Deeply Engaged Music Students and Teachers

Technology permeates our world and everyday lives. In Music Learning Today: Digital Pedagogy for Creating, Performing, and Responding to Music, William Bauer states that technology is “flattening” (4) the world, reducing and eliminating geographical and financial limits and constraints. Online learning through programs like Coursera serve people from around the world who may not have the opportunity to attend a university. While it may seem at first that online learning is a highly independent and solitary activity, Daphne Koller, one of the founders of Coursera, states in her TedTalk the importance of peer discussion and grading in the online learning platform, allowing students to interact with and learn from each other.This idea of learning through social interaction is also championed by David Price in his talk “Open Learning Revolution.” He states that the success of a business depends on the depth of engagement with employees and customers. Deep engagement occurs through social interactions.

In a music ensemble class, students, with the guidance of a teacher, must work together and be highly engaged in order to perform music well. Despite the prevalence of electronic instruments and technology in today’s music scene, “traditional” ensemble classes with acoustic instruments such as band, orchestra, or choir are still a valued part of music education. As seen in the Module 1 videos for Coursera’s the The Place of Music in 21st Century Education, Steiner Education schools continue to use Orff xylophones and percussion instruments in their music classes. Another example of a more “traditional” focus to learning can be seen in the design of Takaharu Tezuka’s kindergarten building. At this school, there is a strong emphasis on play as students connect with nature (building built around trees, spaces with open air), engage in physical activity (run on the circular roof, climb through various levels built around a tree), and learn through social interaction (no walls in classrooms, activities that encourage them to help each other).

In music classrooms where learning is done on acoustic instruments, technology is often used as a tool to help students learn to perform their instruments better. Tools may include digital tuners, programs that assess a student performance for errors, or music theory apps. Music technology should not only be considered a tool, but also as media and even as a legitimate musical instrument, according to Andrew Brown in Music Technology and Education: Amplifying Musicality. “Seeing computational devices from multiple perspectives, rather than from a single perspective, opens up a broader range of musical applications” (6). The modern day dj uses the computer as his or her musical instrument. The art of dj-ing could be taught in a school music class. The Northern Beaches Christian School (NBCS) in Australia exhibits this broader perspective of technology and music in its classes. As seen in the Module 1 videos for Coursera’s The Place of Music in 21st Century Education, the NBCS music students work together in bands, on both acoustic and electric instruments, and must perform and produce their music. Again, there is a lot of collaboration and social interaction happening, keeping the students deeply engaged. Price’s Six Imperatives for “Open Learning”:

  1. Do it yourself (Autonomy)
  2. Do it now (Immediacy)
  3. Do it with friends (Collegiality)
  4. Do unto others (Generosity)
  5. Do it for fun (Playfulness)
  6. Do it for the world to see (High Visibility)

are clearly present in the school’s design with its open spaces inviting collaboration, clear doors and many windows to watch everyone at work, and displays of student projects throughout the building.

As there is a variety of music, there are also a variety of approaches to learning music. Music teachers should keep an open mind, and continually examine what is best for students. Bauer states that “successful teachers are subject matter experts and have a deep knowledge of pedagogy” (11). A good music teacher continues to practice his or her instrument or work on their craft regularly as students will likely be more inspired and excited about music when they have a teacher who is also deeply engaged with music.

*Assignment for Week 1 of Coursera’s The Place of Music in 21st Century Education.




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