Offline to Online Curriculum: A Case-Study of One Music Course

Valerie Ross,
Vice-President of Academic Affairs,
International College of Music,

*This article is an edited version of a paper delivered in the keynote session entitled "Making it Work: Case Studies and Techniques for Real-World Online Learning", 16th May 2001 at the Online Learning Asia 2001 Conference, Singapore, 15 –17 May 2001


This case study offers distance administrators insight into some of the questions posed by faculty when attempting to transform a traditional or ‘offline' course into an online mode. The article should help administrators understand faculty perceptions and offer a valuable training tool, by comparing the processes of delivering an offline course to its online counterpart.

The information herein provides a snapshot of a course conversion in progress. The task was for present instructors, administrators and instructional designers to work together, to transform an existing music course into an online mode. In the process, one goal of the administrators was to establish a methodology of approach within a micro-macro framework of project-procedure. A valuable by-product included the identification and the addressing of some of the issues faced by academics, in the course of action.

The Groundwork

In August 2000, the International College of Music (ICOM), began a feasibility project with the aim to explore e-learning possibilities at the institution. The following summarizes the various aspects of the feasibility study undertaken within a micro-macro framework of action, namely:

Issues that Emerged

This section summarizes some of the issues that arose in the course of the Phase I exercise. I have attempted to provide plausible reasons for several of the views expressed as well as offered ideas as to the manner in which technological advances have addressed some of the concerns. The following statements highlight some common misconceptions and apprehension among academics at our institution, several of whom are new to online learning-teaching strategies. Other comments of note were expressed by some members of the audience at an e-learning seminar in Kuala Lumpur.

Quote 1: "I’m not convinced that learning in front of a machine is better than face-to-face interaction."

Responses: Dispelling Misconceptions

Quote 2. "My class is a two-hour weekly session over a period of fourteen weeks with a Mid-Term Exam and Final Exam at Week 7 and Week 14 respectively. Other weeks are interspersed with homework assignments. I can’t see how self-paced learning can fit-in especially when it comes to scheduled exams. How will I be assured that the student didn’t cheat in the test?"

Responses part 1: Adapting Thought Processes - Redefining Time and Transferring Responsibility

Responses part 2: Assessment Dilemmas and a Shift to Competency-Based Evaluations

Overview of Course Changes, Based on Comments

Further Concerns

Based on further comments noted in Table 2, concerns included the perceived marginalisation of academia in the transfer of technology, ethical issues involving the invasion of privacy and intellectual property ownership. Some commentors saw a need to establish trans-national copyright laws on the creation, production and dissemination of copyrighted-music on the internet. Others wanted increased research into peculiar linguistic problems and learning habits of Asian students, in order to decide if online learning is a good or bad for ICOM students in particular. In the end, many thought that encouraging a greater and more holistic participation in the integration of online instructional design, delivery and evaluation, could instill ‘new’ creativity in academics.

Table 1. Additional Concerns

Phase I. Towards a Feasibility Prototype

In the end, the initial phase of this conversion exercise resulted in a comparative course description sheet that served as a working model for similar course types in the programme pathway. Other course types would require greater degrees of modification (example, instrumental instruction studies) while remaining courses may have to be replaced by music courses specifically developed for online delivery. Further procedures within this phase includes the preparation of a blueprint document that will be used as a guide to effective course development for further verification and validation of the design and technology development. Formative evaluations in the form of alpha and beta tests (Conrad 2000) will commence in Phase II of this segment of the feasibility study. The following table illustrates the ‘transformed’ course description of General Music (GM) 101. It indicates the main differences between the offline and online modes of course delivery and suggests types of technological tools to enable change. In this manner major and minor change-requirements are noted between the two modes of course design and delivery patterns with an aim to establish a methodological pattern of change and ‘non-change’ across comparable course types.

Table 2. Comparison of off-line and on-line course features in GM101: Survey of Popular Music 1

 Course Title: Survey of Popular Music 1 (GM101)
Programme: Bachelor of Music (Hons) in Professional Music majoring in Music Production and Technology validated by the University of Westminster, London, UK.
 Off-Line Mode  On-Line Mode
   Existing Features  Major/Minor Change Features
 Course Level:  Foundation (Yr 1)  Foundation
 Subject Type:  General Music  General Music
 Subject Area:  Core  Core
 Credits:  2  2
 Duration:  14 weeks  Self-Paced Module (recommended time-range completion)
 Contact Time:  28hrs @ 2hrs per wk  Varies; Self-Paced (facilitator support, chat, bulletin board, performance support, help desk etc)
 Pre-requisites:  None  IT (Level 1)
 Term Offered:  1  Upon request enrollment
 Assessment Type & Weighting:


Weekly written and listening assignments (20%)


Written Papers from choice of topics. Includes critical listening video evaluations [via installed plug-ins such as Shockwaveand RealAudio, and animation & video files like Quick Time {Apple} created via studio software applications such as Flash. {Macromedia}. Submissions may include music notation examples created using software such Finale (60%)

   (b) Mid Term Written examination on the early development of popular music from the turn of the century until world War 1 (includes aural recognition) (20%) (b) Mid-Course Project Paper (20%)

 (c)Final Paper Written Term Paper on an approved topic (30%)

(d)Final Exam Comprehensive written examination of course contents (30%)

 (c)Final Project Paper (20%)
   Physical Work Submission and Common Sit-Down Examinations  All work submitted and assessed online (may include Musical Instrument Digital Interface or MP3 files according to Paper and Project requirements and marking criteria)
   Non-Change Features (Major)

 1.Recognition of styles of popular music discussed in this course through instrumentation, scales, chord progressions and rhythmic styles.

2.Define correct musical interpretation of different genres of popular music.

3.Critically evaluate performances of popular music in relation to the styles of major contributors of music from the era.

4.Define the effects of sociological and cultural changes in the development of popular music in this era.

 Course Description:  This course surveys the evolution of jazz and popular music; its history, styles, artists and composers from the late nineteenth century to World War II. The styles of music surveyed include ragtime, blues, country and western, early jazz, and the swing era. Students discuss the work of musicians, composers producers as well as examine sociological and cultural influences that contributed to the development of this genre.



This paper offers insight into some problems faced by academics when attempting to transform a traditional or 'offline' undergraduate music course outline into an online mode and in doing so, share valuable experiences. The outcomes analyze emergent issues and provide views as to how technological advances may be used creatively in redesigning a tried and tested curriculum. The issues that emerged, as a result of the course conversion excercise, were not peculiar to one particular group of academics. I believe the faculty comments echoed as a result of a lack of information and training more so than a distrust of innovations made in the creation and delivery of knowledge. While several academics were interested in the globalisation of learning, some academics preferred to err on the side of caution, as many issues remain unresolved.



Barret, J. (2001) Facing Broadband Dilemma, New Straits Times, Malaysia, 2nd May 2001

Conrad, K. (2000) Instructional Design for Web-Based Training, HRD Press, Massachusetts

Course Descriptions. (1999) Bachelor of Music. Hons Programme, Arranging and Music Production and Technology Pathway, validated by the University of Westminster, London, UK, International College of Music, Malaysia

Hall, B. (1997) Web-Based Training Cookbook, John Wiley and Sons, Inc, New York

Marsch,C. (2000) Performing an Online Readiness Assessment in Your Organisation, Online Learning Conference 2000, Denver, Colorado, USA, 25-27 September 2000

About the Writer:

Valerie Ross is an established composer, with performances of her compositions at major cities in Europe and in Asia having received compositional and lectureship awards from the Japan Foundation (1990), Commonwealth Foundation (1992) and the Rockefellar Foundation (1994). Valerie regularly presents papers at international symposiums. She is well-known music journalist in Malaysia, contributing specialist articles on diverse aspects and issues in music education. Valerie studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Glasgow, the University of London and her Masters in Education majoring in curriculum evaluation at Deakin University, Australia where she is completing her doctorate. Presently, she is the Vice-President of Academic Affairs at the International College of Music, Malaysia (e-mail contact:

Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume IV, Number IV, Winter 2001

State University of West Georgia, Distance Education Center

Back to Journal of Distance Learning Administration Contents