Mar 2020

‘Organized Chaos’: Many Mass. Colleges Unprepared For Transition To Online Teaching

By Kirk Carapezza

Like many educators across the country right now, professors at Berklee College of Music in Boston are scrambling to compose online courses and tune up their remote teaching skills. Berklee has a bit of a head start, though, since its online program already enrolls more than 11,000 students each year.

Debbie Cavalier, the CEO of Berklee Online, said music actually lends itself to teaching remotely.

“We’ve structured our online courses around project-based learning,” Cavalier said. “So they are writing music to film clips. They’re composing songs.”

One problem Berklee hasn’t solved involves teaching music ensembles. “If I’m playing a bass part in a Zoom web conference tool and you’re playing a drum part, it won’t sound in sync,” she acknowledged.

As the number of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts mounts, many colleges are suspending in-person classes and migrating online. Some higher ed leaders say those colleges are about to undergo a massive, forced experiment that will expose technological challenges like Berklee’s — and also wealth gaps in American higher education.

“A Harvard or MIT going online is very different from a regional public [school] going online, or a community college that is going to have far fewer resources,” said Michael Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute, which studies innovation in higher education.


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