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School of Music Benefits from Unique Online Course Agreement

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Steve Hopkins, Photo Courtesy Penn State Public Broadcasting

School of Music faculty member Steve Hopkins’ experiences at Penn State over the last ten years led him to develop and publish an online jazz music course through Connect for Education, which specializes in online music offerings. And now he is giving back to the University by donating 20 percent of his royalties earned through Connect for Education course enrollments to a scholarship fund.

Penn State and Connect for Education share the course materials Hopkins developed, thanks to a unique and mutually beneficial arrangement between the company and the College of Arts and Architecture’s e-Learning Institute. In addition, Connect for Education can now market its version of the course anywhere but Penn State, thus eliminating a potential conflict of interest: Hopkins does not earn royalty payments from Penn State students.

A percentage of the royalties he does earn, however, is going back to the students. Hopkins and his wife Elisa, a faculty member in the College of Education, have established a scholarship fund in the School of Music and are donating 20 percent of the royalty payments to that fund. In addition, Steve is sharing a portion of the royalties with School of Music colleagues Dan Yoder and Mac Himes, who assisted him in development of the course, titled “Evolution of Jazz.”

Hopkins, an assistant professor of music theory, says his colleagues’ help with the course prompted the idea for the scholarship. “I wanted to acknowledge my colleagues’ contributions, and also express appreciation to Penn State and the School of Music,” he says. “Elisa and I have felt from day one that we’re in rare company. It’s a privilege to be at Penn State.”

In addition to Yoder and Himes, Music faculty members Robert Nairn, Langston Fitzgerald III, Mark Lusk and Dan Armstrong contributed video-based performances that students watch and listen to online. “We have a particularly talented group,” Hopkins notes.

Keith Bailey, assistant dean for online learning and director of the e-Learning Institute, played an integral role in developing this unique course-publishing model, working collaboratively with college administration, the University’s General Counsel and Connect for Education. Their goal was to develop a contractual relationship that would reward a faculty member for his efforts while eliminating a potential conflict of interest resulting from using Penn State resources to create the course. “This is an example of what can happen when a university, author and publishing company come together to collaboratively author a course,” says Bailey.

Hopkins, who coordinates online general education in the School of Music, contacted the e-Learning Institute before agreeing to develop Evolution of Jazz for Connect for Education. He had originally created the course in 2004, marking the School of Music’s first foray into online general education. Connect for Education previously approached him in 2007, but he says the time wasn’t right.

In 2011, the company came calling again, and Hopkins realized it was an opportunity he had to pursue. He had the chance not only to improve the course for Penn State, but also make it available to a wider audience.

So he redeveloped Evolution of Jazz, using another course he had recently developed—Film Music—as a model. Gone were the required textbook and listening CDs students had been required to purchase. The online lessons and audio recordings were expanded to become the complete course text.

Bailey went to work to come up with the course-publishing model. The final product is the result of months of negotiation between Penn State and Connect for Education. “Penn State and Connect for Education had to open their eyes and look at things differently,” he notes.

According to Hopkins, online learning, in many respects, remains a frontier in higher education. “Many of the publishers of traditional college textbooks are scrambling to get on board now. Connect for Education, on the other hand, has been focused on providing college-level online courses in music, and the time was right for developing this collaborative model.”

Last fall, when Connect for Education made its initial offering of Evolution of Jazz, more than 400 students enrolled at nine institutions across the country. Each semester at Penn State, 300 students enroll in the online version of the course.

So what’s next? Bailey says he will continue to encourage faculty to explore online learning. “In my position, I feel it is my responsibility to help establish and offer a variety of incentives for faculty to undertake and explore new forms of learning. This is just one example of such an incentive. I hope to be able to extend this same opportunity to other faculty in the college, either with Connect for Education or other publishing companies.”