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Subscriber: null; date: 19 January 2019

Learner Engagement and Technology Integration

Abstract and Keywords

If music educators use technology to do old things in new ways, they are still doing old things. Music is constantly evolving with technological advancements. Technology can be used in many different ways in music classes. Technology best serves music educators when they reimagine musicianship and design opportunities to explore nontraditional ways of being a musician. This should begin with the teacher’s preservice experiences. Music educators need a rich understanding of their content area so that technology becomes a support for authentic musical processes, as opposed to being an add-on. The integration of music technology must be contextualized within methods courses in order for music educators to feel comfortable enough with the technology itself that it becomes transparent to the musical experiences. Technology will never replace a great educator, but a great educator who understands the possibilities of supporting learning with technology will replace a great educator who does not.

Keywords: technology integration, preservice teachers, contextual, Musicians Workshop, authentic processes

The roles of learner engagement and technology integration in education are two of my passions. It has been quite interesting to read the essays by Jay Dorfman, Gena Greher, and Jonathon Savage (chapters 50–52 in this book) in the context of my own perspective. Their discussions of traditions of music education, invisibility, and authenticity in approaching music technology education have sparked my interest in preservice teacher education, supporting and scaffolding music educators, and continuing professional development through becoming a connected educator. They have really made me consider my time with primary and secondary learner-musicians and in-service and preservice music educators. Savage’s European perspective has broadened my understanding of the depth and breadth of music technology in the current climate of music education. In this Further Perspective, I build on the ideas Savage, Dorfman, and Greher have presented and contextualize them within my own learning community and practices.

I have been fortunate to teach in public school districts in southeastern Michigan where technology has always been available in my classrooms and where teachers have been supported by innovative district-level technology coordinators. I was able to purchase a class set of iPads a few years ago that have been regularly used by the learner-musicians in my classes throughout their primary and secondary music learning experiences. In my teaching, I find it important to design opportunities for learner-musicians to experience creating music in many ways, including digitally. Savage writes: “for teachers, the key is to find a way to integrate music technology into musical activities, games, curricula, and conversations with their students in a way that facilitates their students’ creativity and engagement with music itself.” It is my role as a music educator to design relevant and timely musical experiences for learner-musicians in our classroom to engage in these experiences. I found there was a disconnect between my urgency for developing a technologically rich music curriculum and my experiences as an undergraduate music education major.

(p. 596) Teachers of my generation entered into the classroom at a time when personally accessible, mobile technology was first emerging, and it was essential that we be prepared to create experiences for learners supported by that technology; yet we just missed the window of having been prepared for these levels of technology in our undergraduate classrooms. Music educators are not alone. Dorfman writes: “in many ways, scholarship in music education echoes the concerns of other subjects. Technology integration, in particular, is a component of music teacher preparation for which researchers have examined concerns similar to those of our general education counterparts.” Technology is constantly changing and being upgraded. More learners are coming to class with mobile devices, excited to use these devices to learn and create. Educators must capitalize on their interest and enthusiasm and integrate this technology into learning and teaching processes.

In my experience of trying to do this, what has been most useful has been the ways the approaches taught in my undergraduate experience lent themselves to these kinds of transformations. I understood that it was my role as teacher to help learners focus on the processes of learning, and that together we constructed understandings of our thought processes and the ways we thought in music, rather than about music (Wiggins, 2015). The focus of my undergraduate training had not been on how to teach with a guitar or synthesizer; rather, I was taught to teach music in ways that made it easy for me to see how I could easily incorporate these new tools for music making within my vision of curriculum and learning and teaching processes. The world of the classroom (and society) constantly changes. Undergraduate programs need to provide students with the bases for making decisions and adaptations throughout their careers. No teacher education program can teach new teachers everything they will need to know for their entire careers. Continual thinking, planning, and growth are the responsibility of the practicing teacher-professional.

A good teacher education program provides teachers with the understandings they need in order to continue to work innovatively throughout their careers and to reflectively meet the needs of the constantly changing student population. As a music teacher educator in higher education, one of my goals is to help reframe music teachers’ understanding of the way today’s musicians engage in digital musical processes. Most of the music teachers who enroll in my courses are entry-level music technology users who are quite overwhelmed, at first, with all the possibilities that different technologies offer. This can happen for a number of reasons. In my experience, it may be that these teacher-learners (1) have not had prior experience because of the era in which they became music teachers, (2) did not have enough emphasis on music technology in their methods courses, (3) have difficulty relating to the different approach to musicianship I am presenting, or (4) may be unsure or fearful because of their lack of experience with the technology. Regardless of the backgrounds they bring, I design opportunities for us to consider ways we already function as musicians and transfer those musical processes into digital musicianship. Contemporary performance practices and digital resources may require new operational processes, but authentic musical processes remain at the core (Ruthmann, 2013; Wiggins 2015).

(p. 597) The students and I do not approach learning the technology itself; rather, through the experience of being digital musicians, we perform, we compose and improvise, and we learn mobile technologies, GarageBand and Logic X interfaces, digital recording, and postproduction. After their experiences and reflective dialogue about what they consider to be authentic processes of musicians, how to best support them using digital tools, how technology can launch musicians in ways less familiar to them and bring musicians from different skill levels together, my students become quite excited to implement these tools and techniques in their own classrooms.

Teachers face many constraints when they put themselves in front of eager learners every day while they are being asked to document and show proof of learning to administration. When experienced in-service teachers begin engaging a classroom full of learner-musicians, while excited about music technology, they may fall back into using the traditional techniques they know well and with which they feel comfortable. It is for these reasons that I believe that music technology should not be taught as an independent techniques course. I propose that music technology be integrated within primary-secondary methods courses. This must be done in order for music educators to feel comfortable enough with the technology itself that it becomes transparent to the musical experiences. Dorfman proposes to “distribute technology skill development and pedagogy throughout the larger curriculum where appropriate.” I suggest that practical skill development and pedagogy support one another throughout the learning experience. Understanding the interface and what button to press to trigger the appropriate musical response will support the experience design when considering pedagogy. Music educators must have such a rich understanding of their content area that technology becomes a support for authentic processes, as opposed to being an add-on.

Savage argues: “a more coherent approach to the development of music technology skills within a music teacher’s pedagogy is urgently needed.” I agree and propose that we increase connections between preservice and in-service teachers. The sooner these connections begin, the more contextualized the learning will become. This is such a meaningful time for the observer to experience authentic music teaching and learning and for the in-service teacher to be reflective in practice and explain teaching strategies. These observations should be cyclical between classroom hours debriefing with the in-service teacher, supported by the student’s reflective process, and discussion in a college methods course with other student observers and the mentoring professor. The in-service music teacher should model appropriate best practices when implementing music technologies; the student should discuss teacher decisions and learner-musicians’ engagement with the in-service teacher, reflect upon those discussions and classroom experiences, and bring her perspectives back to class. This process will provide the preservice teacher with authentic experiences to draw upon when approaching music technology techniques and methods classes. It is an integrated approach such as this that will more adequately equip newly in-service teachers to transparently integrate technology into appropriate musical experiences.

If we use technology to do old things in new ways, we are still doing old things. Technology best serves music educators when they reimagine musicianship and design (p. 598) opportunities to explore nontraditional ways of being a musician. Using loop software such as LoopHD or Loopseque, individual musicians can create multilayered polyphonic pieces using voice, sampled sounds, or a library of sounds. Music educators must be in tune with current musical events to continue to provide relevant experiences. Savage takes issue with Hugill’s suggestion that “digital musicians are a discrete class of musician who exhibit certain characteristics that separate them from other musicians who (he acknowledges) may make use of digital technologies on odd occasions within their work.” Savage goes on to discuss the problems that stem from characterizing musicians. I, too, believe that musicians should not be characterized as “types”; rather, musicians change performance practices in reaction to current musical trends. Digital musicians exist across so many genres. Some may exclusively use music technology, while others may add a digital means as another voice within their acoustic landscape. Either way, the term “digital musician” covers so many possibilities in today’s musical world that it is as difficult to characterize as the category “composer” or “instrumental musician.”

This brings to mind an experience I had in 2014, when I saw Jimmy Fallon and Billy Joel on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon perform a vocal duet of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” using the LoopyHD app and a microphone. That evening, I installed LoopyHD on the iPads in my classroom. The next week of classes, we re-created the duet of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” as a whole class. Their project, to show their understanding of texture change and loops, was to create, perform, and record an original piece of music using loops. They collaborated and rehearsed in small composition groups, performed their pieces for the class, recorded their final performances, and shared their pieces on our classroom’s social media streams.

In my experience as a primary and secondary Musicians’ Workshop teacher, developed from the concept of Writers’ Workshop (Calkins, 1986) and Composers’ Workshop (Ruthmann, 2007), learner-musicians want to create the music they hear in their heads. Sometimes it is more complicated than what they can perform themselves; other times, it may be realized on instruments that are not found in traditional music rooms. Technology may support both these types of musician. The GarageBand iOS app has many points of entry through instrument choice, smart instruments, and choosing a scale to play a section of notes that sound good together. For musicians whose music is more complicated than what they can perform at their level, GarageBand has smart instruments and autoplay, which provide opportunities for musicians to manipulate and arrange sound in ways that represent their music. When approaching scales while improvising or composing melody, for an instance, learner-musician who understands the pattern of whole steps and half steps can use the chromatic interface to create melodies, while a learner-musician who may not have that prior knowledge can be scaffolded by the interface by only showing diatonic pitches. The two learner-musicians can perform together at different levels and both feel successful. Savage discusses how “performers can variably relate to each other, they can variably engage with the technologies and instruments before them.” This type of experience exemplifies the transparency of music technology.

(p. 599) There will always be emerging technologies, startups, peripherals, and renaissances of old school technology becoming new again. How do music educators stay abreast of all of the new advancements? One approach is to create a personal learning network through social media and become a connected educator. Personal learning networks continuously provide professional development opportunities to improve teaching practices, support innovation, connect like-minded educators, connect the less experienced with professionals in the field, and provide opportunities for learning anytime and anywhere. Educators in this network freely share their experiences, failures, and successes and support each other while taking risks. As new technologies emerge, they are shared within the network via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media, experimented with in classrooms, reflected upon through blog posts, and shared through video-sharing websites such as YouTube or Vimeo.

It is connectivity that will be the new intelligence. It is not necessarily what you know, it can be what your network knows that matters. A learning network is an integral part of a professional community, which may also include people you interact with in person outside the social digital network. When professional-learners engage in such networks, they become “professional learning communities” (Wenger, 1998). Staying current with advances in current music practices is the foundation for the design of relevant and timely experiences for learner-musicians. When these experiences are designed for musicians to develop, the classroom environment becomes one of experimentation and innovation. In a TED talk, Charlie Reisinger (2013) discusses the outcomes of enabling students in the digital age. He suggests: “When you push the boundaries of conventional practice, you break new ground.” His words resonate with me as I continue to develop the environment in my classroom. Learner-musicians who engage in current musical practices in an environment where risk-taking is encouraged and supported are poised to break new ground. My classroom is successful when it is the learner-musicians who are the innovators, creating and performing music in new ways. For this to be the case, I need to continually learn from my professional community of innovators. I engage in learning new things from my personal learning network, while taking musical risks and sharing my written reflections through my blog, so as to model this behavior to the learner-musicians. Together, we cocreate our music curriculum, which, because of today’s performance practice, is supported and often enabled by technology. I do not teach technology as a separate class; rather, I transparently integrate digital tools within our daily engagement with music. Reflecting on the ways people think and learn and drawing upon Savage’s writing, I support his view that technologies, digital or otherwise, need to firmly be contextualized within music itself. It is music that is at the core of the experience. The ways musicians engage in these experiences change, but the core remains the same.

In my recent career, I have been invited to share my story and the experiences I design for learner-musicians to engage in authentic musical processes transparently supported by technology at conferences, school districts, and various publications. In-service music educators are seeking to develop their understanding and gain the confidence they need to implement technology into their curriculum. I agree with Gall, de Vugt, (p. 600) and Sammer (2012) when they write that both Dorfman and Greher highlight the importance of continual development of thinking and skills related to pedagogies surrounding the use of music technologies in school classrooms. However, we need not focus on the technology itself. Technology constantly moves forward and changes. Educators must embrace a “growth mindset” and discover the power of the word “yet” (Dweck, 2006), envision new possibilities, reach just beyond their grasp, foster divergence, and think differently. Technology will never replace a great educator, but a great educator who understands the possibilities of supporting learning with technology will replace a great educator who does not.


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