These days you cannot spit without hitting a new MOOC or someone talking about how MOOCs will revolutionize education, etc. If you’ve been following this for anytime, you will know the story of the first ones, the “connectivist” kind in some parlancesactually naming them c-MOOC (David Wiley’s Intro to Open Ed, Alec Couros’s EC&I 831. Siemens & Downes CCK08 (which seems to have been vaporized from University of Manitoba and blocked at the internet archive, so much for open),

If you check the names, you can sense that the “c” stands for Canada, home of MOOCs on Ice

But with the commoditization of courses, the MOOC locus has shifted south of the border, we see the rise of EdUCKA, the big money Blue Suede MOOCs

While all the attention has been on North America, in the UK at Coventry University are two open online photography classes that have a lot of mass. Led by professional photographer Jonathan Worth, the two open classes #phonar (photography + narrative) and #picbod (picturing the body) have a close affinity to ds106 — they are centered on a smaller group of enrolled students how get direct instructor led experiences plus an overlap with a larger group of open participants who choose to do some of the work or engage with the students in a supportive fashion. Theses two courses also run as an aggregation WordPress hub, pulling in content from individual student maintained blogs.

What is extra special about these classes is that because of Jonathan’s professional connections, he is able to bring in and connect his students out to practitioners (who come into class too), and students have ended up interning or doing projects with this pros. Also interesting is that these are not just “online learning” for the students at Coventry- they are doing printing and hands on assembly, creating exhibits, going out into the community. The online portion is an augmentation, not a replacement, of teaching.

I encourage you to read about the ideas behind the courses in the JISC article Jonathan authored Coventry University – opening up the BA Hons Photography course. In describing phonar:

The theme of the phonar (photography and narrative) class is to address some of the big concerns of the 21st-century photographer, some of which I described above. Therefore it was most appropriate to make the class itself a model of what it investigates. As the syllabus directs the students to use other people’s work and allow other people to use theirs, the class itself is licensed CC BY-SA (the Creative Commons licence that enables attributed sharing) and draws on the input of both collaborators and attendees.

The tasks within the classes encourage photographers to investigate the communities behind a particular subject area and then to draw on their expert knowledge ““ rather than taking a picture of a homeless person students will investigate the underlying causes and integrate people embodying those causes in their work. The same is true for the class itself.

In practical terms, this means we begin by asking: What is the role of the 21st-century photographer?

Trying to take in the whole course reminds me how hard can be to see all of the moving parts in our ds106, or for that matter any course. It reminds me too about trying to not avoid judging the EdUCKA without having really been through on its in entirety. I’m just as guilty as others of extending a small slice of an experience to the entire enchilada. It’s so damned easy to do.

This is a third year degree course so the students are gearing up to be ready for a career; their work involved planning a printed book and designing a real art exhibit of their work. The schedule outlines the course, weekly class lectures (saved as video), in class assignments, and the out of class “Directed tasks” (seems to be a lot of link rot, my guess is they are prepping for the next iteration).

The left sidebar lists the students own maintained blogs, which are rich in reflection, summary of experience, demonstration of work, etc. This is very much the heart of ds106, students building their own space of learning, showing, being, and aggregating that back to the class blog. On top of this (right side) are the connections to the professional mentors, the people who engage with the students through class participation, video presentation, social media.

The outside participants (I think) submit their stuff via tags, etc, and you can sense the international reach by the inclusion of audio translations of parts of the site. Again, this is unlike the mass scaling of the Big Time Money MOOCs, where it is the same experience for all– the Coventry students get the closely attended and in person experience they pay for; the outside participants pick and choose their participation, but it is not a carbon copy. It is the mixing of the participants where magic happens

An essential part of this will be non-paying attendees (you) joining in with us, submitting your work, asking questions and contributing answers.

The heart of this is that phonar is not a course about the nuts and bolts of doing photography nor the high level art analyses (thought these happen), it is asking the students to become engaged and part of the projects they examine through the lens (e.g. dyslexia, personal relations, self-image social justice), but that the also explore the process of being a photography, and weaving it together in audio, visual, video format, published to the open web- what they describe as transmedia storytelling.

Picbod has pretty much the same structure, but it is a second year course, the title is “Pictures of the Body”, and students are exploring the fundamentals of creating visual expressions along a theme of the human body

This class sits midway through the second year of the course and in a practical sense it is the first time our students experience the broader photographic community being invited into their classroom.

The ten weeks are structured so as to address complex aesthetic, creative and technical issues along with the visual messages, associated with the photographic encounter with the body.

We do this through simple practical and thematic tasks, the cumulative resolution of which, become their final lens based submissions.

The course covers a lot of ground in ten weeks, starting the very first week with the challenge of photographing strangers, and onto issues of intimacy, lighting, large format cameras, nudes, wordpress, bookmaking– well you can see it goes far and wide.

What is special about these courses are the resources Jonathan and colleagues are tapping into (working professional photographers), and the idea that while parts of the course are online, the activities are done away form the computer, out in the city and communities.

Jim Groom and I were introduced to Jonathan last spring (maybe it was via @dkernohan?) and we’ve been doing some mutually tracking as phonar/picbod are pretty much akin to the structure and ethos of ds106. The great question is why do you never hear about these open photography courses, especially on this side of the pond? About the only coverage was an article in Wired a year ago, long before the current MOOC craze even got started?

They’ve tracked world wide participation in the courses:

(map from Wired,

So getting a chance to hear Jonathan was a reason I woke up at 4Am to catch him, as wells as martin Weller, Dave White, and Lou McGill on the JISC Webinar on MOOCs

It was clear that these courses were pursuing a unique connection of learners with practitioners in the networked fashion of the internet, e.g as shown in his sketches (he was not a “slide” guy):

I’m looking forward to meeting up at OpenEd 2012 in Vancouver, but we are also talking about some ways to connect ds106 and the fall 2012 phonar course.

We need more of these style open courses that are all about the O.


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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. Dear sir, as a huge fan of yours and DS106, I’m chuffed to bits to be mentioned, I hope Matt Johnston (my unsung partner in grime) and me can bring our “A game” this coming semester and make something even better than the sum of its parts before we (inc Sir Groom), refocus on world domination and then movr on to bigger and better things.


  2. Hi, as Jonathan W says the feeling is mutual and are very much looking forward to exploring some ideas together with you and DS106 and meeting up in person at the OpenEd 12 in Vancouver. Best wishes Jonathan S.

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