Adventures in a Pop Art MOOC

I finished the Warhol MOOC in Coursera, which unfortunately ended with me having to evaluate three student essays, a job I detested for pay, so was not happy about doing for free. Well, not totally unhappy either, since they use a shallow rubric with yes/no responses; it was just the specter of grading that bummed me out, and all the complaints in the forums about plagiarism. It was more pleasant to assign peer evaluations when I taught than to be assigned them, but I signed up for the course and wanted to see it through. I haven’t seen whether I have passed, yet, but I finished and submitted my work and my peer evaluations. I should know tomorrow. [Update, 6/3: I passed the last assignment and the comments were spot on about what I did well and what I didn’t do.]

Coursework & Assessment

The coursework included watching short video lectures and interviews from the course professor, Dr. Glyn Davis, and from some museum curators, reading excerpts from scholarly articles about Warhol and about art in general, and participating in discussion forums. There were three graded assignments in addition to the minimum ten forum posts—one short quiz that you could take three times, one practical attempt to create and evaluate your own “Warhol,” and one brief essay (750 words) on the Warhol work of your choice, including his films.

Discussion Forums

Even though students were only assessed on the number of forum posts, which included comments as well as original threads, it was not that easy if you felt that your posts should have some value to the rest of the students and show that you were engaged with the subject. Mostly I read posts and waited until I felt I had something to say of value before posting. As in all MOOCs with tens of thousands of students, the forums were wildly active and hard to control. The professor tried to direct conversation with his own threads, but could not stop students from creating too many of their own—me, too. Some conversations were over my head because a lot of art students and artists took the course, but some conversations were just silly or shallow. Unfortunately, a few students were hostile to some writers and I tried to be careful about where I wrote and what I said.

The skeptic in me wonders if all the forum responses from Dr. Davis were actually written by him or if he had a small army of assistants pretending to be him, but I think I lean in the direction that he actually did his own participation. I appreciated that he was kind and sometimes challenging about my and others’ posts, showing an intention to make us think. He didn’t rubber-stamp our arguments if he felt we were on the wrong track.


Ten points, three chances to pass. I took it twice and got a 6 and then an 8. I stuck with the 8. I had done the readings and watched the videos, but some questions seemed to come out of the blue. Not sure of what value there was in the quiz, the questions of which I don’t remember.

The Practical

For this assignment, which most people, especially the artists, liked, I had to create my own Warhol, meaning that I could choose some image on the web and alter it in some recognizable way that resembled popular Warhol images. Most people chose to do the typical repetitive style with altered colors; here’s mine:


While some of the artists in the course used image software and their own skills with them, the professor suggested some websites for the rest of us where an image could be instantly Warholized. Then we had to write up a short (three sentences) explanation of what we did and why we chose what we did. I talked about choosing an iconic Hollywood image, Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers, and how I wanted to test not using the iconic red in the new image.

The Essay

The essay required choosing a Warhol image or film and writing an essay that focused on a few areas, but my impression was that you could deviate from some of those suggested areas, particularly if scholarly resources were not available. I got that impression from the professor’s response to my concern in a forum. I did not find any scholarly sources about the work I chose, so I simply did a brief historical analysis of the work based on things I knew about the era in which it was created. Here are the assignment and my response:

Choose one piece of work by Andy Warhol. This might be a drawing, a painting, a sculpture, a photograph, a book, or a film. Describe, discuss and evaluate this piece of work.
You should consider addressing the following:

  • What does the work depict? What materials is it made of? Do you know how it was produced?
  • Is the work part of a series? Can it be related to other works by Warhol?
  • How does the work relate to works by other artists (other Pop Artists, other filmmakers, other painters, etc)?
  • Have any critics and theorists discussed this work? What do they have to say, and do you agree with them?
  • Is this work related to one of the five themes that we have explored in this course? If so, how?

Please directly type or cut-and-paste your submission into the box provided. Your submission should be no more than 750 words, and no shorter than 650 words.

Ghost in the Machine: Warhol, Lenin, Glasnost, and Perestroika



This five-week course was not as rigorous as a college course for credit, at least in my experience, so I’m not sure what the purpose of it was beyond being an introduction to a topic. Even if I had access to all the suggested books, there was no work associated with those books, so any deeper learning would have been self-directed. From the syllabus:

The Warhol MOOC provides an introduction to the life and work of Andy Warhol, one of the world’s most famous artists. Over five weeks, the course will: explore why Warhol has international standing both within and beyond the art establishment; examine how artistic worth and value is constructed and attributed; interrogate some of Warhol’s main thematic concerns and major creative innovations; position Warhol in relation to major artistic movements of the 20th century (Dada, minimalism, Pop Art, structuralism, etc).

I think it lived up to being an introduction; academic rigor was not promised. The work was interesting enough without being more work than the course design could have supported. As in all MOOCs, when peer evaluation is the only evaluation, questions about rigor arise. Can you learn from other students coming from widely different experiences? Yes, sometimes. Could you learn more from the kind of interaction with an expert that you would expect in a small class, online or not? I think so. Can you learn from being an evaluator? Yes, in some contexts, but not much for these assignments, particularly when the rubrics wanted mostly yes/no responses.


Overall, I was happy with the course for what it offered—an introduction to Warhol. I learned plenty because I wanted to learn. The course thematic organization helped direct my interest and gave me a wide and varied experience with professional opinions about Warhol and his work in a historical context. I think a good gauge of my learning is that now I want to know more about him and his work and that’s what I would want my students to be able to say after a course is completed.


Featured image Photo Credit: qthomasbower via Compfight cc

Categories: online learning, pedagogy, peer review, student-centered learning, teaching

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