Building a Course for Sagefy

by Kevin Heis,

My experience so far building “An Introduction to Electronic Music”

In this article, I’m going to talk about my journey on building out a course for Sagefy. That includes how I picked a topic, how I organized the course, and what I’ve learned so far. The course is still very much in progress.

Update On July 3 2017: The course now covers all the mentioned topics with videos and multiple choice questions. Check it out!

An overview page for the Electronic Music course.

About Sagefy

I should start with what Sagefy is. Sagefy is my project I’ve been working on for a few years to bring together the open-content model, like a wiki, with adaptive learning. Adaptive learning is awesome; it’s where algorithms decide what to show the learner based on what the learner already knows. So as the learning goes on, the algorithms optimize the learning experience so that you can learn more quickly and in a flow. This avoids experiences that are too easy or too difficult. When you combine open-content with adaptive learning, the result is powerful. Anyone, regardless of what they already know, can learn about anything quickly.

Why Electronic Music?

So I built Sagefy. The software is up and running. Okay, its far from perfect, and needs lots of feedback and love. But I’ve had difficulty drawing interest to Sagefy. And the reason is simple: its almost empty. Bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. So the solution is to start getting some content in Sagefy!

I figured, if I’m going to build out a course, I should pick something I know. I have a master’s degree in intermedia music technology. I’m not the greatest musician in the world, but I do know how the technology works. I know what it takes to enable artistic expression using those tools. And, it shouldn’t be a surprise but… part of me loves to share knowledge.

Electronic music is a big topic, and like any other, once you get started there’s so much to learn! There’s the physics of sound, the technological ideas electronic musicians use, the specific tools, artistic practices, history, and more. That doesn’t include anything with how electronic music relates to other fields. Like western music theory, popular music, ethnomusicology, video, theatre, etc. It’s an endless topic. And I love it.

How I Broke It Down

I’m a person too. At about 40 minutes into any meeting, and about 10 into a bad one… I often struggle to focus. I’m limited in how much I can learn in one sitting. And it takes repetition, practice, and thoughtful analysis before whatever I’m trying to learn sinks in.

It took me several attempts to figure out what (A) the scope of what I wanted to share in this course and (B) how to organize the course. I found a nice pattern between about 3–5 minutes of video and about 10 multiple choice questions per video. This means each unit would take about 15–20 minutes to digest.

The other thing is that I needed two layers. There’s the overall course, but within that there were subject of units: a foundational subject, a “creating” subject, a “modifying” subject, and a “systems” subject. With Sagefy, subjects are like “folders” where a subject can contain units and other subjects. It was pretty easy to organize the information to whatever the course needs.

If you’re wanting to see more in-depth of where I ended up, you can check out the Intro to Electronic Music course page.

What I’ve Struggled With & What I’ve Learned

I’ve found a bit of a flow for myself. Once I had my units, the process per unit is:

  1. Outline what I want to cover (including doing some research in some cases)
  2. Write and review a script for the video
  3. Make slides
  4. Record the video
  5. Write multiple choice questions
  6. Upload everything
  7. Verify

I’ve been using the Hemingway App to ensure my writing is clear and concise. That helps to avoid things like passive voice and complex structures.

Finding assets for the slides isn’t too difficult. Because Sagefy is open-source and open-content, I can borrow from the Wikimedia Commons easily.

Narrating and editing the videos are a bigger challenge. I’m not a naturally charismatic person. I wish I were. My voice sounds like an “NPR voice.” I’ve been using the Blue Yeti microphone to record with. It’s not like studio quality, but it’s clear. I also don’t have the best video editing software, I’ve been using primarily iMovie. At some point I’ll probably go with Final Cut Pro to make adding some audio examples a little easier.

The multiple choice questions combined take about the same amount of time as the videos do. The question and the right answer are easy to write. The wrong answers are much more difficult. How do you write something that doesn’t give away the right answer, but doesn’t confuse or mislead the learner either? I’ve found myself borrowing answers from the other multiple choice questions.

Ensuring what I present is correct is a bit of a pang in the background. No level of verification will ever make me feel 100% confidence, I realize. My knowledge is primarily based using the technology. The physics people might cringe at the lack of specificity of my explanations. But different information has different intended audiences. I just hope that if I get something horribly wrong, someone will correct me :)

The time commitment with building courses is more than I ever realized. I figured at a few hours a week I’d have it built out in a few weeks. It’s been about a year! And I’m about half way towards having a “first” finished product. Working full-time and having other responsibilities has made it challenging for sure to work on. More than anything, that’s been my biggest challenge for Sagefy as well as building out this course. I don’t have an answer, other than to accept that this is going to be a long journey. And I love every second I get to spend on it. Accepting how much work this all is, is the best for now.

Shout out!

The only way to get Sagefy going is to recruit other people to take a chance and start building out courses too! So if you’ve ever imagined how you would teach your favorite topic, maybe this article is calling to you. I’m looking for few willing souls to build out some courses. Any topic is welcome! Right now the platform supports videos and multiple choice questions. And it can be a few short videos and like some multiple choice questions per video.

If this sounds like a fun adventure to you, shout me out on Twitter.

Worst case scenario, you’ll end up with some great YouTube videos and a story to tell.

If you’d like to know more about Sagefy, visit today.

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