Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Remembering Diana E.E. Kleiner, art historian and Deputy Provost for the Arts

November 20, 2023

By The Yale Digital Education Team

As the Dunham Professor of the History of Art and a Deputy Provost for the Arts at Yale University, few would have expected Diana E.E. Kleiner also to be a visionary for online education. Those fortunate enough to know Diana, though, are aware that her genius, her passion, her curiosity, her tenacity, could never be defined by traditional boundaries.

The Yale Online team at the Poorvu Center wishes to express our heartbreak at the news that Professor Kleiner passed away on November 12, 2023.

Diana saw the spark of a good idea and believed in its ability to develop it into something with the capacity to change the world. Perhaps this belief owes some thanks to her lifelong study of Rome, the city that became an empire. Long before there was Coursera, EdX, or courses delivered through Zoom, Diana knew that combining education and technology would be transformational. Diana will be celebrated for many personal and professional accomplishments; however, we want to highlight her enormous impact on digital education at Yale University – and around the world.

Informed by Yale’s experience with AllLearn, an early online education partnership with Stanford and Oxford to offer courses to alumni, and inspired by the trailblazing work of MIT’s OpenCourseWare project, Diana set out in 2006 to create a groundbreaking initiative– Open Yale Courses (OYC).

Diana’s relentless belief that the world’s top Universities and faculty members must use new technologies to share their teaching and research with the world, without charge, was reflected in OYC’s straightforward, yet ambitious mission: to expand access to educational materials for all who wish to learn. With the support of then-University President Rick Levin and Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer, Diana submitted, and was awarded, a grant from the Hewlett Foundation to launch the “Yale University Open Educational Resources Video Lecture Project.” This project, which aimed to publish content from seven introductory-level Yale College courses on the internet, for free, soon changed its name to Open Yale Courses.

Passionate about the mission to expand access, Diana designed an initiative that set a new standard for online programs. OYC provided audio and video feeds for all seven pilot courses, along with transcripts ready for download to anyone without requiring payment- over the internet.  The course website also provided the syllabi and reading lists, along with downloadable versions of assignments, handouts, and assessments for each course. In essence, anyone in the world with an internet connection could experience a Yale College course as if they were inside a New Haven classroom.

Diana also made the bold choice to apply a version of the Creative Commons license that permitted anyone in the world to “[re]distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format for noncommercial purposes.” Creative minds across the globe took advantage of this freedom to reimagine and share the content in multiple ways. However, the most powerful action this license allowed was a main reason Diana insisted on including professionally prepared downloadable transcripts for every lecture – the ability for any learner to translate the course into any language. User-generated translations likely resulted in tens of millions of learners having access to Yale content they otherwise would not have been able to engage with.

The decision to use the Creative Commons license was not Diana’s alone. Each faculty member had to agree to this idea, which would essentially give away their intellectual property without remuneration and with minimal control. While the faculty members who took part in OYC believed, and still do, that increasing access to their knowledge is a crucial benefit for humanity, Diana’s passion dispelled any reservations they might have had.

Keep in mind as well, Diana had assembled a roster of academic all-stars, acknowledged leaders in their respective fields who had cemented their legacies without needing to participate in this experimental endeavor. Professors Donald Kagan, Ramamurti Shankar, Christine Hayes, Ben Polak, David Blight, Tamar Gendler, Shelly Kagan, Steven Smith, Joanne Freeman  - and more - all participated.

The original proposal to the Hewlett Foundation and other early documents related to OYC include many prescient views Diana had about the combination of teaching and technology. For example, here she highlights one benefit of open course projects few were discussing at the time of OYC’s launch.

Universities that share course content also stand to gain from doing so, as their faculty are encouraged to discuss and reexamine pedagogical assumptions and methods, a process that increases their effectiveness in on-campus teaching.

Not many people in 2006 would have imagined putting a course online would make you a better overall teacher. But Diana saw the value in reexamining one’s course for a new medium.

The documents also have inspiring insight concerning who has access to education. With the acknowledgment that a Yale education is best built upon direct interactions, Diana then shared another reason she committed to the mission of OYC. 

We also recognize, however, that this form of participation is not always available to all or feasible for all who wish to learn. A variety of financial, personal, and geographic circumstances may present insurmountable obstacles to pursuing the traditional path of study at a world-class college or university.

The principle of equity underlying this statement about access has rightfully been at the foundation of countless initiatives from universities around the world over the last decade.

The groundwork Diana laid with OYC – and the administrative hurdles she cleared – placed Yale in an excellent position when MOOC-mania (massive open online courses) swept the world in 2012. Our university and our faculty were already comfortable with the idea of sharing course content over the internet.  Our community was ready to engage, understanding that the recent advancements in Web 2.0 technology Coursera and EdX were leveraging allowed us to offer a new learning experience. One that was like OYC but more social, personalized, and able to provide assessment of learning.

In addition to the lectures she shared with the world, Diana took great care to create digital materials for her students in New Haven. For her two main undergraduate courses at Yale, she created websites and digital experiences. These courses, Roman Art and Roman Architecture, were highly advanced in their use of digital technology and online discussion boards. Diana’s influence could also be seen throughout the different phases of remote teaching in 2020 – 2021.

A fitting tribute we can provide Diana is to encourage all who read this to enroll in her exceptional online course: “introduction to the great buildings and engineering marvels of Rome and its empire, with an emphasis on urban planning and individual monuments and their decoration, including mural painting.”

Professor Diana E. E. Kleiner’s Open Yale Course: Roman Architecture

We extend our appreciation to David Hirsch, Jeffrey Levick, and Paul Lawrence who, as part of the Open Yale Courses project team, contributed to the source documents referenced in this article.