A Blended Learning Experiment in the High School Music Technology Classroom: Part 1

Barbara Freedmanlessons, Music Technology Basics, online course, student music, teaching3 Comments

I have been teaching in a music technology classroom at Greenwich High School for twelve years. In that time, I have developed an extensive curriculum with four levels of classes. My Introduction to Electronic Music class is a one-semester class that is so popular we have five to six sections each semester with up to 20 kids per class. Given this is a one-semester course, I am under a strict schedule to make sure I deliver the curriculum with specific benchmarks. I am usually pretty good with lesson planning and scheduling to make sure students have enough time to accomplish the assignments but sometimes things don’t always work out as planned.

Back in 1999, after the Winter Break, I found that we were a bit behind due to incurred snow days and an outbreak of flu that kept many kids, and myself, home. There were several kids in each class who had missed the lesson in which I explained, in great detail, the Final Project. In one class, I gathered the previously absent students around one computer to explain the Final Project while the others worked on the assignment. It then dawned on me that there were still some kids who were absent and I would need to repeat the explanation for them when they returned. This issue could be multiplied over all my classes. Was I now going to explain this Final Project ten or more times? I remembered I purchased screen-casting software so I could record my voice and a video of what I was demonstrating on the screen. I opened the software, pressed record and began my explanation. I took that video and put it in the Shared Folder (we use Remote Desktop by Apple, a network management software). Now, all my students, would have access to the video when in class. I could refer the absent students to the video when they returned to class and, if any other student had a question, was confused or forgot how to do the assignment, I could refer them to the video, too. To my great surprise, it worked well. For the next few years I used this video and a few others I created for this and my other courses.

This year, I am teaching a graduate course entirely online (Teaching Music with GarageBand) and learned a great deal about “best practices” in creating demonstration videos. I have also been doing a lot of research and reading on Blended Learning, Hybrid Teaching, and The Flipped Classroom. These types of courses offer both online and in class learning experience. Often in a Flipped Classroom the demonstration/explanation videos and other materials are given to review as homework. Students then come to class where the teacher can be present as a “coach” or mentor or explain further as needed and they do work or projects to demonstrate an understanding of learned materials. The issue teachers encounter is that if your school is not a 1:1 school and does not provide each student with the technology to retrieve video demonstrations or software to do the assignments, we cannot expect students to do this kind of work at home. In a music technology classroom, mostly, teacher explanations, demonstrations, and student assignments are done during class time where all the materials can be provided.

This year, I decided to do an experiment with my Introduction to Electronic Music classes. I created an entire unit where I would give very little “live” explanation about the assignments but provided students with detailed assignment sheets, complete with graphics, and corresponding video explaining and demonstrating how to do each assignment in the software. All the teaching and work would be done in class just as always except, this time, they would be listening and watching me explain and demonstrate via video screen-cast. The unit I chose was the Final Project.

The Final Project for my introductory course is made up of several parts. Students create a melody and then five variations on that melody. The melodic variations are very simple and mostly require manipulating the melody, copying and pasting, dragging items and lengthening or shortening notes. They then use the melody and the variations to create a Final Project Piece. In essence, this unit is broken down into three large sections, the creation of the melody, the creation of the five variations and the creation of the piece using the melody and variations. A total of seven assignments. It would be up to each student to read the assignment sheet, watch the video for that assignment and then do the assignment. If, after reading the assignment sheet and watching the video, they still needed help or explanation, I was available to work with them individually. When they completed one assignment, they simply went on to the next. I explained the experiment to my students and armed them with the assignment sheets and videos and set them to work. This year, there is another teacher teaching this topic and she, too, is participating making a total of approximately 100 students involved in this experiment. So far, almost all students have completed the five variations on the melody and are now working on compiling the Final Project Piece with the melody and their variations. Suffice to say, so far, things are going better than expected. Much better than expected!

In the next part of this series on my experiment with Blending Learning, I’ll share what happens next, what we, as teachers, have noticed about delivering this unit, student accomplishments and feedback from the students about this process. If you would like an email notification of when the next post is up, please check the box below.

What else would like to hear about or know about this process? Have you experimented with Blended or Hybrid Learning or the Flipped Classroom? Do you create your own video or audio material or do you get the videos/materials from someone else? What have you discovered works and doesn’t work with this process?