Professor Philippe Pasquier's new MOOC in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology attracts thousands of students worldwide.


SFU MOOC a new route for students

January 03, 2017

By Diane Luckow

This spring SFU students who are enrolled in a new introductory survey course about generative arts and computational creativity will be learning alongside thousands of online students around the world.

That’s because the course is a MOOC—a massive open online course. Typically, these courses are free and have no enrolment limits or prerequisites but neither do they offer grades or course credit.

SFU’s MOOC, which launched in mid-November, attracted more than 2,400 students from over 100 countries. It is being offered again this semester and this time has accepted SFU students who must pay for, and pass, the course to earn SFU credits.

It is SFU’s second MOOC. The first, in geography, was a pilot test two years ago that attracted almost 1,200 students, all of whom finished the course. Instructor Shivanand Balram found the experience valuable but says at the time, the rationale for offering further MOOCs was uncertain.

Thousands of MOOCs available

However, since MOOCs first appeared in 2011, more than 500 universities worldwide are now offering more than 4,000 MOOCs via online platforms such as Canvas, Coursera, edX and Kadenze. Increasingly, many universities are charging course membership fees to students wishing to obtain grades and completion certificates. As well, some institutions, such as SFU, are allowing students to pay university rates for university credits.

Millions are taking MOOCs

Between 2011 and 2015 an estimated 35 million people enrolled in MOOCs, with enrolments in 2015 doubling from the year previous according to Class Central, a database of all MOOCS.

SFU’s new MOOC

SFU’s new MOOC, Generative Art and Computational Creativity, is a cohort-based program, with class content released each week. Developed and taught by professor Philippe Pasquier in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT), the course teaches students how to develop their own software to suit the art projects they wish to design.

“Since the course is about making art with computers, it makes fantastic sense to deliver it directly on computers,” he says.

A collaboration with Kadenze

To offer the course, SFU established a collaboration with Kadenze, a new online platform optimized for education in the fields of art and creative technologies.

Pasquier spent a year working on the course curriculum, and then travelled to California to work with Kadenze staff to develop the course script and produce 12 videotaped lectures.

“I have to say that producing the class is like writing 12 episodes of a TV series with only one character—the instructor,” he says.

“It required a lot more preparation than any class I have ever taught. It’s a 510-page script.”

The Kadenze platform monitors student progress and also grades assignments. And Pasquier has a teaching assistant to help with running student forums, answering student questions, and doing any manual grading specifically required for SFU students.

MOOCs offer value beyond revenue

While MOOCs are not considered revenue producers, Pasquier says the course will bring in some fees.  

“The class can be taken in three ways,” he says. “The lecture material can be accessed for free. There is a premium fee ($10 U.S./month) for those who wish to be graded and to build an online portfolio and gallery. SFU students may register to take the course for SFU credits at university rates, and non-SFU students may take the course for SFU credits for a $900 U.S. fee.”

But Pasquier says the MOOC offers value beyond just revenue.

“It’s exciting to reach the 93 per cent of people in the world who don’t have access to a university education for geographical or economic reasons,” he says. “It represents another facet of community engagement and advances our mission to deliver education in an increasingly globalized world.”