Did they just say, “39,000 students enrolled in my Improvisation course?” OMG!
Clearly the new frontier of education is online. Back at the dawn of the internet, no one imagined such a possibility, so let me fill you in on some history.
By the year 2000, online education was starting to appear around the USA. First it was a few colleges offering academic courses commonly required in the first year or two by many schools. At about this time, my alma mater, Berklee College of Music, began to consider the possibility of offering music instruction online. I am proud to say that during the final years I served as Executive Vice President at Berklee, my main project was creating an online music school. (I retired from Berklee in 2004 just after the online school was launched).
To accomplish this I worked with a team of very talented Berklee educators and technicians to create the structure and technical design for the courses, an effort that started pretty much from scratch, being as music is much different from traditional academics. In 2003, Berklee’s online music school, known as Berklee Music Online (www.berkleemusic.com), was launched, and now ten years later it is safe to say it has been a huge success. The program boasts over a hundred courses created and taught by Berklee professors and instructors, covering subjects from guitar playing to record production, music business, arranging, song-writing, and so on.
Watching this venture grow into a vibrant educational program, I suppose it was just a matter of time before I wanted to get in on the action. Before I was a full time administrator, my favorite Berklee activity was teaching improvisation. So with encouragement from Berklee’s current leaders, I set aside some time to prepare my own online course, creating 95 demonstration videos, along with text explanations, play-along tracks, and so on – everything that could help communicate the skills and thinking involved in jazz improvisation. My course launched in January 2012, so I am now completing my fifth semester teaching online. My classes include students from a virtual United Nations of countries: Australia, Japan, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, India, Great Britain, Russia, and pretty much every European country, along with plenty of USA and Canadian students, of course.
What is unique about teaching online is the interaction that takes place between the students, as well as with the teacher. Students learn as much from each other as they do from the lesson materials, I think. And, I have had a ball with the course, holding weekly online chat sessions and grading assignments from wherever I happen to be while I am on tour. As long as I have internet access, I can teach.
I will continue with my Berklee course well into the future, I am sure. Meanwhile, a new movement that started a few years ago by some Stanford University professors called MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), has taken off like a rocket. Coursera the Stanford-based consortium for online education (www.coursera.org), now offers over 300 courses for approximately 1.5 million students world-wide, in this format: All courses are completely free and open to anyone. Among those 300-plus courses now on offer is a new one: “Introduction to Improvisation by Gary Burton.” My new Coursera MOOC launched on April 29th, and already over 39,000 students have enrolled! That is almost impossible to fathom, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I created all new videos and content for this course, and I will oversee it along with teaching my already established Berklee course. So, hey, if you’ve ever wanted to know more about improvisation, check out one of my courses.
Join the discussion about these courses on my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/OfficialGaryBurton.