Your Online Classroom
THE PRICE of a four-year degree from a private
college or university is sky high; for a lot of
budding musicians and engineers, it’s way out
of reach. That’s one of the reasons that colleges
and universities offer courses online—usually
for less or for free.
Some accredited schools, like Full Sail
University, even offer full Bachelor’s and
Master’s degree programs online. Berklee
College of Music’s Berkleemusic.com will begin
an online Bachelor of Professional Studies
program next year. Students can also earn
certification in a single product or discipline, or
bolster the skills they already have.
A wealth of online education programs allow
a working musician to train on Pro Tools at
home. A working studio engineer can learn more
about acoustics without walking away from a
steady job. A touring engineer can come up to
speed on a new console without missing a gig. In
other words, online courses open up a world of
learning potential for students who need lower-cost
education that fits their schedules.
There’s loads of room for debate about
the merits and potential of online classes vs.
hands-on learning in a classroom or studio, but
we mainly put that aside in our conversations
with two educators who are on the cutting
edge of online education. Individually, their
programs are apples and oranges, but together
they illustrate the range of opportunities for an
online audio education.
Debbie Cavalier is Berklee College of
Music’s Vice President of Online Learning
and Continuing Education, and CEO of
Berkleemusic.com. She’s a Berklee College
alumna and was a classroom music educator
for years before joining Berklee Press,
the school’s book-publishing imprint; she
became the Dean of Continuing Education
at Berklee eight years ago, and helped found
Berkleemusic.com. Cavalier says the program
literally began with a few people sitting
down with a blank piece of paper and asking,
“How do you teach music online?” Today,
Berkleemusic.com is considered the gold
standard in tuition-based online education for
music and audio students.
Terri Winston is founder and executive
director of Women’s Audio Mission
(womensaudiomission.org), which provides
education and training for women to become
engineers. A former professor and director
of the Sound Recording Arts Program at City
College of San Francisco, Winston developed
WAM’s media-rich online tutorials (available
at soundchannel.org) as a low-cost, interactive
alternative to conventional textbooks; they were
intended simply to supplement class work, and
they do. But along the way, students all over
the world have embraced SoundChannel as
an online curriculum, whether or not they’re
enrolled in an audio school.
Please describe the relationship of your
online courses to your brick-and-mortar
|Berkleemusic.com features largely the same courses, faculty, and accreditation as its on-campus program.
Cavalier: We were established as an online
continuing education division, to expand
the reach of the Berklee College of Music
and provide music-education opportunities
to a global base of aspiring musicians who
can’t, or aren’t in a position to, enroll in a full-time
undergraduate program in Boston. If
anybody has the opportunity to go to Berklee College of Music full time, that’s the way to
go. I did it. However, for people who aren’t
able to pursue that path, but still want access
to Berklee curricula and Berklee faculty in
order to expand their knowledge and enhance
their career opportunities, the online school
provides a wonderful solution. It’s largely the
same courses, same faculty, and it’s accredited
by the same accrediting body that accredits
the on-campus program: NEASC, the New
England Association of Schools and Colleges.
Winston: I had started developing the
material for SoundChannel to address the issue
of students not really engaging with textbooks,
but we released this through Women’s Audio
Mission for two reasons. One is, we had such a
high demand from non-local members—women
who could not take classes in our facility, due
to geographic location or child-care issues or
their job schedule, or whatever other reason
prevented them from taking our classes on-site.
The second reason was that there was a
high demand from men wanting to take the
classes. We’re a nonprofit, and when you’re
granted nonprofit status, it’s for very particular
services that you’re going to provide. Our
status is tied to our providing training for
women in our facility. But men were seeing
the success of the program, and they wanted
in, and the last thing I ever want to do is
deny anyone training. SoundChannel is a way
that we can serve both of those populations
without conflicting with our nonprofit status.
Because it’s online, it’s available to everyone at
a really low cost—roughly a quarter or a fifth of
the cost of a current textbook.
Other than the convenience of staying
home, what can students get online that
they don’t get in a classroom?
Cavalier: A flipped classroom model. With
Berkleemusic, students work through the
lesson content and self-assessment exercises,
and have the opportunity to master the
material and gain a full understanding of the
lesson objectives before embarking on their
weekly portfolio-based assignment for the
instructor to grade and provide feedback.
They also have the opportunity to study
with like-minded musicians from across the
globe, making the course experience more
rich. Our classes comprise students from all
over the world—a 30-percent-international
population is in every course section—which
means you can’t say, “You have to be online
at 5 p.m. Eastern time,” because that might
be the middle of the night. So, all of the class
meetings are archived. You can review the
meeting and what was discussed when it’s
convenient. You can also rewind.
This is great for different learning styles
because you can learn at your own pace.
It’s also a way that people who are
established in their career and ready to give
back to education can get involved and teach
a class. We have professional managers,
engineers, publishers, and musicians who are
based in other cities who can teach a course
from wherever they live, or from the road.
Winston: Our materials aren’t meant to be an
online course, per se. We call them e-textbooks
because we’re not trying to replace a class, we’re
trying to replace the textbook—to take rich media
audio and video, and combine them with the
parts of the textbook that work really well, so it
becomes something nonlinear that you can easily
study. This is a way of breaking things down into
small clips that are integrated with narrated text;
they can see the text, hear the text, see the video,
see animated processes brought to life in a way that they can actually take time and study it. It’s
much more effective than watching a “talking
head”-style linear video.
Another big use for this is to save time in
the classroom. I ask instructors, “How much
do you hate teaching people how to wrap
cables?” There’s an up-close and personal
video in slow motion on how to do this.
You can send your students home, tell them
to watch a video and come back and show
you. That’s one less thing you have to do
in the classroom. We also include a testing
component in the module, so students can test
themselves while they’re learning and make
sure they’re actually getting what we’re saying.
There are open courseware offerings out
there, such as the free classes MIT offers, or
manufacturers’ tutorials. Do you offer any
free courses or incorporate those materials
into your program?
Cavalier: Ten years ago, we developed
Berkleeshares.com, a free online resource
where people can download hundreds of
music lessons from Berklee. We’ve been
wanting to update Berkleeshares and make
it more engaging—still have it be free but add
community and some interactive components.
Instead, we signed on as a partner institution
with Coursera [a MOOC: Massively Open
Online Course that offers free courseware
in a variety of disciplines with community
and interaction built in]. It’s been a great
partnership for us and has enabled us to
expand the reach of free lessons to a larger
audience than we were reaching with
We announced the Coursera partnership on
September 19, and as of December 10 we have
more than 100,000 students enrolled in four online courses from all over the world. The
courses begin this coming March and April.
Berklee’s various online offerings range from
free courses to tuition-based accredited courses,
and the cost difference is related to faculty access
and class size. On the low end of the spectrum,
Berkleeshares and Berkleemusic’s YouTube
channel offer free online lessons, but there’s
no interaction or community involvement.
Coursera.org/Berklee offers free online courses
from Berklee, with very large cohorts of students
interacting and assessing each other’s work, but
no direct faculty feedback. At the high end of the
spectrum, we offer tuition-based online courses
and certificate programs with Berkleemusic,
where students can expect a small cohort of
20 students or less, high-touch access to the
instructor, and feedback from the instructor
several times a week for all 12 weeks.
Winston: We have collected all of the
online resources that we like and built them
into SoundChannel. You can find these things
separately for free, but we’ve curated these
things in a more meaningful way. For example,
when Universal Audio came out with their
tape [emulation] plug-ins, they included a cool,
informative history of Studer tape machines.
So, we tie that in to the module where you
learn about tape machines: You get the
technical know-how about the tape machine
and how it works, and if you want to check
out more, the additional videos and resources
are accessed directly from the lesson module. Students can go out of the module and look at
that and come back to the module to study.
|WAM’s SoundChannel online tutorials were designed to replace traditional textbooks.
Another thing we link to is UC Berkeley’s
no-cost math and physics lectures. We collect
the ones that will be useful. They have an
enormous archive, but we show you the course
that specifically relates to what you’re studying
What advice would you give to prospective
students who are trying to choose an online
course of study?
Cavalier: I think it’s important to do your
homework as far as finding out about the
institution and who its accrediting body is.
Berklee is accredited by NEASC, one of the four
regional accrediting bodies known for the highest
quality in education. Sometimes online entities
pop up and find a fast route to accreditation with
other types of creditors. It’s very easy now to put
up an online program. Look up the history of the
institution and its reputation.
I think somebody also has to really look at
how much of a self-starter they are. It’s easy to
ignore your course and not log in. It’s easy to
fall behind. It takes a motivated individual to
be a successful online student.
Winston: Take the time to learn things
properly. Often we see students who, because
they’re inundated by media and they have
access to information online, they want to
start somewhere beyond where they ought
to start. People will want to get right into
mixing records or making beats, but you can’t.
You need to learn fundamental things about
sound and how it works. That requires you to
understand some things about the science of
it—the physics of it.
To me, the best approach is actually a
hybrid approach where students, if they have
any access, still go to a classroom where they
will learn workflow and etiquette and people
skills. But the reality is that people all over
the world have hopped onto SoundChannel
because they don’t have access to a classroom.
We get email from Manila and China, Brazil
and Mexico, saying, “This is so great because I
don’t have another way to do this.” That’s what
Women’s Audio Mission is about: how to get
folks into higher education, and any way we
can make that easy and help make someone
successful, that’s what we’re going to do.
Barbara Schultz is a regular contributor
to Electronic Musician and its sister
MENTIONED IN THIS
The online continuing education
division at Berklee College of Music.
Free course materials offered by
Berklee College of Music.
A MOOC/aggregated site/platform
for open courseware. Partner schools
include Berklee College of Music,
Stanford, Duke, Rice, Rutgers, and more.
The online extension of Berklee
College of Music, offering individual
courses and certification programs,
and soon offering full Bachelor of
Professional Studies programs.
Full Sail University’s online program
Massachusetts Institute of
Technology’s open-courseware site.
The low-cost introductory audio course
offered by Women’s Audio Mission.
Free video of lectures in physics and
YouTube channel offering instructional
videos from Berkleemusic.com.
YouTube channel offering instructional
videos from the Women’s Audio Mission.