Jon Cox offers “phoneography” tips to Christopher Johnson, a member of the Class of 2016.

Phoneography: UD's first MOOC

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


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

Over the years, Cox has been to all seven continents, and he’s led UD study abroad trips to all of them except Europe. He and his students have worked closely with locals in places like Peru, Vietnam, Tanzania and Cambodia.

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Now Cox is inviting 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 across the globe.

A MOOC is an online course designed to allow a large number of students to participate from all around the world. Potentially thousands of students could attend as active non-credit participants, the majority of whom would not be physically located at 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 will:

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

The students will also have the option of reviewing information about point-and-shoot and digital SLR cameras. 

In the first 10 days after the course was posted at, over 600 students enrolled in Cox’s course, including about 50 from UD.  

Although Cox will use phoneography as the basis of the course, the heart of the project lies in the sheer volume of people collaborating online, and the resulting stories that come from every corner of the globe.

Cox will have his on-campus Photographic Approaches (ART180) students collaborate with the online MOOC community so that both groups can benefit from the interaction.

“I started the MOOC with the intention that my students at the University of Delaware would be interacting with this massive audience and that would bring more diversity to the campus class,” said Cox. “I’ve already seen a variety of names from around the world [on the class roster]. I’ve seen lot of Indian names, Cambodian names, a couple Tanzanian names and at least two Peruvian hunter-gatherer family names.”

MOOC students will each showcase four images per week on personal websites at and a final series 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 search for and critique the images.

Over the summer, Cox taught an online section of ART180 to pilot several of the assignments he was developing for the MOOC. By having the students share their images publicly online, Cox noticed that “their photo quality improved dramatically.” 

Cox thinks that, because they knew their photos could be viewed 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 everyday and we live in a society inundated with images. I want to see my students make a difference with their photos — drawing the audience in with good composition and a real story.”

Cox’s students will see first-hand how capturing intimate moments and editing on-the-fly is an easier process with a cell phone than with a large SLR camera. In the end, though, it all comes down to composition, lighting and technique, not which camera is being used. 

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

The MOOC available to a global audience will be taught as three different courses. The first course concentrates on learning how to see photographically; the second will concentrate on critiquing photography; and the third will concentrate on developing an individual photographic voice. 

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

The first five-week MOOC will run from Sept. 8 through Oct. 31. 

About Jon Cox

Jon Cox has led 20 photographic study abroad programs to destinations including Antarctica, South East Asia, Tanzania, Australia and several countries in South America. He has been a pioneer in the field of digital photography and served as the adventure photographer/writer for Digital Camera Magazine in the late 1990s. He also authored 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, By the Light of a Million Fires

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

Cox believes that photography has the power to create social change at the local and global level. He also believes that technological advances in camera phones over the last several years have put creativity back in the in the hands of the individual, allowing countless new opportunities for individuals to successfully communicate through imagery.

Development of his MOOC was funded by a 2013 UD Transformation Grant. This program is a joint initiative between the Center for Teaching and Assessment of Learning (CTAL) and IT Academic Technology Services (IT-ATS).

Further information

Learn about Cox’s MOOC: Phoneography: The Basics of Cell Phone Photography.

Listen to Jon Cox discuss his MOOC on WVUD’s Campus Voices.

View some student portfolios from ART180, Photographic Approaches, Cox’s pilot for the upcoming MOOC: 

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

Article by Christopher Johnson

Photographs by Sarah Tompkins

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