Due to SXSW, Spring Break, and the blizzard, it's been a month since we last had class. As such, I was thankful for Zander's "Zip! Zap! Zop!" game - this really helped energize us and get the class back into motion.
After we discussed the updates to the syllabus, we began to share our Spark Videos. Unfortunately, only mine was working so that was the only video we could discuss. Although I was glad to share this, I was disappointed that I couldn't see how others had used the technology. Hopefully we'll have a chance to circle back on these in a future class.
A portion of our discussion today was on the first batch of articles (Content Questions #1). In all honesty, I wish students had shared a bit more of their reflections here. Zander and I had a good conversation with Armando; however, I think we dominated the discussion. I found several of these articles provocative - especially on the topics of race, culturally sensitive pedagogy, and the American black experience. In our class, however, we have four international students and three American students (all of whom are white). I sensed that our international colleagues were not comfortable discussing these topics - perhaps because they hadn't experienced them for as long or as acutely as the American students. Still, I would have liked to hear an international perspective on these topics. In fact, I think it would be helpful to hear the perspective of students who had less direct experience with these issues; or hear about issues in their countries of origin they felt were similar. Sadly, this share felt like a missed opportunity.
The last portion of class was spent on collaborative composition in Launchpad. I thoroughly enjoyed this new software and I think as a class we had a great time working together. This felt very much like something I could bring into my classroom with relatively low lift and I think most of my students who enjoy it. I loved hearing each team's work and it was interesting to see how each of us gravitated towards different sonic features of the tool.
The key with all of the technology we learn about in class is that the school must be supportive of students using tech in my classroom. As I've shared, my current student teaching assignment doesn't allow students to use tech of any kind in music class. In fact, most NYC public schools either severely restrict student use of technology in the classroom through policy or lack the resources to provide it to students. By contrast, the two schools I'm currently considering for employment are both very tech-friendly. Both of these schools provide students either with a personal Chromebook to take home or have Chromebook carts in every classroom. An interesting point is that neither are public schools. The NYC DOE strictly prohibits the use of phones in schools, and other technology such as tablets or laptops are highly dependent upon resources. My job search has shown me that private and charter schools are much further ahead of the tech curve than most public schools. My first inclination was that this was due to funding; however, the charter school pointed out that they only fundraise to pay teacher and staff salaries - all supplies, student resources, infrastructure, etc. are supported by public funds through the DOE. I realize that the conversation around charter schools is complicated, with many of my friends on opposite sides of the aisle. Nonetheless, it has been useful for me to see how technology is used in a variety of educational contexts this year, and to see what ed tech is available to our students. I can only hope that I find myself in a school that supports purposeful and responsible use of technology in my classroom so that my students and I can avail ourselves of the engaging, vivid ed tech out there that can make our lessons come to life in the digital space.
Although the articles for this portion of the course run the gamut in terms of issues (e.g., gaming, Secretary DeVos, The Black Panther), there are some common threads that emerged when I considered them in concert. Here are my key questions:
How can I use gaming as a pathway to learning?
One of the most significant expansions in graduate education in the last decade has been in the field of digital learning. Increasing numbers of institutions are offering advanced degrees in educational technology to address the growing need for skilled developers of learning management systems, teaching and learning interfaces, and MOOC platforms. In parallel, gaming in education - which I remember using in the early 1980s - has expanded as a field while educators leverage the fun, creative aspect of gaming in a variety of learning environments. Designer-educators who can blend these two fields together are in high demand, and their creative work both inspires and challenges us to open our lessons to educational technology. When I consider how gaming can be educational, my mind immediately goes to games such as Minecraft EDU, Big Brain Academy, and Portal. I admit that I love these games myself and it's inspiring to see how many young people find the learning process more fun and engaging as a result of these games. But when I consider how gaming can be used in the music classroom, I confess that I can only think of skill-drill type games that focus on music literacy and aural skills (e.g., Tenuto, Counterpointer, Practica Musica). I imagine there are games that address activities like composition and improvisation, but I feel we've been underexposed to tools like these during our coursework. In my doctoral studies, I hope to take a class or two from Dr. Ruthmann, who I trust can introduce me to games that will be useful beyond a performance-based class, such as a general music or music history class.
Will technology ultimately replace tactile-kinesthetic music-making?
I appreciate that technology enables students to create and manipulate artifacts in a two- or three-dimensional virtual space. Digital environments provide so much to students on a cheaper, broader scale that would otherwise be cost prohibitive or logistically impossible in a real-life environment. I am a decided fan of incorporating technology purposefully into my lessons; however, I have what is perhaps an irrational fear of students losing the experience of musicking in the hands and in the body. I think it's important to feel music in the skin, and I worry that students who spend more time creating music digitally than non-digitally will be missing out on something. Unfortunately, I can't quite pinpoint what that loss is - I'm not sure yet how to articulate it. I need to think more critically about what specifically is gained or lost in the digital vs. non-digital experience.
How can I minimize the impacts of my implicit biases on my culturally responsive pedagogy?
I was glad to read an article that made clear distinctions among culturally responsive teaching, social justice education, and multicultural education. I believe that many well-intentioned educators want to reach the full diversity of their students but sometimes lack the knowledge or tools to address their myriad backgrounds, cultures, and learning needs. I certainly include myself in that boat. But I also think that continuous learning is part of our journey as educators and that we can - especially in New York City - find the resources we need if we invest the energy in seeking them out. Even in my brief experience of student teaching I've seen how the pace and stress of a class period are many. Behavior management, teaching and learning, content mastery, music making...the list of plates we have to keep spinning is seemingly endless. I'm encouraged though by idea that culturally responsive pedagogy doesn't have to be yet another plate - it's the scaffolding on which all the other plates spin. In this age, I can leverage the Internet to connect my students with authentic performances across the musical spectrum, and educate myself on the traditions and practices of the cultures represented in my classroom. I need to have the courage to acknowledge that my own performance of a tradition may not be authentic - but that doesn't mean my lack of authenticity or knowledge should prevent my class (including me) from learning about different musical traditions. I can do my best to create authentic performance opportunities for my students and engage local artists, digitally or in person, to supplement our learning.
How will online and blended learning, including MOOCs, change music teaching and learning in the near- and long-term?
Many careers require post-secondary education, and as a result, for decades young people have matriculated to higher education to obtain the knowledge and skills they need to be competitive in the job market. In lucrative fields, higher education is an investment that eventually pays for itself. But what of those students who enter traditionally low-paying fields like service, education, and non-profit advocacy? The cost of their education is no less than students pursuing STEM fields, but they typically lack the long-term financial rewards that make an investment in higher education attractive and feasible. To illustrate this point, recent research suggests that the current model of higher education in the United States has reached a crisis point of sustainability. Students, regardless of their ultimate career goal, want the highest quality education - and it's not unreasonable for them to hope for a future that isn't saddled with student loan debt for 25 or 30 years. But this is the exact crisis. More than ever students in low-paying jobs are crushed for years under the weight of higher education loan debt, compromising their ability to pursue goals such as home ownership, raising a family, or saving for retirement. Although most would agree we need educated and experienced professionals in high- and low-paying fields alike, not everyone can agree on how to provide affordable, high quality education to all regardless of field. Higher education is thus increasingly under scrutiny to justify the high cost of tuition against the actual benefits realized from the degrees they confer. For the first time in history, research is suggesting that institutional brand is becoming less important than affordability. Should those who are economically-disadvantaged - or those who choose not to take on the debt required for such an education - be systematically prevented from obtaining a high-quality post-secondary education? Should the best education only be reserved for those who are able or willing to pay for it?
Research also suggests that more students today are attending cheaper two-year institutions to complete their introductory-level or liberal arts coursework before transferring to finish their higher-level specialized courses elsewhere. These students are actively pressing the question: how substantively different is introductory chemistry at MIT versus BMCC if we follow the same curriculum? MOOCs have also recently emerged as a cost-effective alternative to many classroom-based introductory-level courses. Whether students avail themselves of MOOCs or the community college system, the impact on four-year institutions is significant. I understand the challenge of affordability - this is my third post-baccalaureate degree. But I also understand the pushback from higher education. Affordability is a complex conversation with a host of metrics, slippery scales of measurement, and squishy data on the long-term impacts of higher education on people's lives. Higher education is a culture and industry in its own right that supports a community of scholars, researchers, and teachers who rely on tuition dollars to fund their work. If, for example, critics attack the cost/benefit of introductory-level courses, higher education argues that these courses are a long-standing training ground for graduate students - it's where many of us first learn how to teach and begin to build our teaching CV. These courses help train the next generation of professors and enable more seasoned professors to focus on research and teaching that best leverages their deep expertise. But this argument seems to carry less weight with students-as-consumers today than it did previously. There is a growing trend of sentiment that students only want to pay for the professors of the present - they are not willing to invest in the professors of tomorrow who will educate students decades later. This complicated mix of variables makes MOOCs and other digital forms of higher education attractive in the short-term. But will we reap benefits as a society in the long-term if we don't sufficiently train higher ed teachers of tomorrow? What other models of training post-secondary educators will emerge as a result of this crisis?
Why isn't music valued as a unique way of knowing on par with STEM subjects?
Throughout my studies, I feel as though I've read hundreds of articles that try to support the value of music education by saying it improves math skills, reading comprehension skills, skills of scientific inquiry, or some other skill that's valued by a different content area. I can't recall a single article that explains why math, ELA, or science are valuable to music education. Don't get me wrong - I think all of these skills are valuable, and the more we create opportunities for students to exercise them across domains the better. But I feel the tone of these articles is to hang the efficacy, importance, or value of music education on the value of a STEM field. I am not sure why so many music educators and advocates feel compelled to do this. I do not accept that it's because arts education is being cut in many schools. I do not accept that it's because STEM fields typically lead to more lucrative careers. I haven't integrated calculus, conducted a chemical experiment, or written a five-paragraph essay since college...and I turned out fine. I use many of the STEM skills I acquired in secondary and post-secondary education in my daily life because they bring me joy and they help me engage more deeply in my profession as a music educator. The argument that "Not everyone will be a professional _______" could be made for every content area, so using it as an excuse to devalue area one versus another is a logical fallacy. We don't teach our children ELA, mathematics, and science because they are going to be experts and professionals in all of these subjects. We teach them a certain level of fluency in several areas to introduce to the richness of human knowledge and to equip them with the knowledge and skills we hope they use to live productive, meaningful lives that bring them joy and fulfillment. Music is no different. Music is a unique way of knowing and engaging with the world, and every child has the right to a quality music education just as they have a right to a quality math, science, language, etc. education. One of the articles also discussed music as a way for students to exercise soft skills like collaboration, self-confidence, and informed risk-taking that are essential to the 21st century workforce. As educators, we cannot tolerate arguments that attempt to justify the value of one content area against or because of another. We are not in a competition where one content area somehow wins over others at the end of a race.
When it comes to telling the stories of our black students, is Wakanda the best we can do?
I was thrilled that one of our articles addressed the James Baldwin essay. I first read this work during undergrad, and it's stayed with me ever since. Incidentally, I was drawn to the James Baldwin Outward Bound school when I first began my teaching job search. I appreciated that the school tried to embody the values and passion of Mr. Baldwin in its mission, and I admire how the school's students are encouraged to question, probe, and resist. Over the years, the essay has continued to inspire me to do the same. As I reread the essay in the context of the articles, I thought it served as a wonderful counterpoint to the piece on Secretary DeVos, whose qualifications and fitness for her position were painfully dismantled in a vivid, systematic way. The spirit of resistance was vibrant in this article, and Baldwin's words resonated with me again as I read the critique of DeVos. Then I read the article on the Wakanda curriculum, and I confess that I felt like the wind was taken out of my sails. On the one hand, I appreciate that a teacher was willing to mine the rich history of Wakanda from the comic books for meaningful learning objectives that had relevance for her students. On the other, I was disappointed that this teacher felt like reaching into a fictional universe was a necessary pathway for her black students to connect with the concepts of pride, dignity, and regality. I'll emphasize again that I applaud any learning activities that are (1) based on evidence- or research-based standards, (2) accessible to all learners, and (3) resonant with the students in a personal way. It seems evident from the article that the Wakanda curriculum achieved these goals, and for that I commend the teacher's creativity and innovation. Yet I can't help but wonder if the same goals could have been achieved through the exploration of real-life cultures. I wonder if the teacher had sufficiently delved into the cultures represented by her students - were these not ripe with potential? I understand the article's focus wasn't on the prior work of the teacher, so I don't want to assume we have the whole picture from this one piece. For me, it has encouraged me to consider more carefully on the blending of fiction and non-fiction when we explore culture - particularly when a potential by-product is that students will feel compelled to look to imagination rather than reality to find inspiring stories of their people.
My student teaching site recently had a Promethean ActivDisplay (a type of Smart board) installed in the music room, so my CT and I have been gradually learning how to incorporate it into our lessons. Promethean hosted a training event in Midtown, so I attended to see if there were any tips or tricks I could bring back to the classroom. The event was somewhat open-ended in that all user-experience levels were welcome and consultants were on hand to address individual questions. Attendees could also watch 15-20 minute demos on general topics if they wanted to learn more about generic functionality.
My time watching the demos generally reinforced what I've already learned just playing around with the board at school. Although it was helpful to have the consultant validate much of what my CT and I have been doing, there are several limitations to our use of the ActivDisplay in our class:
1. The system is Windows- and Google-based; thus, it is designed to plug seamlessly into other Windows software and online tools such as Google Classroom and Google Play. Both my CT and I use Apple devices, so the connection between our devices and the board can sometimes be bumpy or require workarounds.
2. A significant lift of Promethean is its teaching and learning interface, ClassFlow. This software is designed to replace ActivInspire, the company's previous interface that is widely used on both proprietary and non-proprietary boards. In this interface, teachers can design activities and assessments, display them on the board, push them out to students' devices during class, and create small groups for collaborative work in real time. An improvement of ClassFlow is that it is intended to be a student communication tool as well. Through it, teachers can email assignments, assessments, grades, etc. and use ClassFlow to display these various artifacts during their lessons.
The downside is that my school doesn't use any of this content, nor do they allow students to use devices during music class. The school already has an integrated grading, LMS, and SIS system (Jupiter iO) that includes a communication portal for documentation communication and sending emails to staff, students, and parents. The school has no incentive to change over to ClassFlow - it doesn't appear that the school considered this feature important when they decided to purchase the displays. In addition, the device policy is firm at the school so there is very little chance that my CT will ever be using the software to push content out to students during class.
3. All of my classes this term are performance-based (band), with very little interaction between the students and the board. My CT does not include composition in his curriculum, nor do students write out music literacy exercises on the board. Any writing is done as homework. As such, I don't see the students using the touch feature of the board any more than they used the traditional chalkboard.
4. The speakers on the display are powerful and clear, which is great for classrooms that don't have sound systems. My CT, however, already has a high-quality stereo system installed in the room, so I don't anticipate using this feature either.
As the demos were not especially helpful, I spent about 20 minutes talking with consultants about specific questions. They showed me a few tips to streamline navigation between apps, and helped me fix some whiteboard issues I was running into. Only one consultant had ever trained a music classroom, and she was limited in the amount of context she had for everyday use of the board. One idea she did suggest was to display the conductor's score on the board during rehearsals via forScore. I actually loved this idea with one caveat. My CT and I have the score on our iPads during the rehearsal and I think we'd continue to use that display (i.e., in front of us) as our guide. Meaning, I don't see us following along using the score on the board rather than our iPad. But having the big score displayed behind us might help students keep their place, improve their ability to hear other parts (by seeing them), and ensure that everyone knew where we were starting each time we ran a section. I think with some practice, my CT and I could probably integrate the score display into the process. We would, however, have to spend a bit of time teaching the students how to read a full score, since none of them are used to this (to my knowledge).
Overall, many of the features offered by Promethean aren't going to significantly impact the daily routine in this classroom. Currently we are only using two features - the timer and the generic display. The timer is helpful for students as they enter the room, seat themselves, and get organized. The display is larger and clearer than the chalkboard, so the agenda and homework are more easily read in my opinion. That said, for a $6000 per-board investment, I'm not sure an effective cost-benefit analysis was conducted for the variety of classrooms in which the boards would be used. I suspect other subjects may be using the tactile interface much more than we are in music; however, I wish the teachers would have been surveyed more prior to implementation. I also wish the administration carved out time for the departments to discuss and collaborate on ways to use the boards more effectively. Perhaps we might discover additional uses for the board if we had the time and space to discuss it with the other music teachers.
I absolutely loved this process! From a technical standpoint, I appreciated that Adobe has thought carefully about the user experience. Much of the process is either automated, drag-and-drop, or otherwise streamlined so that adults and students alike don't waste time fiddling with overly complicated navigation controls. A few clicks can usually get you what you need without frustration. Several design templates provide great inspiration and cover a broad range of experiences that students might want to document. I especially liked the prompts on each slide of the templates. These prompts provide a useful narrative outline for each slide so that the overall piece stays succinct and coherent. Many of our students struggle with writing outlines for their narratives, so I greatly appreciate that the templates have these baked right in -- students can easily follow them while they work. Also, the voice recording function is quite easy and I think students would adapt to it quickly. One way to make the process go even faster would be to have your media (e.g., photos, videos, music) pre-selected and accessible. Adobe has a large free library that students can peruse as needed, but I could see many students taking a lot of time browsing and making decisions. Overall, I can't foresee any major obstacles for students who have some technical literacy. As with Post and Page, Spark Video opens up the door to creating multimedia presentations that students can use across their coursework.
Similar to the other tools we've explored, I like that the bulk of my time was spent creating, not trying to understand how the software works. I found it largely intuitive for a first-time user, and I'm sure my students would explore more functionality than I did. No matter what the level of technical experience the student may have, Spark Video can be a powerful tool that balances user creativity with ease of use. If you can record your voice and drag-and-drop various media, you can make a video with Spark. I imagine this software could be empowering for many students and inspire them to create other works!