Sunday, April 11, 2010

Music Ed Needs eLearning...NOW!

By Mark T. Burke

It's time to get us all talking about feasible, educationally sound, economically sensible approaches to ensuring the survival of music education during these times of change.  If you've been heads down, focused on concert prep and the school musical season, you may not be aware of several "initiatives" or trends that are affecting our art TODAY.  As a collective, we can't spend time wondering IF these trends will impact music programs, they are and will continue to do so.  We also need to think less about combating these trends and spend more time mapping out the opportunities they provide for our students.  As a result, I am convinced, when we think about how we can continue to evolve as music educators, we will develop incredible programs for students, leaving little time to worry about the self-created negative impacts some believe these trends have on music education.

One last thought before we look at the trends is as the title of this posts suggests, more than ever, music education needs eLearning, NOW! For this first in a series of posts, I'll look at the first two trends listed.  My next post will cover the others. Stay tuned and keep reading this week.  I look forward to your feedback.  

Trend #1 -- K-12 Online Course and Program Enrollments Rising.
Trend #2 -- Year-Round School
Trend #3 -- The Social Revolution and 21st Century Skills
Trend #4 -- Niche Program Elimination and Music Program Cuts

Trend #1 -- K-12 Online Course and Program Enrollments Rising.

For the past 15+ years, K-12 eLearning has been devoted to providing students with core subjects.  In the early days of eLearning, students on the fringe, those who really excelled and those who struggled, enrolled in online courses. Today, the demographics of K-12 online students are as diverse as the students who attend brick and mortar schools.

Virtual schools are witnessing a growth rate in enrollments of 30% annually.  Take a look at the iNacol Fast Facts for more statistics.  How long until that 30% increase year-over-year removes students from our music programs and places them into online schools?  It's happening now.  Band and chorus programs may feel they are safe, but are they?  As students move to online schools, general music classes are absolutely impacted.  Online course catalogs have few if any music offerings.  Often, the offerings are weak representations of what is needed in regards to music education.  Remember, music has not been the focus of online programs.  Online music courses for K-12 students are more than often limited survey courses, filled with composer birth dates, providing little hands on musical opportunities for students. As students have less background in music, all types of music programs are affected.  (Certainly, providing online instrumental or vocal lessons to virtual students is not the norm.  Thus the creation of viaAcadmies.) 

Will a 30% increase year of year impact your music department?  I say the impact has started, let's not wait for the negative side effects.  Is it time for QUALITY online music programs?  Absolutely.        

Trend #2 -- Year-Round School

In PA, we're hearing more and more about year-round school.  The old model of "summers off" has been the topic of school board discussions and of course, finding it's way into the local headlines.  The discussions on this subject started to spread from the national level with President Obama's message of "longer days ensures our students can compete." 

When I first started teaching, in the early 90's, school-based, summer music lessons seemed to be the norm.  Maybe it was just my little circle I traveled in, but, overall, I knew few programs that were not providing summer band lessons at the school for little or no cost to the families.  For sure, the teachers where being under paid, but the time was spent to ensure students could continue growing over the summer.  I see less programs like that today.  Logistics, such as busy families, mandated teacher training, limited budgets etc. have created nightmares for summer programs.  My point is, as music educators, we already know the value of a longer, more continuous school year.  We've been managing year round programs for years.  Based on our own past, we should not be resistant to longer school years.  Where we need help is to solve the logistics of year round programs.

The broader school systems are no different. As we debate year-round school, thinking about the issue from an "infrastructure" perspective gives year-round school opponents a good case against it.  Having a physical location open year-round causes great strain on our tight tax-based budgets. I am certain as we wisely think about how to provide year-round school, we will see an even larger growth in online K-12 enrollments due to smart school decisions to integrate online solutions.  Smart schools will quickly realize extending the school day and year can be done virtually, creating opportunities rather than significantly greater burdens on the community to keep school buildings, buses and cafeterias open 52 weeks a year.

As music educators, embracing year-round school through online offerings carves a niche for us as leaders in year-round education best practices.  We need to be leaders in areas like this, to help ensure schools recognize the value of music education, the expertise of the teachers and to ensure music can continue to impact all our lives.  

In my next post, we will look at Trend #3 and #4.  As you consider the impacts of these trends, think about how your program can be positively enriched.  Your reaction to these trends can either be resistance or acceptance through recognized opportunity.

Have you witnessed an impact on your program as the result of these trends or others?  How do you think eLearning will help address the opportunities your program may have as a result of these trends?

For more information on viaAcademies Instrumental and General Music eLearning solutions, write to us today at 

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