Cloud computing still seems to be a mysterious word in education – specifically music education. I’m not sure why. All cloud computing means is that instead of the old-fashioned method of purchasing software in a box and installing it on your personal computer, the software instead lives online and you access it and utilize it online, instead of locally on your machine. An example of the difference is if you remember AOL. When AOL first came out, you had to have a CD-ROM that you would then load and install on your computer. That software would then allow your modem to dial up a local number to connect to AOL. Ancient history now. If you still use AOL, you simply log onto the site, create an account, and go. That is cloud computing. Other examples that you may use include YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SoundCloud, and really any site that has a degree of interactivity. There is no doubt about the fact that cloud computing is the future way we will interact with technology. It’s time to start thinking about how we as music educators can embrace this concept now. Here are a few ideas.
First, don’t be afraid of online tools, especially those that have adopted annual subscription models. Two shining examples of this include Noteflight and Rising Software – makers of Auralia and Musition. Both of these companies have products that work seemlessly online – though there are subtle differences in the way they deliver their product. Let’s start with Noteflight. Joe Berkovitz, the genius behind this incredible product, created Noteflight Classroom a few years ago, harnessing the power of online notation software with an online learning management system (LMS). For $195/year, you and up to 250 students can have a powerful notation program that works on any browser – at home, in school, or even on the go. That cost works out to 78¢ per student. I’m not sure why every school hasn’t already adopted this tool. Teachers can create assignments online, either customized or using a terrific set of existing resources, and have their students complete and hand in those assignments outside of the classroom, and the school. Our students are already completely comfortable with this idea, but it seems that we haven’t quite broken out of the “if it isn’t in a box then I don’t actually own anything” model. For a tool as powerful, and inexpensive as Noteflight Classroom, there is no reason to not start trying it with your students. If you are concerned about the annual subscription, try purchasing a multi-year plan so that you don’t have to worry about the funding running out. Rising Software has adopted a similar model, however they have students download a simple application on their own computers (Mac or PC). While a little more expensive than Noteflight, you can purchase both Musition and Auralia for your students for as little as $49/year. If you are teaching at the college level, this can be a simple assigned book. At the high school level, you can purchase the exact number of licenses that you need if you are running an AP Theory class. In a middle school computer lab, it can be one license per station (there is a minimum of 25 seats necessary for the best pricing). Any way you look at it, the cloud version is WAY more affordable, and it gives students the ability to work at home – avoiding the “I can only use this awesome software during my 42 minute class once a day” problem.
Second, don’t be afraid of going online with your classes. Your students live there. Even better, it’s free! It is our job as educators to help create responsible digital citizens. Avoiding and blocking tools like YouTube and SoundCloud sends a ridiculous message to our students. What kind of 21st Century Skills are we teaching if we avoid the most-used tools available. It would be similar to saying you can’t use a pencil IMHO. There is an amazing website in the UK called NUMU. I urge you to check it out. Similar to the amazing work done at the Vermont MIDI Project (now called Music-COMP), NUMU allows students to upload there original compositions (most are pop oriented) in a teacher-moderated, supportive forum that encourages students. I think every school in the US should start using the site. It is a safe environment and I love what they are doing. In addition to NUMU, try using sites like Spotify, SoundCloud, Pinterest, Prezi, WordPress, and many other collaboration tools. If we want to teach 21st Century Skills, we must adopt these tools.
Finally, while it may take a little bit of effort and training to feel comfortable using these tools, I guarantee that if you talk to any teachers who do use them, they will tell you that the benefits are well worth the effort. There are countless free and inexpensive resources online (including MusTech.net of course) that will help you learn more about these tools.
Get your head in the clouds. Your students will thank you for it.
Dr. James Frankel is the Head of Digital Music Education for the Music Sales Group, and Former Managing Director of SoundTree. He earned a Bachelor of Music degree from Montclair State University in 1993, where he studied the tuba as well as composition. In 1996, Dr. Frankel completed his Masters Degree in Music Education at Teachers College, Columbia University where he completed his doctoral studies in 2002. Dr. Frankel is an Adjunct Faculty member at Teachers College Columbia University where he teaches courses on music technology.