How Much is Enough?

Technology provides wonderful opportunities for learning in general, and for music learning, if it is used wisely. I personally feel more comfortable with the way that the music school in Afghanistan  uses technology than I do about the use of computer-based learning such as may be used in Liveschool. If I am honest, this is because the Afghan model as I understand it only extends beyond my current experience a little. Teaching online using Skype or similar makes perfect sense when it is the only option. On the other hand, the use of computer programs for composition, mixing music and other production activities is far removed from my experience, and therefore triggers some mild fear in me.

Virtual Keyboard pic

I’ve learned an enormous amount about and through technology in the past 3 weeks, both via this MOOC and via another, about how to teach beginner violin. I’ve learned how to make a website and blog. I’ve learned from videos and handouts how to run violin lessons for a beginner, and have practised teaching my first beginner with some success.

It’s a long time since I’ve been at school, and before starting this course I felt I knew almost nothing about the current education system. I can see now that education in Australia and similar countries is being delivered in a wide range of ways, from the British wartime-inspired straight didactic models, to high-tech student-directed learning models. And it is being delivered in different ways for different age groups.

I am relieved that my intuition that screen-time for very young children is detrimental to brain development, has been shown by at least some of the research to be true, and has been taken on by several governments in their health recommendations. I believe a low-tech start to life is an important thing, for brain development including development of executive functioning, for teaching the child self-reliance in creativity and problem-solving, and in motor development. I am so glad that this course is focusing on real evidence, as well as carefully chosen case studies.

I have seen how technology is making its way into education in all sorts of ways, from online fora  where students discuss homework difficulties, and apps for organising homework, to fully computerized music education tools such as Liveschool.

There’s a journal that focuses solely on the use of educational technology here. And there is plenty of research such as this article: TeachingInADigitalAge_Poster.pdf.

This article concludes: When technology is used to remodel learning routines, cognitive processes, problem solving, and teacher roles, our schools can realize the promise of technology to transform learning. If we remain focused on the technology itself, the cost is high.

There are also radio programs such as this recent one and its accompanying written article by Neil Selwyn, which expresses concerns such as that we as a society don’t think nearly enough about how digital technologies are being used in schools, that self-directed learning isn’t for everyone, and that the more well-off will be able to access better technologies and therefore will benefit more than the less well-off.

These are all valid points. As well as these, there is simply the mix of talent and innovation amongst teachers and principals, which naturally varies between schools. If a teacher doesn’t use the technology to enhance the learning, but rather as a novel or easy option out of context, the student may not benefit regardless of the quality of the technology.

A teaching program such as Musical Futures , addresses at least some of the concerns raised by Selwyn in that it is a research-proven program for delivery of music education that uses technology in a way that empowers both students and teachers. It seems to me that if it is the “how”, the method of instruction, not the technology that is central to the program, then whatever technology is used will likely have a positive effect.

So what about my own life?

I am teaching myself to be a violin teacher, because there are no suitable courses in educational institutions in my city. There are degree courses that would help somewhat, but I have physical limitations that would prevent me completing the instrumental performance aspects of the courses.

What I am using instead is a mixture of informal online courses, reading of online fora, reading violin pedagogy books, practising teaching a handful of students and reflecting on their progress, watching youtube videos on violin technique, and talking with a violin teacher friend. Technology is a major part of that mix, and my progress would be hampered considerably without the technological resources I am using.

As an educated and self-directed adult, I am able to navigate the learning options above, and apply myself to the task at hand.

Secondary and some upper primary students would be able to do likewise, though on a smaller scale, with teacher assistance.

Lower primary-aged and younger children should learn more through low-tech methods that engage them physically, mentally and emotionally (e.g. Newspaper-dancing or ideas like these).

Music young children poster

I was interested to read in the comments on this blog on elementary school music teaching, that

my biggest challenge has been that the students have no foundation, even my 5th graders who have had music every year”.

If this comment is anything to go by – and it is admittedly just one person’s experience – we may find that the best way to teach music to older school students is in fact something like Musical Futures, based on the research of Lucy Green. It is possible that despite the best efforts of primary school music teachers, students still may have very little musical knowledge by the time they reach high school. In an ideal world all junior students would receive a low-tech musical grounding that would prepare them to make active and informed choices about how to pursue music in later grades. If this firm musical foundation is not able to be achieved for the majority of students, then programs that are able to reach the 95% of students without an elite background in classical music, are surely the best compromise.

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