I recorded on Garageband and uploaded to Soundcloud). Interesting as an “open” experience there was no mention of whether I should be sharing copyrighted music publically, or whether I should choose the Creative Commons license by which to declare the Cole Porter’s “What is This Thing Called Love” to the world? I would have liked some clarification.

But I did learn my first thing. After half an hour I learnt how to right-mouse-click to download something to a Mac, and how to drag the file into Garageband. It was all easy once you knew how.

My critical evaluation was brief with my limited knowledge and vocabulary. I didn’t know what musical style it was? I didn’t know what the feel was? I’ve just improvised jazz for over 20 years, I have never labelled things before. Jazz to me is a conversation in a pub or club with some guys over a few beers. There were no books or resources recommended to help me understand the principles and theory.

I enjoyed recording my own improvisation and my experience told me you should always play the tune first and take the listener back there, so I did that.

Peer-review marking

The next round seemed really fun, and that was reviewing the work of others, and a nice peer-review framework was provided. I’m not sure I can grade them on accuracy because I haven’t been told, or don’t know, what the correct approach is yet. And already I’m entirely intimidated by my first reviewee who tells me:

“In Bar 9 there is chromatic movement of the G minor 7b5 both moving away first from the G and then towards the G, with the utilzation of triplets”.

Oh shit. My evaluation said:

“Half way through there are some scale patterns”.

(Note to self. Write “utlitisation of triplets” next time).

And educationally?

I am really enjoying jazz MOC but  pedagogically there is room for it to be so much better.

There are some basic things here that I couldn’t possibly get away with as a university lecturer. There is a huge assumption about people’s prior knowledge. I’ve been playing music for over 40 years and have Grade 8 Piano with distinction and I felt totally out of it. I could no more recognise a mixolyidan mode than I could fly to the moon. There is no stuff supporting our “transition” into the jazzness.

I feel very uneasy grading people’s work when their knowledge is so superior to my own. The peer-review process has to work because jazz MOOC is on a vast scale (there must be hundreds responding to the forum threads). But it isn’t really going to work because I don’t know what I’m reading so how can I give constructive feedback?

The instructional videos were exciting, but I needed something a bit more informative.  I’d like to have seen the music with “bridge” clearly stamped on it.

I love the technology!!

Overall the great thing for me so far is the novelty to have learning technology that actually works. The thing hasn’t crashed. There has not been a single technical glitch. I am not faced with the white screen of death that I get going onto my learning environment at work. I submitted my homework and you could nicely go back and tweak it too (when I suddenly realised how crap it was).

Yes, the navigation and journey through the course is unfamiliar, and it does assume a certain level of computer literacy from the users. When my new students unfamiliar with their learning tools and environments will have an abundance of tutorials and on-line screen-capture resources to help them. Jazz MOOC has a good information-release system behind the scenes that is nice that drip-feeds the content in a timely fashion that I could see a dozen uses for.

What next?

We’ll I’m about to start week two and I’m also laughing very loudly to myself at the current UK media-hype about MOOCs threatening to take over our higher education system. Not a sausage. Maybe motivated adults who want to learn for fun in the evenings would complete a course, but there is no way this would wash with my students for one minute!

As I say in my song….”a million online users with a tutor I’ll never see”.

This is NOT the future of a good education. Actually I’m not convinced MOOCs “are” educational yet.

First of 3 parts.
Read part 2.
Read part 3.

General comments

Hello world!

I suppose I should write a few lines although the sun is shining and the pub is open shortly.