Should We Utilize Technology in the Music Classrooms? Questions to Ask First.

Audio MixerToday, there is a lot of emphasis to utilize and incorporate “technology” into every classroom and integrate it into the daily instruction regardless of the academic subject. Incorporating technology into either the music or the “arts” classrooms is seemingly not as straightforward as some of the other academic subjects, but regardless of the academic subject, the criteria and justification(s) for incorporating any type of technology into any classroom setting should be the same.

A number of music educators mistakenly think that “music technology” only pertains to technologies that employ some type of M.I.D.I. device (Music Instrument Digital Interface) or are directly related to audio and/or “electronic sound” in some form.  The truth is that music teachers need to be versed in a variety of computer-related technologies that apply to making music or teaching music in a classroom environment.   Many of the technologies used in music classrooms aren’t “music technology” in the strict sense of the idea.  For example: using a L.C.D. projector in the classroom isn’t specifically “music technology” but it can be a catalyst for making teaching more exciting, interesting, and effective.  Likewise, understanding how to use Microsoft EXCEL, or any other spreadsheet or database software, isn’t specifically “music technology” but it can make the administration part of a music teacher’s job much easier and consequently, allow more time for classroom teaching and planning.

Regardless of whatever subject one may be teaching, taking the time to think about the following questions is vital in determining whether or not utilizing a “technology” in a classroom setting will be both a good-fit and worthwhile endeavor:

 1. Does the technology allow you to accomplish a task easier than without it? 

Many times technology can literally make some tasks more complex, especially if you already have a way to do something that works well without it.  Don’t employ a piece of technology just for “the sake of technology”. 

2.  Does the technology allow you to teach more effectively? 

 

In today’s media-rich world, technology can be very attractive and beneficial to our students’ learning experiences; however, with regard to music and the arts, don’t forget that the arts themselves are “media rich” by their very nature…  Many teachers fail to gain the benefits of utilizing a technology because they fail to properly master and understand it.  Teachers MUST become fluent with the technology they are trying to utilize in order to gain the greatest benefits from using it in the classroom.  Invariably, having only a partial understanding of the technology that one is attempting to utilize in a classroom will result with a tremendous amount of personal grief and any benefit that the students might have gained will be compromised.

3.  Does the technology allow me to accomplish the task-at-hand faster than without it?

 

Again, failure to become fluent with a technology will most likely hinder your ability to effectively employ and utilize it. Because of the lack of technical fluency, classroom learning may not only be compromised, but quite possibly – it may be negatively affected. You will have only truly mastered a technology when it becomes transparent and seamlessly integrated into your teaching.  Using any technology in the classroom should create some type of measurable increase in the efficiency of the task-at-hand, whether it is your teaching or your students’ ability to learn better.

4.  Does the technology allow me to do something that I could not do without it?

 

If you can expand the educational experience of your students by utilizing a technology and give them an opportunity to experience something that would not be possible otherwise -there is good cause to use the technology.  For example: you might like a renowned composer or one of your past professors to speak to your class about a current classroom topic. As usual, you don’t have the funds to pay for their expenses and time so you never spend the time to think about the great benefits gained by such an experience…  BUT, thinking “Outside the Box” and by incorporating existing free technologies, you could easily SKYPE (free video conferencing software) an expert into your classroom and have an incredible, immersive, and interactive experience similar to that of having a non-virtual visitor to the classroom… Interesting?

5.  Does the technology take too much time to learn or become proficient at it?

 

This is a hard question to properly answer given the time-crunch that we all face as educators and active teachers.  Sometimes you just have to forego a technology because you don’t have the time to properly learn or employ it in a classroom… Don’t worry though… technology is continually getting easier to implement and the learning-curve for all classroom technology is much less time consuming than even a few years ago. Almost all technologies that one might consider to incorporate into the classroom environment are now easily learned in short-order and certainly “approachable” by anyone regardless of their so-called “technical prowess”.

6.  How am I supposed to buy all of this technology on my salary?  The school doesn’t help me with these things…

 

Literally, the “million dollar” question! The simple truth is this, if you or your students have access to a computer, even a single classroom computer, there are thousands of good-quality, open-source and freeware titles available for you to utilize. For every expensive piece of software that you might like to use in the classroom, almost all of the time, there is a freeware or open-source alternative available.  Usually, the freeware/open-source titles are closely equivalent (and sometimes even better) to their costly counterparts.

7.  I’m too old and don’t have the time to learn anything new; why does “everyone” want me to incorporate these “technologies” into my teaching?SHAME ON YOU, AND SHAME ON US AS TEACHERS!  As effective educators and stewards of knowledge, we need to be constantly learning and challenging ourselves to become better teachers and learners ourselves.  With the advent of the Internet, a vast amount of information may easily be found online.  There are tutorials, power-points, white papers, forums, online help webs, books, e-books, videos, podcasts, and a whole host of other resources that, if taken advantage of, WILL allow any teacher to become more effective and productive!

Never before in the history of humankind has so much knowledge and information been codified and, almost instantly, available to us.  Now, as to sorting the “garbage information” from the “good information”… this can be a little challenging -but we are educated, right? 

As educators we are privileged and entrusted with the duties of cultivating our students’ minds to the best of our abilities. Let us examine closely the technologies available to us to help with our task and wisely decide how we implement them to make ourselves better educators and to help aide our students to learn and grow in the best possible ways.

       

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Joseph M. Pisano, Ph.D. is the creator of many education websites, a lecturer, clinician, trumpeter, and conductor. He is currently the Associate Chair of Music and Director of Bands in the Calderwood School of Arts at Grove City College in PA. He been named a TI:ME Teacher of the Year, received the JEN Jazz Educator Award and the PA Citation of Excellence. He is a past Vice President of the Technology Institute for Music Educators and the current Vice-President of the PA Intercollegiate Bandmasters Association. He also writes for DCI Magazine, Teaching Music Magazine, and is the Educational Editor for In-Tune Monthly Magazine; he has contributed hundreds of articles to various publications. Find out more at his website jpisano.com.
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