Creative Technologies, new online major in Arts Division, first of its kind on any UC campus

Music Professor Ben Leeds Carson, left, and Dean Celine Parreñas Shimizu, right. 

UC Santa Cruz Music Professor Ben Leeds Carson said he’s been interested in the possibilities of online education for an “embarrassingly long time.” He taught his first online course — at a community college in Southern California — in 1999, so long ago that he needed to send the students DVDs because the web then didn’t have the capacity to stream music.

Online education gives more students access to a UC Santa Cruz education, Carson said. That’s why he joined the faculty committee to develop the Arts Division’s new Creative Technologies online major, the first of its kind on any UC campus. 

Chancellor Cynthia Larive applauded the effort, adding that the university is always looking for ways to expand higher education opportunities and access. “We have such remarkable faculty and staff on our campus. In some instances, though, it makes more sense for both students and teachers if we utilize the technology we have available to bring courses to the people — or in this case an entirely new major — rather than bring people to the courses.”


Carson now leads the faculty committee developing the major, and has been named the “zero year” director for the program, meaning he is responsible for “taking it from proposal to reality.”

“As Dean of the UC Santa Cruz Arts Division, our departments excel in online teaching,” said Dean Celine Parreñas Shimizu regarding the new program. “Our goals for making classes accessible necessarily incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion. Creative Technologies works to ensure that all of our students have equal access to excellent teaching and learning. We aspire to achieve an equitable way to educate through online education. I celebrate the Arts Division faculty’s visionary work in establishing the Creative Technologies major, the first of its kind in the entire U.C. system.”

The curriculum design, which “builds on traditional pedagogies with additional curriculum in computing, historical context, and entrepreneurship,” is why program creators are confident of the major’s eventual success and why the UC system supports it, Carson said. Students are currently being recruited, new faculty members hired and courses scheduled. 

“We have to make the vision real for a group of first-year students who will arrive a little more than a year from now, mostly as transfer students,” Carson said. “Some of them will be arriving remotely into a web-based community.”

Why start with the Arts Division? Michael Tassio, assistant vice provost for educational innovation, said many of the faculty members see technology as an opportunity for artistic expression. For years, he said, the campus has worked to expand online offerings. What was initially offered was determined by faculty interest. That meant classes in calculus and forensic anthropology, for example, as well as courses on the Environments of California and the Geology of National Parks.

Tassio agreed with Carson, saying the new online major is an equitable way to educate, giving people with young children or those who can’t leave their jobs to move to Santa Cruz the opportunity to earn a UC degree. 

“We’re excited about educating our current students, but we're missing an entire segment of Californians that we want to be able to offer a UCSC degree to,” Tassio said. “The students we think will be interested in this are a unique demographic — they tend to be older than your typical student and to have a bit more life experience. Many are mid-career and are committed to their professional development. They are a great addition to our student population.”

And sometimes, Tassio said, online learning about digital subjects is a better fit.

That has been Performance, Play and Design Assistant Teaching Professor Kristen Gillette’s experience. When she taught digital animation in a physical space, it didn’t work so well.

“It was limited to the number of computer workstations in the lab, about 25 students, and then I would be going through different animation techniques, and my screen would be up on the project,” she said. “Students would be trying to look at that, and at their computers. Some people would be going ahead, and some people would be falling behind. So that felt like a really challenging space to learn in, and you couldn't really change the curriculum to meet different people's learning styles.”

Gillette, who is developing a class for the Creative Technology major and will be teaching in the program, modified her animation class into an online one. She said breaking her two-hour class into smaller chunks so people could pause, rewind, or fast forward helped a lot, and that she got great student feedback.

Another benefit of online classes is that people all over the world can show up as class lecturers and guests, Carson said, noting that was a benefit he first saw during the pandemic.

“I could find the best of my colleagues in New York, or in Shanghai or in Seattle, and I can bring them into an intimate conversation with my students relatively easily with no flights, no hotels, no major approvals for that expenditure,” he said. “If that Seattle artist, or New York-based musician was interested in what I was teaching, it was easy for them to get online and join in that conversation.”

For Tassio, the most exciting thing about the online major is what it will mean for “stop outs,” or students who couldn’t finish their degrees due to life circumstances. 

“Most of these students have incurred a massive amount of debt and most of them will never return,” he said. We also know when students don't return and get a college degree, their lives are different. This will enable us to change that, to help them get that degree.”

Gillette also thinks the online major will offer opportunities for students less tied to being on campus, so they can take what they’re learning into their communities and can use the classes to help them with their professions. 

Added Dean Celine Parreñas Shimizu: “What makes this innovative program ideal for the Arts Division is that we teach practice, theory, criticism, and technology as very viable forms of artistic, multi-genre and interdisciplinary expression that reflects the interests and passions of our students today. The Creative Technologies program exemplifies art practice that goes far beyond the art studio into many worlds of collaboration and creation—virtual, global, and more.”