Digital Competence and Music: evolving our programmes for new opportunities and challenges.

With the recent refresh of technology in the specialist music rooms at Cardiff Met, the BA Secondary Music team reworked the programme to allow student teachers to explore the subject in ways which make use of the existing digital skills of pupils as well as developing new ones. Here are some examples of changes we made, and what happened. The subject of music has been associated with the use of technology for a long time.

The most relevant sections of the new Digital Competence Framework for this subject are:

  • select and use a variety of appropriate software, tools and techniques to create, modify and combine multimedia components in one or more languages
  • use software tools to create, enhance and combine text, images, sound and video and animation for a range of audiences and purposes

It’s really important for student music teachers to understand that, while ‘music technology’ was once seen as a separate and specialist subject, it should now be embedded in general music teaching practice.

We can use widely available consumer devices nowadays, rather than assuming at we need expensive specialist studio equipment. Technology & The Music Teacher (year 1) The first year module Technology & the Music Teacher was historically one which dealt with music technology as a ‘specialist’ subject. Content in the module included principles of sound generation and recording, MIDI protocol, the polar pickup patterns of different kinds of microphone – all important and interesting, but more technical than a musical when taken in isolation.

Gradually, student teachers found that technology was becoming more seamlessly embedded and accessible in their subject on placement. We shifted the delivery of the module to become more representative of this. More emphasis was given to encouraging different sorts of assignment submissions, with less focus on high-level technical skills and more on creating resources that encourage pupils to bring their existing digital skills into the music classroom. We also visited Willows High School to see the work of Gareth Ritter, an outstanding practitioner of digital technologies in music and a Microsoft Innovative Teacher.

The 2015-16 year 1 class, despite having only observed in school for a short period of time produced submissions for this assignment which were relevant and accessible to pupils, and which enhanced their experience as performers. One submission in particular was outstandingly innovative and technically very impressive. The student concerned, inspired by Gareth Ritter’s work, programmed his laptop to accept inputs from a PS2 games controller, then created the musical material necessary to allow a pupil with impaired motor skills to perform drum and keyboard lines from a Justin Bieber song with a backing track. The submission was accompanied by a very professional YouTube video explaining the ideas behind the piece, as well as the technical work that went into linking the various pieces of hardware and software.

Historical perspectives 3 (year 3) The Historical Perspectives series, spanning the whole three years of the course, covers a range of subject knowledge required by music teachers. Part Three deals with 20th Century art music and world music. While the two assignments (a presentation and a set of resources) contain clear opportunities for the use of digital technologies, we wanted to make these more explicit with the introduction of the DCF. The presentation had previously been delivered ‘live’. In its new guise, students did not deliver the presentation live, but generated a resource using the digital tools of their choice, which could be played ‘on demand’. Students were still carrying out the same analytical activity, just creating it in a different way.

As a team, we feel it’s important to accept a diverse range of submission types if we’re to work in the spirit of the DCF, so students were not required to use any specific tools. Some opted to ‘voice over’ a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation (or embed audio clips within the slides). One student filmed himself presenting ‘in vision’, while another gave a ‘real time’ commentary over a performance of his piece, with scrolling music notation on screen. The presentations were mostly of high technical quality and some were genuinely innovative in the way they presented the analytical material. Students reported that they found the activity more relevant because they could see the possibilities afforded by creating resources like this for their pupils, while some went further and felt that it would be beneficial to pupils to create resources like this themselves as part of their learning. Students were relieved not to be pressured by the demands of ‘live’ presentation in front of their peers, and felt that they were able to use re-takes and editing to improve the quality of their presentation. Some of the final results received marks in excess of 70% and a small number received 80% and above. As an extra bonus, this form of assessment freed up several hours of teaching time, as students were not delivering the presentations in class.

Summary The changes we made to the BA Secondary Music course shifted the place of digital technology to become a ‘fundamental’ of music teaching rather than a specialist topic area. As a result, we’ve had a positive impact on assignment marks and students’ ideas, with a clear path for these to translate to improved standards in classroom practice.

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