Cox to teach online digital photography course to over 600 students worldwide


11:20 a.m., September 4, 2014 – For Jon Cox, assistant professor of art at the University of Delaware, the world is his classroom.

Over the years, Cox has traveled to all seven continents and has led study abroad trips for UD in all except Europe. He and his students worked closely with locals in places like Peru, Vietnam, Tanzania, and Cambodia.

Graduates, professors

As the time for the procession neared to open the University of Delaware launch ceremonies, graduate students and faculty members shared their feelings about what the event means to them.

Doctoral balaclava

It was a day of triumph, cheers and collective relief as more than 160 students from 21 countries participated in the University of Delaware Doctoral Convocation held on Friday morning on The Green.

Now, Cox invites the world to come to UD – he will be the first UD faculty member to teach a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), available to students around the world.

A MOOC is an online course designed to enable large numbers of students from all over the world to participate. Potentially, thousands of students could participate as active participants without credit, the majority of whom would not be physically located on the UD campus or enrolled in other UD courses.

Cox’s MOOC, “Phoneography: The Basics of Cell Phone Photography,” will teach a global community of students to see photographically. Students :

  • Learn to communicate ideas with an emphasis on composition, content, lighting, color and technique in photographs captured on their cell phones;
  • Examine contemporary and historical artists through lectures, interviews and student presentations; and
  • Learn how to critique images and edit them on their cell phone.

Students will also have the opportunity to view information on digital cameras and DSLR cameras.

During the first 10 days following the posting of the course at, more than 600 students enrolled in the Cox course, including about fifty from UD.

Although Cox will use phonography as the basis of the course, the heart of the project lies in the large number of people collaborating online and the resulting stories that come from all corners of the globe.

Cox will ask his students on Campus Photography Approaches (ART180) to collaborate with the online MOOC community so that both groups can benefit from the interaction.

“I started the MOOC with the intention of my University of Delaware students interacting with this massive audience and it would bring more diversity to the campus classroom,” Cox said. “I have seen a variety of names from all over the world [on the class roster]. I have seen a lot of Indian names, Cambodian names, a few Tanzanian names, and at least two Peruvian hunter-gatherer last names.

MOOC students will each submit four images per week on personal websites on and a final set of images on their personal Instagram accounts. Each student will add the hashtag #UDphoneography to their Instagram photos, so it will be easy for ART180 and MOOC participants to research and critique the images.

Over the summer, Cox taught an online section of ART180 to pilot many of the missions he was developing for the MOOC. Asking students to share their images publicly online, Cox noticed that “the quality of their photos has improved dramatically.”

Cox believes that because they knew their photos could be seen by the world, the students put more effort into creating meaningful and moving pieces.

Cox explained, “The camera can be a mechanism for change. We communicate with images every day and we live in a society flooded with images. I want to see my students make a difference with their photos ?? appealing to the audience with a good composition and a true story.

Cox students will see firsthand how capturing intimate moments and editing on the fly is an easier process with a cell phone than with a large SLR camera. Ultimately, however, it all depends on the composition, lighting and technique, not the camera used.

“It’s photography, the phone is just a tool,” Cox said.

The MOOC accessible to a global audience will be taught in the form of three different courses. The first course focuses on learning photographic sight; the second will focus on the critique of photography; and the third will focus on the development of an individual photographic voice.

Cox has already recorded several guest speakers for the second and third courses, including Terry Barrett, author of Criticize photography, and Griffin Lotz, former UD art student and photo editor for Rolling stone.

The first five-week MOOC will run from September 8 to October 8. 31.

About Jon Cox

Jon Cox has led 20 photographic study abroad programs in destinations such as Antarctica, Southeast Asia, Tanzania, Australia and several countries in South America. He was a pioneer in the field of digital photography and was an adventure photographer / writer for Digital Camera Magazine in the late 1990s. He is also the author of two Amphoto digital photography books in 2003 and 2005.

Cox’s latest publication is a six-year documentary book project with hunter-gatherers in Tanzania titled Hadzabe, in the light of a million fires.

His most recent project is a cultural mapping initiative with Ese’eja hunter-gatherers living in the Amazon basin of Peru.

Cox believes that photography has the power to create social change locally and globally. He also believes that technological advancements in camera phones over the past few years have put creativity in the hands of the individual, thus providing countless new opportunities for individuals to communicate successfully through imagery.

The development of its MOOC was funded by a 2013 UD Transformation Grant. This program is a joint initiative of the Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning (CTAL) and University IT Services (IT-ATS).

More information

Learn more about the Cox MOOC: Phonography: the basics of cell phone photography.

to listen Jon Cox discusses his MOOC on WVUD’s Campus Voices.

See some student portfolios of ART180, Photographic Approaches, Cox’s pilot for the next MOOC:

Read The Ese’Eja: from a cotton thread in the sky to the protectors of the Amazon, National Geographic Society, August 12, 2014.

Article by Christopher Johnson

Photographs by Sarah Tompkins

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