By Brad Haseman, Executive Vice President of Kadenze, Inc. and Amanda Morris, Director, Higher Education Engagement, Kadenze, Inc.

Image by John Fowler on Unsplash

The founders of Kadenze, Inc. (“Kadenze”) sensed there was a big disruption coming. “When we founded the company in 2013 we were convinced that a major disruption was coming in the education sector,” says Ashok Ahuja, co-founder, Chairman and CEO of Kadenze. Something would have to give. Then on January 21, 2020, a forewarning of that disruption chirped on Twitter – the term ‘coronavirus’ was used for the first time. 

Within weeks the effects were seen everywhere, and especially in higher education. Amanda Morris, Director of Higher Education Engagement of Kadenze, shares her experience of the disruptions in mid-March, when working at an Australian arts college:

“The word went around the studios – even before the official communication – the decision had been made to send students home and close the school at least until the Easter holidays. At lunchtime students gathered in the open-air atrium – maintaining social distance they danced, music exploding from portable speakers, bodies leaping, voices singing with excitement, tinged with fear. In the face of a global pandemic, the improvised gathering brought much-needed communal support without physical proximity. Senior teachers and administrators drew courage from the energy and hope of the young. I had more meetings, more issues to address. How many Zoom licenses did we have? How many might we need? Throughout the afternoon, groups of students farewelled their teachers and each other as they went their separate directions into lockdown. By early evening I surfaced from the office, hearing laughter from two students who were wheeling their mannequins along the corridor. I said goodbye and wished them well as they headed home with materials to continue their practical studies in costume making. From conversations with colleagues, I knew that similar scenes of farewell, school closures and swift and urgent pivoting from in-person to online teaching were happening in other institutions across the world. We were all scrambling to move our teaching fully online with only a few days turnaround.”

The disruption caused personal stories of turmoil, stress and loss for teachers and administrators, students and their families. For some, the pandemic has had an immediate and devastating impact through illness and death of family or friends. For others, the impact has meant isolation, poor mental health, financial loss, job redundancy and the derailment of career or study progression. Students were stressed as they moved home – often interstate or overseas – or returned from international placements; and negotiated lack of private space, internet access, and technical equipment to study online. Teaching staff and administrators were stressed as they poured over their curricula to see what could be delivered online and what could be postponed in the hopes of in-person teaching later on. Academic calendars were revised; live group presentations were re-imagined. 

For Kadenze, this distress has been painful to watch, but in one sense inevitable, for we believed that the dynamics of higher education could not continue as they were, and we had prepared for coming change. Whatever the disruption would be (and who could have predicted it would be wrought by a pandemic), we knew online learning would be an essential part of the future for our priority disciplines in the arts, design and creative technologies. We challenged ourselves and our partners to develop a new model for delivery of expert content; a model that is accessible, affordable, scalable, and maintains the high standards set by universities.  

Kadenze’s model is based on three foundational priorities. Firstly, we innovated by securing the best content, partnering with over 35 leading universities, colleges and industry organizations from around the world to develop courses for the platform. Importantly for the Kadenze ethos, education should be accessible to all. courses are not only high quality, they are affordable. Secondly, we enhanced our platform for arts and interactivity in Kannu, our learning management system. Kadenze has pioneered a number of field-defining features for our online platform to meet the complex interactions aesthetic learning demands. Students learn through course galleries and forums which are directly linked to student assignments and engagement, with a built-in portfolio to showcase learning. Finally, we developed an online learning design framework which embraces the principles of arts and design learning. Kadenze’s Technology Enabled Creative LearningSM (TECLTM) framework fuses the longstanding principles of creative and aesthetic learning with technological innovations to amplify the reach and scale of the creative disciplines like never before. We understand learning needs to be creative, complex, telling and playful.

In order to survive, the higher education sector needs to re-think systems and models for delivery of teaching. Universities, colleges, and schools need to adapt, without crippling their students with the financial burden of even higher tuition fees. Through the current crisis, teachers of practice-based design, creative and performing arts have particularly struggled to re-conceive how they might teach in an online environment. We have heard from a number of our educational partners and understand that staff have thrown themselves into intensive professional development to get up-to-speed with online technologies. Some faculties have been fortunate to have a dedicated learning technologist allocated to support teachers, while many of our partners have drawn on Kadenze’s offer of support for the Fall semester by accessing course content to enhance student learning at no charge.

Some great learning has come from this year’s disruptions, as Kadenze colleagues have shared with us.

George Tzanetakis, Professor in Computer Science at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada told us, “In terms of teaching, everyone has switched to online. Some older faculty have found it hard to adjust but younger faculty were already utilizing various technologies, so they have managed the transition. Student engagement has been a challenge.”

Lonce Wyse, Associate Professor in Communication and New Media at the National University of Singapore said, “Over the summer we planned for a 100% online Fall term. Hey, we are the Department of Communication and New Media – ‘we got this!’ And we did ‘get this,’ in fact. Lectures were the easiest to move online, and students even appreciated having more classes with flexible lecture-viewing times (since more were recorded). As we became more adept with the tools… online seminars of up to 15 participants also seemed to work well. Some students really stepped up, probably feeling more comfortable speaking up in class than they did in person. It is thus interesting to think about how different formats bring out or stifle different populations of students.”  

Philippe Pasquier, Associate Dean Academic at the Faculty of Communication, Arts and Technology, Simon Fraser University, Canada noted that: “Asynchronous teaching has been increased and online delivery means that our students are actually taking more credits than usual… As a result of this move online, a ton of innovations in terms of assignments and student projects … has been needed.”

It seems that our educational partners are ready for innovations in teaching and learning models, as well as new practices and methods for delivery, that are developed in response to the recent disruptions in order to ensure sustainability and accessibility in the higher education sector.

Nancy Uscher, Dean of the College of Fine Arts, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has neatly summarized the forward-looking and constructive response to 2020 disruptions that Kadenze and its educational partners have taken as “a time of rich learning and productive experimentation.” Nancy noted that, “Faculty have learned new skills, the university has shored up technological tools and infrastructure and new events such as UNLV Arts Worldwide, a YouTube program about the college, was launched. Cross-institutional sharing and collaboration will be increasingly important in all higher education institutions – it has never been more important to embrace this paradigm for the future of the global higher education sector.”

Online learning has enabled students, teachers and administrators to survive the disruptions of 2020 and has become an accepted and essential method of delivering learning. Kadenze’s preparations in developing infrastructure such as, Kannu, TECLTM – and more recently introducing the Kadenze Virtual StudioSM (KVSTM) to support the online teaching of freelance arts educators – have found their time to shine. The inevitable disruption has occurred, and higher education will not be the same next year or in years to come. At Kadenze, we predict that there is a bright future for our community of arts educators and practitioners who are willing to share their expertise and resources globally. Our next blog post will pick up this thread to predict as Nancy Uscher articulated – that cross-institutional sharing and collaboration will be increasingly important in all higher education.’

The question remains whether universities will be able to embrace a future of shared course content and credit, collaborations and partnerships, or will they continue to cling to what marketing professor Scott Galloway calls their “consensual hallucination,” holding on unconvincingly to the notion that the COVID-19 pandemic will pass and they can return to business as usual?

About the Authors:
Brad Haseman is Executive Vice President of Kadenze, Inc. overseeing arts-led pedagogies for their global online catalogue in the creative arts, design and creative education. He is Professor Emeritus with the Creative Industries Faculty at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia. Over his 40-year career as a teacher, speaker, teaching artist and researcher Brad has pursued his fascination with the aesthetics, forms and affordability of arts-based learning.

Amanda Morris is an arts educator, known for innovative programs and creative collaboration. Her career spans leadership roles in higher education, as Executive Director Conservatoire at NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) in Australia, as Dean Performing Arts at LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore and as Director, Centre for Fine Arts, Music and Theatre at
the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.
Amanda is Director of Higher Education Engagement of Kadenze, Inc.