Seeing Through Photographs is The Museum of Modern Art’s first massive open online course (MOOC) for a general audience. It launched on Coursera in February 2016. Using works from MoMA’s expansive collection as a point of departure, the course encourages participants to look critically at photographs through the diverse ideas, approaches, and technologies that inform their making.
Although taking, sharing, and viewing photographs has become second nature for many of us, our regular engagement with images does not necessarily make us visually literate. This course aims to address the gap between seeing and truly understanding photographs by introducing a diversity of ideas, approaches, and technologies that inform their making. Led by Sarah Meister, Curator, Department of Photography, the course introduces learners to firsthand perspectives and ideas from artists and scholars about what a photograph is and the many ways in which photography has been used throughout history and into the present day: as a means of personal artistic expression; a tool for science and exploration; a method for documenting people, places, and events; a way of telling stories and recording histories; and a mode of communication and critique in our increasingly visual culture.
Original course content includes dynamic conversations, artist studio visits, and a close look at works from MoMA’s collection. There are six short films featuring artists Katy Grannan, Vik Muniz, Nicholas Nixon, Hank Willis Thomas, and curators Marvin Heiferman and Sarah Meister as well as four video conversations featuring artists in MoMA’s exhibition New Photography 2015: Ocean of Images Ilit Azoulay, Lucas Blalock, David Horvitz, and Anouk Kruithof, all of which are also available on MoMA’s YouTube channel. The course also includes 16 audio slideshows featuring interviews with artists Tina Barney, Iñaki Bonillas, Harrell Fletcher, Mike Mandel, Susan Meiselas, Nicholas Nixon, Walid Raad, Martha Rosler, Thomas Ruff, Carrie Mae Weems, and Akram Zaatari, and curators Sarah Meister, Roxana Marcoci, Quentin Bajac, and Eva Respini.
MoMA developed and offered its first online courses on moma.org beginning in 2010, growing to seven courses on various themes and subjects. In 2013, MoMA was the first art museum to partner with Coursera under their Teacher Professional Development program, which is targeted to K-12 teachers. MoMA produced three MOOCs (Art and Inquiry, Art and Activity and Modern Art and Ideas) for this audience before being elevated to full-partner status. To date, over 300,000 learners have enrolled in MoMA courses offered on moma.org and Coursera.