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Human Potential, Technology, and Music Education

Abstract and Keywords

Technology, music, and education, the interrelations and interactions between them as well their impact on music education and young people’s lives, are explored in the Core Perspectives of this part of this book. Writers describe how technology enables transcendence of boundaries between formal and informal learning and between school life and personal life, potentially providing the necessary bridge that would transform music learning. At the same time, a number of threats from the use of technology in education and music education are recognized. Common threads from three different Core Perspectives’ chapters are explored and discussed in relation to the ultimate goal of education. Further discourse and caution, as well as further research, is important in order to explore and clarify potential opportunities for a more humane education and future.

Keywords: teaching with technology, long-distance learning, technology and music creativity, musical intelligence, democratic education

The three authors who deploy their views as Core Perspectives in this part of this book come from different countries and focus on different aspects and roles of the triptych of music, technology and education. However, certain key points emerge as common. Situating technology outside formal music education settings is the most prominent. Of course, Africa emerges as something unique, because, as Kigozi claims, “unlike in the West, most of the technology within music education in Africa takes place outside the formal music classroom context.”

Nevertheless, the common theme relates to the boundaries and differences that exist between formal and informal, between school life and personal life, between school music learning and making and individual music learning and making. In the “era of hyperconnectivity” (Leong, 2011, p. 236), though, work and leisure are interlaced throughout the hours of the day. Students are making their own choices regarding their learning. This freedom to choose the source of information and knowledge they need, to select the context of learning, the setting and the location, is characteristic of the situations that the authors describe in their Perspectives.

Because technology within music education represents and serves the institutions and other authorities (political, economic, social, cultural, etc.) that have funded it, often young people choose to interact with music outside those formal settings, as Pignato affirms. They collaborate online with peers from around the world and participate in communities with similar interests, facilitated by digital technology’s social networking tools. Moreover, new technology in music offers unprecedented possibilities, and young people use the available technology in highly individualized ways, learning while they are listening and making music, creating new genres, new hybrid forms, and expanding traditional techniques, “generating new notions of virtuosity” and musicality, as both Pignato and Peppler point out.

(p. 220) It is true (and has been for many years, regardless of the advancements of technology) that young people enjoy music much more outside than inside school. Music is a constant presence in all youth cultures (and microcultures) and an important factor in identity formation and self-perception. Nevertheless, technology developments that offer freedom in communication, connectivity 24/7, instant access to sounds, musics, and videos have as a result augmented music’s presence and role in young people’s lives.

As Green (2008) has observed in her research, young musicians in their informal interactions and settings where they make music, exhibit all those qualities that we set as goals in our formal music educational settings. They cooperate effectively, show commitment and responsibility to the task at hand, and show sensitivity to others. Above all, they enjoy themselves, and this is what sustains their interest and assists their perseverance (Green, 2008). Interest and enjoyment is what we aspire to in formal settings as well. These are the prerequisites for a “flow experience” (Csíkszentmihályi, 1990; Whitson & Consoli, 2009). As the boundaries between many areas of our lives have been dissolved, it may be the right time to bring formal and informal music settings closer, so that each can benefit from the other and at the same time take music education to another level, one that would be impossible without digital technology.

An additional aspect that emerges as a common concern is the role of technology in easing or hindering music and music education. Technology and, as follows, music technology are means to enable users, musicians, music educators. Young people take advantage of technology to further their musical identities and create new musical meaning; thus, technology should be a means to an end and exist “in service of a purpose,” as Pignato asserts. This discussion is enhanced by Kigozi’s worries that technology should be applied “from an artistic point of view,” which, instead of hindering the process, will enable users to reach their final goal with less effort. From similar discussions we can discern two complementary areas of concern:

  1. 1. Is technology created to assist and enhance the human brain?

  2. 2. Can technology be applied from an artistic and musical intelligence perspective to assist and enhance such processes?

The use of technology as a tool instead of an end in itself has been a major issue for decades. Every time a new leap and technological advancement is achieved, the limelight tends to fall onto the tool as much as the end result. Particularly in education, teachers have expressed doubts about technology’s effectiveness, remaining ambivalent in their intentions to adopt what appears as new technology every couple of years (Gall, 2013; Jimoyiannis & Komis, 2007; Kiridis, Drossos, & Tsakiridou, 2006). Not all teachers’ concerns can be categorized though as fear of the new, uncertainty about the unfamiliar, and reluctance to change. Many writers have expressed their annoyance at the difficulties created by technology at the same time it claims to ease them. Software and hardware that are incompatible and in need of constant updates hinder teachers’ efforts, causing more time lost instead of enhancing the efficiency of time spent (Greher, 2011). It appears that the “human user is often given less consideration than the technology (p. 221) that is supposed to serve him or her” (Leong, 2011, p. 238). Learning should be driving the technology, which should be “brain friendly,” complementing the cognitive process (Leong, 2011). In much the same way, technology should enable and enhance music learning and music making by “serving and being subservient” to a young musician’s learning needs, interests, and way of thinking, as Pignato affirms.

I would like to turn now to an area of formal education touched upon in the Core Perspectives that was revolutionized by the use of technology. With the recent advent of wireless broadband and Internet access, and the development of Web 2.0 tools, new blended learning models have emerged for twenty-first-century tertiary education. We have witnessed the materialization of what can be described as a matrix of synchronous/asynchronous and virtual/physical learning environments, with an “increased focus on the ‘third space’ that supports social forms of student interaction” (Fisher, 2010, p. 3).

Long-distance courses and e-learning have become part of traditional mainstream higher education courses. The majority of tertiary education institutions are fully equipped for online learning and teaching, and gradually more university teachers are offering lessons that are attuned to contemporary active learning environments, presenting information and assessing learning using multiple mediums and modes. However, new technology and tools integrate learning even deeper into everyday life. The walls and boundaries of classrooms, buildings, institutions, and countries are dissolved. Formal and informal settings are getting harder to differentiate as young people’s personal and student lives are intertwined. Control of learning belongs to the student, whose choices are (and will be even more in the future) global, multidimensional, multidisciplinary and multimodal. Consequently, students are free to choose the institution that will offer them their education regardless of their location on the world map, and acquire certificates and degrees and experience programs of study that resemble very little of what I experienced as a student in Greece and a postgraduate student in the United Kingdom a few years ago. With all these possibilities and prospects, might this be a sincere opportunity for accomplishing education for all? Could this be a basis for a true democratic turn in education that has as a prerequisite a paideia that is accessed by all, regardless of social and economic status, cultural and ethnic background, or geographical location? What are the dangers and threats for this prospect?

Many of the contributors to this book acknowledge the fact that technology has lowered the barriers obstructing music learning and music making. Similarly, it has lowered the barriers obstructing participation in tertiary education. Web 2.0 tools (as well as the advancing Web 3.0) and the development of social media and the “third space” have enabled tertiary education institutions to reach a student base that would otherwise have difficulty in attending a university campus or would have to overcome severe barriers to access to education. Massive open online courses (MOOCs), which have expanded during recent years, are such an example. Hundreds of thousands of students from around the world have the opportunity to enroll and complete courses taught by top professors in top universities without leaving their own rooms.

No doubt this newest trend has numerous shortcomings as well as negative repercussions, some of which have already been mentioned in discussions and forums (p. 222) (Friedman, 2013). Recent research has shown that only a very small percentage of the enrolled students ever complete MOOCs (an average of 4%); moreover, in contrast to the advocacy rhetoric of democratization, their most common users belong to the economic elite (80% of students come from the richest 6% of the world population) (Rengel & Fach, 2013).

The first threat, then, relates to low participation of students and loss of motivation. This could be mitigated by utilizing contemporary tools and applications that are closer to students’ way of thinking and communicating in order to incentivize them. For example, research on the use of Twitter and other such tools for educational purposes showed elevated participation and motivation of students (Rengel & Fach, 2013). At the same time, we need to make sure that, even though the barriers to accessing higher education courses have been lowered, the quality of studies offered remains high. This is dependent mainly upon the teacher, the university professor, and that person’s professionalism, qualities, and abilities. The majority of research and its interpretation points to the importance of the teacher’s role and impact on any chance for quality education, regardless of the level of educational studies or the medium through which teaching and learning take place.

But, to go back to the study on MOOCs and their potential for a democratization in education and more particularly the results regarding participation by different population groups, evidence showed that the majority of MOOC participants had similar characteristics to the population around the world that benefits from traditional education: they are young, are male, and belong to the economic elite (Christensen & Alcorn, 2014; Fowler, 2013; Rengel & Fach, 2013). Surely this indicates that open access to knowledge and university studies is not enough if our goal is a true democratic world. Rather, the fact that technology has made all this available around the world does not really concern the world, as only those who already have a certain level of education can afford the necessary equipment and meet the expense of an Internet connection. Kigozi’s description of African areas with no electricity, let alone Internet connection, sheds some light on the huge divide that exists between communities, students, and teachers around the world and even within the same country—a divide that is not only digital and technological but economic. In order for true revolution in education and true democratization to become a reality, broader changes are needed.

Technology has changed the definition of education, music, and music education, as is affirmed by many writers in the field and in this book, and it is time to be rigorous and adapt to new circumstances. But at the same time we need to discuss the ways we can use human potential and “tap into the well of its creativity” to enhance learning and, more particularly, music learning and music itself for humanity’s sake. Discussing a tragic notion connected to human existence, author and philosopher Emmanouel Kriaras, a prominent Greek professor, recently deceased, commented on contemporary civilization: “with the predominance of technological civilization, humanistic education is forgotten. Today we all learn how to use the technology but can’t elevate our souls. This is also tragic” (To Vima, November 1, 2009). We have to negotiate our tragic fate and find a way to use all our developments, inventions, and advancements in elevating our souls.


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