Tentative Title: A Critical Study of Online Collaborative Teaching and Learning in the Media Arts in Higher Education



Major universities worldwide, have embraced Learning Management Systems (LMS), social media and blended learning with revolutionary zeal, threatening to disrupt the status quo of higher education (Leaver & Kent, 2014). As with any new and unprecedented technologically mediated affordance claiming to provide a more engaged learning experience — which is the core purpose of blended learning (Garrison & Vaughan, 2011) — the appropriation of these educational technologies, particularly in the teaching and learning of the media arts in higher education, is beset with a range of issues that is currently under-researched and thus warrants deeper study.


Problems, Issues and Concerns

Current structures of online learning at major universities are framed by the use of the LMS to deliver content that engenders learning about rather than learning, prioritizing “knowledge-in-the-head” over “knowledge-in-application”, which is the hallmark of deep meaningful learning (Chee, 2002). Nanyang Technological University (NTU) currently uses Blackboard as a delivery platform, and is spending $70 million over the next four years to convert half of its courses to an interactive online format, to give learners “the option of learning more flexibly” (Lee, 2015, p. B4).


Unfortunately, LMS behemoths such as Blackboard are maligned by learners and faculty members as being authoritative, difficult to use, impenetrable, and more likely to disengage learners from learning (McRae, 2014).


Furthermore, National University of Singapore (NUS) deputy president and provost, Professor Tan Eng Chye, noted the resistance from faculty members and students.


NTU’s deputy president and provost, Professor Freddy Boey, ascribed faculty resistance to chore of converting existing courses to online courses admidst their existing teaching and research duties, and offered help to “ease their workload” by assembling a technical team “to help professors do the conversion” (Lee, 2015, p. B4).


It is pertinent to note that the mere migration of course content to an online platform often merely engenders learning about through content transmission, rather than deep meaningful learning arising from knowledge-in-application.


It is thus imperative that universities design online courses that are specifically designed for a blended learning environment, to engender deep meaningful authentic learning beyond the established practice of reusing and transferring materials used in face-to-face lessons into the LMS platform, which often contributes to intellectual and personal disengagement from online activities (O’Shea, Stone, & Delahunty, 2015).


The Case Study

In 2013, Professor Randall Packer of the School of Art, Design and Media (ADM) at NTU, developed the Open Source Studio (OSS), which is as an innovative Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) online software environment as an alternative to Blackboard, to complement onsite or face-to-face lessons, and to support undergraduate artistic research and production through web-conferencing and collaboration.


Research Problem

Since 2014, OSS enabled users to work across a “suite” of virtual studios or a “multi-site” within a unified database, which dynamically aggregated, organized, and shared student work, to facilitate collaborative learning. While research in computer-supported creativity indicates that new tools and digital media can enhance creative processes and outcomes (Burkhardt & Lubart, 2010; Lubart, 2005), there is a lacuna in our knowledge of how emerging online aggregation schemes and the new potentialities for collaborative research and peer-to-peer artistic production afforded by open source networked technologies like OSS, support teaching and learning in the media arts.


While research in computer-supported creativity indicates that new tools and digital media can enhance creative processes and outcomes (Burkhardt & Lubart, 2010; Lubart, 2005), there is a lacuna in our knowledge of how emerging online aggregation schemes and the new potentialities for collaborative research and peer-to-peer artistic production afforded by open source networked technologies like OSS support teaching and learning in the media arts in higher education.


Moreover, the teaching and learning of the visual arts in higher education has traditionally revolved around solitary studio practice within the limited confines of a physical art studio and the occasional en plein air or outdoor painting session. Despite the emergence of the World Wide Web in 1993 evincing Marshall McLuhan’s (1964) interconnected “global village” however, and radically transforming the artist’s studio (Packer, in press), teaching approaches at universities still lag behind the “telematic embrace” (Ascott, 2002) by the contemporary art world. Hence while contemporary media artists have been creating and sharing art online for the last 22 years, little is known in extant literature about whether art can be taught and learnt on online, and why faculty members and undergraduates resist online collaborative teaching and learning in the media arts. Can art be taught and learnt online, and how? And why are art educators and students not doing so?


Research Questions

It is therefore necessary to investigate

  1. how can art, specifically in the media arts, be taught online through the OSS as a case study that uses a blended learning approach supporting onsite or face-to-face lessons at ADM, NTU.
Traditional Research OSS
        I. Restricted private orOne-way closed access Open or publicly available 

Participatory or collaborative

     II. Print/static media 




or pure media

Online documentation / hypermedia / Live cross-platform /multi-modal /



Hybrid: Straddling formats, research and publishing, scholarship and service, as well as institutional and disciplinary boundaries

   III. Slow & linear Uses database and network for storage, retrieval and access; hyperlinks and tags enhance access and retrieval 

Instantaneously available and responsive


  1. Why do a significant number of users resist using OSS in their artistic research and teaching practice?


Literature in technology adoption indicates that there are three main barriers to ICT integration encountered by teachers summarized in the following table:

Types of Barriers to ICT Integration Examples
1. Type 1 Barrier (Ertmer, 1999) Extrinsic to the teacher Lack of Time, Expertise, Access, Resources, and (technical or institutional) Support (T.E.A.R.S.)
2. Type 2 Barrier (Ertmer, 1999) Intrinsic to the teacher Teachers’ personal belief that art and technology are incompatible
3. Type 3 Barrier (Tsai & Chai, 2012) Design thinking Lack of know-how to integrate creativity support tools into art lessons
4. Type 4 Barrier(Hypothesized) Performativity Assessment/Appraisal tool for learners/faculty makes technology adoption “invisible” in audit terms





Ascott, R. (2002). Is there love in the telematic embrace? In R. Packer & K. Jordan (Eds.), Multimedia : from Wagner to virtual reality (Expanded ed., pp. 333-344). New York: Norton.

Burkhardt, J.-M., & Lubart, T. (2010). Creativity in the Age of Emerging Technology: Some Issues and Perspectives in 2010. Creativity & Innovation Management, 19(2), 160-166. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8691.2010.00559.x

Chee, Y. S. (2002). Refocusing learning on pedagogy in a connected world. On the Horizon, 10(4), 7-13.

Ertmer, P. A. (1999). Addressing first- and second-order barriers to change: Strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology Research and Development, 47(4), 47-61. doi: 10.1007/BF02299597

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. D. (2011). Blended Learning in Higher Education : Framework, Principles, and Guidelines (1 ed.). Hoboken: Wiley.

Leaver, T., & Kent, M. (2014). Introduction – Facebook in Education: Lessons Learnt. Digital Culture & Education, 6(1), 60-65.

Lee, P. (2015, March 24). NTU converting half of courses to online format. The Straits Times, p. B4.

Lubart, T. (2005). How can computers be partners in the creative process: Classification and commentary on the Special Issue. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 63(4–5), 365-369. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijhcs.2005.04.002

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man. Boston: McGraw Hill.

McRae, L. (2014). Learning or Liking: Educational architecture and the efficacy of attention. Digital Culture & Education, 6(1), 30-46.

O’Shea, S., Stone, C., & Delahunty, J. (2015). “I ‘feel’like I am at university even though I am online.” Exploring how students narrate their engagement with higher education institutions in an online learning environment. Distance Education, 36(1), 41-58.

Packer, R. (in press). Open Source Studio.

Tsai, C. C., & Chai, C. S. (2012). The “third” -order barrier for technology integration instruction: Implications for teacher education. In C.P. Lim & C.S. Chai (Eds), Buidling the capacity of the next generation of teachers in Asia. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 28(Special issue 6), 1057-1060.


How Can OSS be Made Even Hip(per) & Cool(er)?


Physics can be hip and cool too! This mixed-media work of mine, entitled Semiosis, was inspired by the beautiful equations I worked with while I was studying at the college of engineering. How do we make, OSS, which is essentially, a "work"-based virtual studio, hip and cool? Can school work ever be hip and cool?

From the experience of Twitter and Facebook, the hip and coolness factor appears to depend on how much the interface and peers accentuate and fan users’ egos.

The hippest and coolest thing the developers could do, is to have an OSS App that users can access from their mobile devices, without having to do so through a browser — just like the Facebook or LinkedIn apps. This is because now that users receive instant notifications, the app would facilitate users wishing to respond immediately to comments. Users are connected to their laptops for work, but connected to their mobile devices 24/7. Moreover, hip and cool stuff often blurs the line between work and play, so if the app may just be the tool that could facilitate publishing short messages on OSS — like Tweets.

Oddly, its often the non-work related tweets that up the hip/coolness factor in social media. This is missing in OSS, as users consider it mainly a site for all work and no play.

I wonder if OSS would be more hip/cool, if it were more social media like — in terms of having an app that allows users to simply key in a tweet and publish. The ease and speed of publishing comments on Facebook is what makes its so much more popular than blogspot, which requires so many more buttons to click/tap. Blogspot is a paint to use on a tablet, so I only use it when I have access to my laptop.

OSS now requires quite a fair amount of clicking, so it is best accessed via a physical keyboard. As undergrads are tethered to their smartphones all day, I wonder if OSS is tablet friendly enough for them to simply fish out their iPhones and make quick tweets on OSS, in terms of the number of taps and menus they have to navigate.

This is a technical issue, rather than a teaching and learning one. Whether users will ultimately consider OSS cool, is if their peers and tutor do cool things in their virtual studios — like We are Now(here). Authentic purpose is the key — do I have a compelling reason to log in to OSS and regularly contribute and comment on other students’work– perhaps even after the end of the course/module (just like Facebook)?

I will have to speak to more OSS users to ascertain what drives them to use or avoid OSS, to get a clearer picture of the key issues and concern.