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date: 18 November 2018

(p. xiii) Foreword

(p. xiii) Foreword

The publication of this handbook marks a significant addition to continued dialogue on music teaching and learning and the role of “technology.” The editors must be complimented on the questions posed for consideration by the distinguished group of international professionals engaged in theory, research, and practice represented here. The handbook presents a set of core chapters along with chapters by authors and others who have been encouraged to comment on these “Core Perspectives” in the form of “Further Perspectives.” One imagines that the companion website will encourage dialogue long after the printed version of the handbook is released, adding still more to the impact of the project.

This book is something of a landmark. This is not because of its attention to the history of technology in music education or to the latest advances in hardware and software, although some of that is referenced. It is not a collection of writings that formally praise or condemn technology in reductionist ways, although there is praise and condemnation of sorts throughout. Rather, we have here—perhaps for first time—carefully reasoned and at times passionate chapters that critically examine the uses of technology in the ways we teach music in elementary, secondary, and tertiary settings from a multinational, global perspective.

The reader finds music learning addressed outside the formal settings of “school” and in so doing is encouraged to take an even wider view of technology’s role in music education. Furthermore, as a secondary contribution, the chapters provide a wealth of research references that provide supportive data from international sources within music education and from such ancillary fields as educational technology, sociology, psychology, medicine, and more.

How best do we engineer the educational environments for music as an art form that touches us on so many personal levels? As we carefully read each chapter and commentary, we were reminded that the profession is dramatically challenged by “big” topics that are framed by our social and technological landscape. Among these are: (1) the trade-offs between constructionist and direct instruction, (2) the encouragement of creative and critical thinking, (3) the role of interdisciplinary engagement, both within music and between music and other fields, (4) the most effective ways to assess both teaching and learning, (5) the consideration of who we teach, both in formal schooling and outside, (6) what we teach, in terms of both the music itself and the many social issues surrounding it, and (7) where we teach, ranging from a single person to millions and from a single location to every place where our voices, images, and sounds are encountered.

(p. xiv) Never before has our field collected such an array of perspectives from such a global constituency of music educators, a collection that offers a worldview of melding technology with classroom music practice. Never before has our field been challenged so globally and profoundly and in such an exciting way.

The Handbook’s Themes

In this foreword, we offer our collective understanding of a set of focused themes in this handbook that relate to the big topics already noted. We encourage the reader to consider each of these. Some are more conceptual, others are causes for celebration or concern, and still others relate directly to the milieu of schools and teaching. All are interrelated.

The Meaning of “Technology”

Many of the writers here directly or indirectly address a traditional understanding of the word “technology” within the music education context. Here the term might suggest “objects,” “tools,” or “things”—hardware and software, particularly as it might relate to computers, tablets, phones, and the potpourri of electronic music devices. Yet other writers help to provide a deeper and richer understanding of the topic. Technology is seen as integral to the species-specific need for humans to communicate and express themselves through music. Considering the history of music making from the start of civilization, music expression begins with both human voices and hands as tools or instruments, and extends to the creation of instruments readily constructed from native materials (drums, bone flutes, and monochords come to mind). The extension, or shall we say evolution, continues through the more sophisticated instruments of a culture (examples might be zithers and kotos, sitars and tablas, dulcimers and harps, violins and bassoons), then arriving at the electronic music tools of today. The very soul of what it is to be human seeks expression through whatever technology is on hand for music making.

Those who think deeply about the implications of “technology” epistemologically extend this line of thought to music learning. As we consider the “craft” and “art” of music, the writers remind us that the term "technology" might include how best we learn and what we hold as important conceptually to teach. Implied here is the notion that “technology” embraces what one does and what any given culture cherishes in its teaching. So our conversations about technology should not be centered on “things” only but also on far more fundamental patterns of thought and behavior about teaching and learning—for example, discussions about mediated music versus live performance, music creation as music production, acoustic instruments blended with electronic ones, collaborative improvisation as a staple of music learning, the (p. xv) role of the teacher as arbiter of what is “good” music, and other similar concerns. Nothing of importance is as simple as which ear training or notation software is best or what tablet or computer to buy—the topic is generously far broader, deeper, and richer.

Technology as Tool, Music as Central

Since the very first writings and professional work we have coauthored, spanning now some 25 years, we have considered technology not for its own sake but in terms of its potential for learning about and creating and performing music as art. This can be seen in our support of Hypercard in the late 1980s, our textbook revisions since the 1990s, and the recent work we have done on core technology competencies for music students. So many of the essays crafted in this handbook speak to this fundamental point, and it delights us that this notion continues to be celebrated and endorsed here. If one experiences a dehumanizing, boring, unorganized, and distasteful music performance or teaching sequence created by musicians using what might be thought of as impressive “cool” technology devoid of substance, fault not the technology but rather the performer or teacher.

Technological Determinism: Reductionist Thought

Perhaps one of the most profound themes that emerges in these chapters and commentary is the clear warning against thinking simplistically about technology and music education—for example, notions that (1) technology and its use in music education will somehow fundamentally change learning for the best (or the worst), (2) popular music using technology is the ruin (or the savior) of music education in the schools, or (3) music teachers are no longer of value in schools because students can create music on their own in their bedrooms, as opposed to the view that music teachers are supremely equipped to teach real music and all other music creation pathways are wasted energy; all these and thousands more binaries of this sort are a combination of myth and fallacy. If we have learned anything in the past several years about music teaching, it is that the enterprise is deeply complex, in part due to the rise of technological affordances; but at core, technology is not as much the issue as is learning in our political, social, economic, and multicultural times. That said, the best approach for teaching and learning music is to be open to pluralistic thinking and multiple ways for music to be talked about and created within well-designed structures.

The Role of Social Context

Another critical conceptual theme that is at the root of so many writings in this handbook is the importance of teaching music—or shall we say guiding music (p. xvi) learning—while engaging students in issues of social concern. As we emphasized earlier, music has been forever tied to the times and places in which it has been made and consumed. In fact, the notions of “time” and “place” emerge as important concepts in the handbook. In addition to qualities of the music itself, many support the idea that we have a moral responsibility as teachers and scholars to engage students in the social concerns of the day with music as a central vehicle. For example, a powerful idea for us was that turntables and microphones were not the reason for hip-hop; feelings of social injustice in urban cities were more the driving force. The same might be said of a great deal of music and its history. The life work of artists like Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, Brian Wilson, David Bowie, and Keith Emerson come to mind. Or, from a different perspective, think about the work of Dmitri Shostakovich, Igor Stravinsky, Kurt Weill, Peter Gabriel, Pierre Boulez, and Yo Yo Ma.

Engaging students in music technology projects that involve music and the consideration of social context is a way for students to understand their own musical identities and develop a deeper understanding of social injustices. Such activities serve to bridge the moat between the music they experience within and without the classroom. Social media sites, collaborative networks for music distribution and performance, and other technical means for students to interrogate the music and the technologies themselves are all important for a richer music education that transcends the classroom.

Many of the authors here note that this critical reflection about music and culture, mitigated by technology in its larger context, is not common in traditional, top-down school structures. It is more likely to be found in more informal settings of the sort enhanced by social networks. Those born as “analog” and not as “digital natives” tethered to screens and earbuds may find this way of thinking challenging, but of course this kind of distinction between formal and informal leaning is its own kind of reductionist thinking that assumes that age defines who we are.

Changing Views of Composer, Performer, and Listener

Technology has afforded a change in how we view musical experiences. We were struck with the notion that critical listening is perhaps the ultimate purpose of music education, since it plays such an important part in music making. The diversity of technology tools provides a teacher with the ability to stress the aural experience as a special kind of musicianship vital for performance, composition, and improvisation. What-you-hear-is-what-you-get (WYHIWYG) music applications offer ways for aural skills and creative expression to be combined without the prerequisites of reading traditional notation and playing traditional instruments. (GarageBand, Mixcraft, Groovy Music, and Subotnick’s Music Academy are cases in point.) Traditional views of the composer and performer as separate from the producer of music are also challenged at every turn. Several contributors to the handbook note that notions of a dedicated producer in an expensive recording studio as part of a master distribution scheme are anachronistic. Music production has become democratized through virtual digital audio workstations, (p. xvii) minimal and inexpensive hardware, and social networking tools. The writings herein show this playing out globally, whether the production be in Africa, the Pacific Rim, Europe, or the United States. Lines are blurred, and music is often created and distributed in more direct ways that shake up older views of ownership and marketing rights; national boundaries of commerce disappear into the global market of the Internet. All of this becomes sources of both great opportunity and a massive challenge for those in charge of pedagogy.

Disadvantaged Populations, Remote Locations, and the Digital Divide

Some contributors offer perspectives with a more cautionary tone. Among the causes for concern are the difficulties that educators face with the costs of music technology and the division of affordance between those with resources and those without. Remote locations around the world without access to reliable supplies of electricity, healthcare, schools, and other basic necessities suffer. Even countries like the United States continue to struggle with distribution of wealth, which makes resources for education institutions and community music programs that are funded by state and local taxes a difficult problem of equity.

One is struck by the incongruity of Internet access and bandwidth across nations with very different political and economic make-ups. Many regions have far better Internet bandwidth than the United States, while others have none at all. New solutions for providing Internet access through global networks of satellites and drones promise more universal access. For some locales, urban environments provide more sophisticated music recording and production tools than rural settings. More affordable software programs designed for less expensive devices are a positive development of course, but the digital divide continues to be both a local-global and rural-urban contrast and challenge for music education. Although these concerns were noted by a few contributors, we were surprised that this was not as completely addressed as it might have been.

Expanding Research and Global Understanding

Practice and theory provide useful information, but ultimately systematic research provides empirical evidence to guide best practice. One is impressed reading through this collection of articles by the grounding of so many in research from within our field of music education, and from fields both closely aligned and far-reaching. The basic premise of imperfect induction is that we generalize from a small sample of the whole as to the characteristics of the whole. Confirmation through replication of results is critical to this process.

(p. xviii) The handbook makes a significant contribution to this end. Too often we defer myopically to studies within our immediate realm of colleagues and academic specialization. Too often we have research results using small-scale studies that show nonsignificance and low effect sizes when attempting to measure differences in educational technology practice and performance. With this diverse set of international articles, we benefit from the global wealth of studies and results focused on a common thread: technology integration within music education.

The new model on the horizon for research is “big data.” Where current research methodology is based on sampling from larger populations, “big data” refers to data sets that continue to grow in size and complexity such that traditional sampling theory is no longer relevant. Various tools are used to find predictive trends within these big data sets. Focusing our research endeavors on a global scale, as does some of the research offered here, offer a hint, a “nudge,” at what might lie ahead for music education and music technology research.

The Ubiquity of Screens

We were delighted to see addressed the problems of technology overuse. Music is such a powerful and innate form of artistic expression, playing a role in the lives of so many youth, and the enabling technology delivers it into the hands of children as young as toddlers. The “information age” has made the access of data of all kinds so commonplace that one’s waking hours can be completely dominated by computers, phones, tablets, televisions—screens and screens of images accompanied by sounds of all dimensions.

Many authors in the handbook offer a cautionary and balanced perspective to technology and its use in education. Concerns about slowing down our pace, cutting the links to screens and their attendant sounds, and enjoying our natural surroundings in more contemplative ways are welcomed perspectives that can balance our work with technologically-mediated activities. For example, reading a paperback book on a sailboat trip with only the sounds of the water under the transom and the sun’s light dancing on the sea can be a way to inspire music teaching in ways that time in front of screens cannot.

Creative and Critical Thinking

We were thrilled with the constant celebration of music technology’s role in the encouragement of creative and critical thinking. Another staple in our writing over the years has been this important part of working with sound. Contributors address the importance of revision in all aspects of music experience, of active engagement with aesthetic decision-making that is not dominated by teaching authority but guided and enhanced by the more experienced whole. If used wisely, technology becomes a tool for meaning making and developing agency for learners. Reflective thought is encouraged in (p. xix) this kind of collaborative learning environment that can be effectively supported by technology.

The Culture of School and of Teachers Themselves

In its closing part, the handbook includes work on the nature of school and teacher. This is a lasting and complicated question that deserves our best thinking and action. Formal schooling changes slowly, and often the pace of teachers’ own attitudes toward what is of value and toward their roles change even more glacially. Despair about traditional schooling seems to be apparent in this handbook and in many other contexts. Schools are often portrayed as conservative places where teachers support linear thinking and noncreative skill building. Music made by technology is seen as undesirable and not compatible with “real” music. Smartphones and tablets in the hands of learners during school hours are seen as a negative, often not for instructional goals but for administrative, security, and disciplinary reasons.

Some contend that the virtues of more informal learning networks outside school is where the real “action is” for music learning. Many contributors touch on the topic of participatory culture as encouraging more democratic opportunities for self-expression across varied musical styles and practices. Learning communities and communities of practice are celebrated as important pathways not common in traditional schooling.

We understand these views and applaud the global discourse expressed in the handbook about the concern for formal education. We find it consonant with our own personal “wish list” for change in music education. But what we believe, too, is that these dispositions are at times overstated and overlook important work happening in hundreds of schools today. We believe that schools can and will change in coming years. Teachers will see their roles differently in times to come. This is fueled in part by teacher education programs at colleges and universities that are creating more effective curricula that support varied ensembles and concerts, more examples of multimedia performance and of student-centered learning in more constructivist ways, and more embedded assessments of skills that matter. Better scholarship on technology competencies is emerging, and an awareness of the need to consider technology skills embedded in coursework as well as dedicated courses is becoming clearer. We see “methods” classes changing in their content, adjusting to a more varied musical landscape. Younger teachers are entering the workplace with more confidence and better preparation, academically and musically, to use refined pedagogies that include technology.

Lines between formal and informal learning are starting to blur. We are finding ways to engage more students, especially at the secondary level, with music performing and creating beyond the traditional performing ensembles. Teachers are enriching the classroom music experience with activities that embrace social music skills, informal music practice, and participatory music making. Through technology tools, the learning curve for aural and performance skills and expressive and engaging music activities can be (p. xx) greatly accelerated. For us, the contents of this handbook provide a basis for optimism and will help propel the momentum of change internationally.

In sum, we feel the work ahead in advancing the cause of technology and music teaching and learning viewed more holistically will be hard, and perhaps circumstances outside our control will need to change for there to be dramatic progress. But the important conversations are now starting in many quarters of the globe, and the profession is starting to focus on the ideas for change that, after all, are the first and most important steps to a brighter future. The multicultural perspective of these collective writings reminds us that music expression—in all its many forms—begins with the human need for communication through music. Technology is a tool to this end, beginning with clapping, dancing, and singing and extending through any expressive device our imagination can build, any music instrument yet created.

Peter Richard Webster

Scholar-in-Residence, Thornton School of Music

University of Southern California

David Brian Williams

Emeritus Professor, School of Music

Illinois State University

March 15, 2016