7 Questions: Learning and Looking Closely

Still from Sarah Meister, from Seeing Through Photographs. © 2016 The Museum of Modern Art

As part of our 7 Questions series, Senior Content Designer Sofie Andersen asked Sara Bodinson, Director, Interpretation, Research and Digital Learning at The Museum of Modern Art, to share thoughts on MoMA's latest online learning course.
 

1.We are thrilled to have worked with you on the audio interviews for your new, free, online course, Seeing Through Photographs. Can you tell us about the course— how did you decide that photography was an important subject to offer in this way?

As part of MoMA’s ongoing visitor research efforts, we have surveyed our past MOOC learners, on-site course learners, and even those who had not taken a course through MoMA. Photography consistently rose to the top of the list of topics that they were interested in. MoMA’s findings were supported by research conducted by Coursera, which identified photography as a high demand content area—one that they are actively cultivating for the platform.

 

2. How does this course help learners to look at art?

In an increasingly visual culture, we are aware that taking, viewing and sharing photographs is not always synonymous with visual literacy. Much of what we do in our on-site education programs is designed to encourage close looking at works of art. In this course we wanted to extend and replicate that experience, encouraging learners to explore the gap between seeing photographs and truly understanding them.

Still from the Katy Grannan: Boulevard video, from Seeing Through Photographs. © 2016 The Museum of Modern Art

Still from the Katy Grannan: Boulevard video, from Seeing Through Photographs. © 2016 The Museum of Modern Art

 

3. What about the role of artist interviews on the course, can you tell us about the approach you took?

 The course development was timed with Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015, which provided access to many of the artists featured in the exhibition, who were interviewed for the course.

Through our research, MoMA visitors consistently tell us that they value hearing directly from artists about their work. When asked what they want to know when they are looking at a work of art, they most frequently cite artist’s inspiration and intent.

Still from Hank Willis Thomas: UNBRANDED, from Seeing Through Photographs. © 2016 The Museum of Modern Art

Still from Hank Willis Thomas: UNBRANDED, from Seeing Through Photographs. © 2016 The Museum of Modern Art

 

4. The audio experiences are longer than we usually hear in the galleries – what kind of impact do you hope these will have? 

Given the online course format it was possible to feature slightly longer form interviews, averaging 5 to 7 minutes. Because one of the course goals was to encourage close and critical looking we transformed the audio interviews into slideshows so learners can linger over a photograph or series of images as the artist discusses their ideas, process, and subject matter.

 

5. What do you think the addition of media to this course will add overall?

Seeing Through Photographs was designed to help learners better understand the various ways context influences the production, circulation, and reception of photographic images. In addition to the audio slideshows, the course offers a series of vérité films featuring artists talking about and showing their process and the role of photography today. The course also features interviews with curator, Sarah Meister, in MoMA’s photo study center and storage areas to show that photographs are not only images but objects—and that you can learn a great deal by looking at them as such.

Still from Vik Muniz: Equivalents, from Seeing Through Photographs. © 2016 The Museum of Modern Art

Still from Vik Muniz: Equivalents, from Seeing Through Photographs. © 2016 The Museum of Modern Art

 

 

6. This is a new course, but can you tell us how learners have responded to other online courses you’ve offered so far? 

MoMA’s first two MOOCs—Art & Inquiry, Art & Activity—were geared towards K-12 teachers. Realizing that a high percentage of course takers for those MOOCs were not K-12 teachers, Modern Art & Ideas offered one series of videos specifically geared towards teachers about pedagogical approaches to the collection and one series about exploring art through themes, with a very different look and feel, that targeted at a more general audience of learners (and is also featured on YouTube). Overall, MoMA’s MOOCs have a higher retention rate and ratings than Coursera’s reported average and so far Seeing Through Photographs is getting wonderful feedback from learners. 

Still from Nicholas Nixon: The Brown Sisters, from Seeing Through Photographs. © 2016 The Museum of Modern Art

Still from Nicholas Nixon: The Brown Sisters, from Seeing Through Photographs. © 2016 The Museum of Modern Art

 

7. Do you have a sense of your audience reach for online learning courses – does the audience look different online than to your museum visitors? What’s the demographic?

It’s an extremely international community of learners—with a high representation from BRIC nations. One difference between our international visitors on site and our international learners online is that the vast majority of participants in our previous MOOCs were not familiar with MoMA before taking one of our courses, which provides a huge opportunity to engage new audiences. Central to MoMA’s mission is the encouragement of an ever-deeper understanding, enjoyment, and use of modern and contemporary art by diverse local, national, and international audiences and we see this MOOC as an extension of this mission.

Our goal was for the ideas explored in MOOCs to be relevant and applicable to those who may never visit MoMA. But we have found for many of our MOOC learners, this has been the first of many encounters with the Museum and its collection—and even more importantly between each other. Many of MoMA’s online course learners participate in ongoing discussion years after taking the courses, and have formed alumni groups that meet up together all over the world.

Still from Marvin Heiferman, from Seeing Through Photographs. © 2016 The Museum of Modern Art

Still from Marvin Heiferman, from Seeing Through Photographs. © 2016 The Museum of Modern Art

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