Making The Case For Music Technology Usage In The Classroom And The Educational Curriculum

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Photo Credit: (http://www.flickr.com/photos/wlodi)

In June of 2009, I was part of the MENC Academy discussing very real and important issues facing music educators today with regard to the onslaught of new technologies available to educators to use within the music classroom.  Dr. Jim Frankel developed a series of insightful questions to ask us during the session.   I’ve decided to post some of my thoughts and answers to  these questions in a written format here at MusTech.Net for others to read, ponder, and open for discussion. 

Note: My answers to the questions below are written in a “stream of thought” or “talking points” type of format.  This is a pretty lengthy post so you may want to print it and read it all later. 

The complete audio transcript of the session may be found here (Thanks to Dr. Jim Frankel for recording and posting it) and I encourage any educator, whether a musician or not, to listen to this transcript as many aspects of our discussion reach outside of the specificities of music education and transfer to any classroom environment.

1. What is the role of music technology in music curricula today?  What opportunities for students are there that technology specifically affords?

A number of questions to ask/consider about the effectiveness of music technology in the classroom:

For the Teachers:

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

a. Think about the organizational and communication avenues that technology can provide for teachers as well…

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

3. Does the technology provide you an avenue in which you can give your students an experience that you could not without?

4. Brings on the question of further development opportunities…

For the Students:

1. Does the technology allow them to learn materials easier or faster? 

2. Does it allow them to better retain the information learned? 

3. Are the able to be more creative with the addition of the technology?

2. What role does fostering composition and creativity with technology play in music education?

1. Skipping over the more common and known uses of composition for “traditional music classes and personnel”… One of the “real” issues facing Music Education today is what role can Music Educators play in providing the non-traditional school students access to our music teachers in ways that will enrich their education. 

Dr. Brian Williams prepared a paper for the Tanglewood II Symposium held in Minnesota in April of 2007 that referred to research that  confirmed that current state of participation in school music programs.  The states were Florida, New York, California and Ohio.  The percentage of “non-performers” in grades 6-12 ranged from 70-88%.   The data that is available (and the studies in this area are sparse indeed) suggest that less than 20% of the American Youth are served by current music programs in the secondary schools!
 
a. Compositional programs such as “Garage Band”, Sequel, Session, and others may provide a common ground to get these non-traditional musicians back into learning about music as it pertains to their lives.

b. Regardless of formal music instruction in the schools, music is pervasive, not only in every persons day to day life, many of the students would welcome an opportunity to be taught or directed by music educators in the non-traditional (read non-choir, band, orchestra) arena(s)…

c.  These instructional avenues may include, music history classes, experimental composition classes…classes that explore why they like certain music and their elements, information regarding copyright, web 2.0 applications involving sharing, mashing, finding, exploring, and discussing music.

3. What advice would you give to a teacher who is thinking about implementing technology in their curriculum?

1. Seek out “Good” instruction in the things you would utilize in your classroom. 

2. Utilize the many avenues available to you to help you determine what does and does not work in specific classroom environments.   Organizations like, MENC, ISME, the various State MEAs.

3. “Get out of the box” and find out what others in your county, state, or even nationally are doing with technology.

4. Do not attempt to utilize any technology in the classroom, unless you yourself have gained some deal of proficiency at it.

5. Many school districts are yet to get out of the “dark ages” of computer lockdown and are apt to provide roadblocks in what you are trying to accomplish.  We need to teach our students proper use of technology, just like we teach them not to run with scissors, poke things with pencils, and not inappropriately handle tools in shop classes.   Severe tightening of technology just because it may be used inappropriately will cause some districts to be at a disadvantage to others that have found acceptable ways to support, utilize, and implement it effectively with teachers in the classrooms.

6. Computer applications get easier to use every year… Think back to the first versions of Finale or Cakewalk and the “pseudo-degree” you used to have to do anything productive with them….this was not unlike the text-based computers of the 70-90s compared to the advanced Graphic User Interfaces (GUI think -mouse and point) of the PC, Linus, and Mac Operations systems we have today… 

4. What is the role of Web 2.0 in music education?  What opportunities does it afford?

Again, proper instruction into appropriate usage of this technology is necessary to make sure that students are safe and not doing socially inappropriate things with regard to their online personal.  An inappropriate digital tattoo (something that will follow them around on the Internet for the rest of their lives) is to be avoided at all costs… we need to begin to talk about these concepts as early as the middle of elementary school…

Barring the dichotomy created by those that have access to such equipment vs. those that do not, the ability to communicate and collaborate with the Web 2.0 technologies has exceeded anything we have ever seen on the face of the planet.    Communication is almost instant, classrooms can collaborate with other classrooms in the same school or create communication platforms at the global level for enrichment, understanding, and development.   Examples:   Twitter, Ning, Facebook, RSS and Atom Feeds, Texting, Viral platforms are just a few…

5. What obstacles lie in wait for those who teach with technology?  What skills and/or support do teachers need to navigate those obstacles?  Why is professional development so important? 

The types of technology we are talking about here (electronic and digital) must begin to be infused across the k-12 curriculums.   We live in a digital age and all disciplines, including music, must begin to contemplate the changes that this implies…  

What if I said that I believe that something as simple as learning to type (or text) was so important the future success of today’s students that I believed that schools should consider to teach “written” communication in this order: printing, typing, then writing or at least printing and typing and writing at the same time?   Does this shock anyone?  How much time do you spend typing vs. writing now?

A person who types 20 words per minute by the end of their high-school career will be less efficient at almost everything involving “information technology” than the person who types 40, 50, 60 or even 80 words per minute. 

If a music teacher who is proficient at transposition writes transposition at the rate of one, 3 minute song  every 10 minutes…. how much faster would the process be if they were proficient at Finale or Sibeilus…AND what about the ability to keep the transcription forever and transpose it into any key in less than 10 seconds afterward?  Or…what if they could just “sang it in” and had the computer transcribe it for them…Or… what if they had the computer simply “listen” to the audio and had it transcribe it for them?

Today’s teachers need to become fluid and TRANSPARENT in their use of these technologies in the classroom, if the technology hinders the ability for the teacher to teach efficiently or the student’s ability to learn and/or learn better, then -care must be taken as to whether we/they utilize the technology in the first place.   That being said, if a teacher is simply “lazy” and won’t take the time to seek out and/or find the way to incorporate and learn a proven or now –common technology into the classroom then shame on them…  I hear all the time about the costs of these technologies and I can testify without a doubt that while there are many FINE examples of software that cost money, there is usually a low-cost-to-no-cost alternative that can be utilized with similar results in the classroom setting.  

All schools should have some type of computer lab in their schools (whether specifically for music or not)… there are literally hundreds of music related instructional of programs that can be placed onto these “lab computers” that would allow tremendous experiences for the music students.   In addition, one laptop, a set of low cost speakers, and a LCD projector (or TV, or large monitor) can enhance the general music classroom greatly.

Many of the technologies that are utilized in or could be utilized in music education are used/can be used by any teacher in any classroom.  The main differences come in the course-specific applications that we choose to teach or utilize in the classroom.   If you have trouble turning on your computer, getting to the Internet (barring those crazy ultra-restrictive firewalls put into place by some schools), or just decide that you WON’T make an honest attempt to learn the basic digital technologies required of today,  you are already generations behind your students and it’s time to catch up quick or re-think some things…

There are so many opportunities for teachers to learn these technologies…schools provide in-services, there are sessions at almost every conference, organisations designed just for learning them (ti-me.org) there are thousands of “How-To” videos available for free on the Internet or that come with the products. The Internet is an unbelievable resourceand there are now hundreds of music blogs and sites with “Digital Mentors” available that are more than willing to help you if you simply ask them…  and there is that thing that comes with most software products called… the manual (granted it might be in PDF and I bet there are how-to videos included as well!). 

6. What does the future hold for technology in music education?

This is a difficult question to answer because many of the scenarios that could conceivably come to fruition or integrated into future curriculums do not sit well and even are despised by many of today’s music teachers and musicians… Today’s electronic technologies have changed almost every academic discipline, music is not unaffected.

In the traditional music curriculum, today’s technology provides an avenue for teachers to transmit their information more effectively, timely, and across time in the sense of the “digital recall” of the learning materials.

Teacher’s have the ability to enrich their presentation with any of the various classroom material enhancements that utilize LCD projectors and the seemingly endless variety of “Multi-Media”.

Students have the ability to practice in a noisy environment or quiet area by utilizing the “silent brass type” technologies.  Teachers and students have the ability to track , access, and assess performance materials better by utilizing technologies such as Make Music’s Smart Music.   Or, perhaps, better enjoy practicing alone by using the auto accompaniment tracks now built-in to most methods books and many online sources.

The ability to reflect, share, and produce audio of concerts or performances has never been easier or required smaller and less expensive gear that it does now.   If you have access to a computer you already have the ability to do many amazing things with regard to recorded audio.

The opportunities for collaboration has never been greater or easier by utilizing any of the Web 2.0 communication platforms.  Students can now have “experts” Skyped into the classrooms and the ability to share information across the language barriers (Google Translation and Babel)…not to mention the Public Relations opportunities that the Web 2.0 platform provides.

As is the case for the recommendations by both of the Tanglewood Symposiums… they both called for greater recognition of music education’s importance for the “non-performing” or “non-traditional” student and appropriate instruction by music educators of these students at the high-school level.  Music Technology provides a perfect-adjunct for these types of classes and the catalyst to create interesting, appropriate, and timely vehicles for this type of instruction.

An aside, in the collegiate liberal arts institutions everywhere…why has so much impetus for further “music education” for non-music majors been placed solely in the Humanities realm of “Music History and Appreciation”?   Why haven’t we taken our own advice on the importance of music in one’s personal development of the various avenues of the mind and being and come up with a course or courses  that re-integrates giving a musical experience or music creation experience back to the “non-music majors” in some type of way in addition to the history and appreciation style courses?  Is it enough to simply listen to and be exposed to music to gain the full benefits of a “music-rich education”?…this is something that our best musical minds are still debating and discussing today.

On the very confrontational side of music technology’s impact or in a sense –the abilities of today’s existing music technology, I pose only a few questions myself to think about (and I realize that some of these are infuriating for some people to think about -they bother me as a jazz trumpet player, wind conductor, and music educator as well):

1. What does the ability for people to compose something that sounds interesting without understanding the theoretical concepts of music mean for musicians or those doing the creating?  

2. Coupling the ever-increasing beauty and sophistication of sampled sounds, with pitch correction,  articulation control, and pitch2midi devices (sing and hear or hum and notate)…what does this do to the idea of becoming proficient at an instrument or master of improvisation?

3. With the increasing threat of music funding disappearing in the schools, increased importance of standardized testing that is taking much-needed time for the arts in schools away, and the time-demands on our students placed by MANY school activities (both academic and not), what, how, or can Technology Integration provide an avenue to meet some or most of the National Music Standards? 

And this brings us full circle back to the beginning of our discussion…

Constructive comments, thoughts, or ideas?

     

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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