Thursday, July 29, 2010

A "Tempo Marking" for the Adoption of Online Music Education

By Mark T. Burke

All new ideas take time to flourish.  Regardless if a new idea is a product or service, time is required to develop the idea, get the word out and connect the idea with folks who can really benefit from it.  In education "Largo" seems a fitting tempo marking to describe the integration of new ideas.  In musical terms, music performed Largo can be incredibly beautiful.  However, even beautiful music can be made more interesting by varying the tempo through a well placed accelerando.

To perform an affective tempo change, performers must play in sync.  Having a great conductor to lead the players also helps.  In the case of online music education, the players include schools, teachers, program developers, education support agencies, virtual schools, parents and probably a 1000 others. The conductor is easy to identify...the Students!

So how are the students "conducting" the needed accelerando?  There is a saying in business "People vote with their dollars."  Sounds logical enough.  When companies produce a product or service, if we think that product or service is best, we vote on the product by spending our money to acquire that product or service.  When companies do bad things (enter your choice of company), we express our views by changing our spending to another product or service.  Essentially, we cast our vote with every penny we spend.

In education, we can translate "voting with dollars" into "voting by enrollments."  There are few days that I don't share the statistic that enrollment in online K-12 courses is growing by 30% annually (I took the high of 40% and low of 20% estimates and split the difference).  Folks, students ARE voting.  Online education providers are also making bold moves to meet the demand.  Just a few days ago, 2 of the largest K-12 providers merged when K12 Inc. purchased KC Distance Learning Inc. Both organizations provide services to 100's of thousands of students in the US and they have realized that meeting the demand will take a collaborative effort.  This is just one example of how organizations are responding to the voting by enrollment trends in online learning.  Accelerando -- YOU BET!

So back to the tempo analogy.  Those of us who are players in the ensemble also have a role in ensuring the accelerando is effective.  Just a few days ago, I started a conversation on the MusicPLN around developing standards for online music education. Within a day of starting the conversation, and stating our mission to build program standards (not benchmark educational standards) for online music programs, the group was formed consisting of Elementary through Higher Education and private sector professionals.  Over the next few months, we will be working to document a set of beliefs around online music education as well as a set of characteristics for quality programs.  This activity will begin to get us in sync so that we can serve the needs of the students who are voting on how they want and need to be educated.  The case for online music education is certainly being made clear.

So how can we create a well orchestrated accelerando into online music education? Let's look at the role of the players and what they can do.

  • Provide professional development for teachers and administrators on the value of online learning.
  • Adopt best practices in online course development (no more "class notes online" courses)
  • Recognize online education as a complement to a brick and mortar environment, a way to educate a diverse student population.
  • Mandate levels of technical proficiency in teachers to help ensure openness toward educational technology (we can no longer have professional educations 10 years behind students).
  • Partner with local educational support agencies and take advantage of the programs they provide.
  • When faced with tough times, look at online program integration as a way to keep teachers teaching and students learning.
Virtual Schools 
  • Adopt a whole-mind instructional model (to ensure student achievement comes from rounded educational, performance and evaluation opportunities) 
  • Partner with established virtual academies to provide high quality arts opportunities (those that focus on arts education, development and instruction).
  • Ensure minimum educational requirements for graduation (K-12) include the Arts.
Support Agencies
  • Adopt the understanding that online courses and online schools are two different things.  Online courses are often lifeless, leading to heavy drop rates from students.  Online schools provide all services and opportunities for students including counseling, study support, social activities and of course Artistic experiences.
  • Create programs including professional development and community outreach efforts that put both parties in the same room, to discuss educational challenges and to develop solutions.  
  • Take what appear to be risks.  Schools often are normally averse to new ideas.  Help them shed the shackles and recognize the risks of adopting online programs may be only a perception.  
With everyone playing their part, we will accelerando beautifully from our Largo tempo of integration and adoption.  I am energized by the current level of collaborating happening now a future where we can make our conductor very happy.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Committment to Online Music Education Standards

By Mark T. Burke

Many groups have produced standards for online learning that have served us well (Like the SREB and iNACOL). Standards provide indicators of quality within key organizational education and business practices.  I believe standards are the key to ensuring students are successful and help assure families, schools and communities spend their educational dollars wisely.

Ensuring quality online music education presents some interesting challenges.  We can certainly adopt the iNACOL standards within our school, but that only gets us so far. As a performance art, music requires a level of mentor-to-student interaction and guided practice well above most subjects. In addition, music can easily suffer from a lack of structure as it's easy to simply teach "in the moment." The technology to truly ensure quality interaction between students, the teacher, the school and a potential audience can add complexity like no other to the educational environment.

Teaching music online is a relatively new segment of education. Growing needs to ensure the field of music education adapts to the world around us means more music educators are looking for solutions.  Certainly, quality online music education is not found in one computer application alone. The answers lie in our goals for online music education, the purpose and the key program inclusions that will guide what software we use, how we use it, why we use it, when to use it, what quality content to include, how to build content and how we assess student progress (among others).

To move forward, I have started the "Online Music Teacher Collaborative" within the MusicPLN ( We already have 10+ members on our committee to start the Online Music Education Standards writing process. Our goal is to provide a framework for quality online music instruction that can serve as the basis for program development and integration.  Our goal is not to set the limits on what we can accomplish but rather to get the conversation going on how music education has evolved and must continue to evolve in order to ensure the continuance of our art.  Representatives on the committee include online educational leaders and teachers, development specialists, Elementary teachers, Jr. High and High School teachers as well as Higher Education instructors.

For more information, please post here and join the  This is just the beginning of what lies ahead.

viaAcademies is committed to providing quality online music instruction and the promotion of developing standards for online music instruction.  For more information on our programs, please visit us online at We are always seeking new partners, teachers and course developers to help expand our network.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Scalpel...Retractor...Folder...Save File....Faster Nurse, we're loosing them.

By Mark T. Burke

Imagine your Doctor attending a conference. Would you be utterly shocked, even a little frightened if you found out your Doctor had attended the "Scalpel Basics for Doctors" seminar? The scalpel is a standard tool of the trade in the medical world and we expect all Doctors to fully understand and use one with professional expertise.

Would a parent be shocked, maybe even frightened if they found out their child's teacher had attended a session at a conference to learn how to create folders and manage files on a computer? They should be if they're not. But based on my attendance at several music, education and technology conference over the last 12 years, I would say that more often than not, the sessions most attended are those sessions that deal with the basic tools of education, like the scalpel session to the Doctor. This scares me, frightens me even.

I had a great time at the PMEA Summer Conference. For those not part of the PA Musical Education world, PMEA (The Pennsylvania Music Educators Association) holds an annual summer conference to bring together educators, discuss the latest and greatest as well as share indicators on the state of our profession. This conference was the latest conference pointing to a real issue in the teaching profession. The issue is there are many, MANY teachers still learning to use the common technology tools of our trade such as the computer.

My hours of driving gave me time to think about how we've gotten to this point in educational history. Can we really have teachers in 2010 that do not demonstrate the essential skills of computing? Yes, we can and do. As I thought about the reasons, many came to mind. Some will no-doubt make people angry. That's ok to me. I make no apologies for wanting our kids to get top shelf education. As I heard at the conference, we must first and foremost do what's best for the kids, it is not about us. Well, it is about us really...we deliver the education. But the point is, we must at times be dispassionately introspective so that we can grow and do what's best.

So why do we have teachers unable to demonstrate the basics of technology application in the classroom?

  1. Indifference -- Teachers who work in an environment where skill progression is neither rewarded, recognized, encouraged, or offered.  Therefore, teachers can either take an interest or not based on personal motivation or lack there of.  Either way is ok to them and their school system.  Ultimately indifference creeps in and can win.  
  2. Personal Interest -- Teachers who aren't intrigued by what technology can do for music and music education choose to ignore it.  If it doesn't have meaning to teachers, they have no need and therefore students have no need.  
  3. Unwillingness to Fail -- Teachers who are afraid of looking weak if they try a new tool and are not successful immediately.  Some have a really high level of fear over failure.  To often, failure is viewed as "I don't get it -- within 10 seconds of hearing how." 
  4. WIIFM -- "What's In It For Me?"  If using technology simply adds responsibility on to my role as a teacher, if it adds on time and effort and I get NOTHING for it, then WHY?  
  5. Peer Pressure -- I've heard this before -- "Why go to that training, come play golf with us."  The pressure to not really enjoy what we do often comes from our fellow teachers.  The faculty room VORTEX keeps people feeling as though attending training and learning new things is a waste of time, something only new, novice teachers do.
  6. Lack of Support at Home -- Teacher need professional time outside the classroom. I remember a wise person telling me -- you can't learn while you are must dedicate time to personal growth away from what you pick up on a day to day basis.  While I do believe you can learn while you work, I believe we must not confuse learning and development for what we learn while doing.  Teacher must make time during their PERSONAL time to grow and learn and that means making sure support comes from home as well.
 Do any of these issue sound familiar?  They should.  These come straight from the "teacher's handbook" of why kids struggle to demonstrate mastery in our classrooms.  We as teachers are not immune.  Notice I didn't say anything about money, or time, or access to tools.  Those are excuses, not reasons why we can't master the tools of our trade.  We can work around excuses but we must work to overcome issues.

I am advocating that for all conference from here on out, that we assume everyone has the basics of educational computing down pat.  I believe we should enter every session knowing that all teachers know how to use computer to a level where file creation, management and application use is understood so that we can move right into the more important integration and creative applications in our classrooms.  I am actually tired of attending conferences where the bulk of time is wasted on how to do the most basics of things.  I believe we can increase attendance and change the level of performance within our profession if we all take a look at the issues above and address them within our own careers.

How would you assess your own basic technology skills and those of your fellow teachers?  Are you ready for more advance topics regarding educational technology benefits and use within schools?  

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Reed Prep 101: This is a good reed.

By Mark T. Burke

A few weeks ago, a student asked me how she should be prepping her reeds before playing them.  This is a question I've gotten frequently over the years so I thought it high time to start building some content on the subject.

This should get the ball rolling.  I sat in front of the camera today, built a few slides and talked about my reed prep process.  I could have spent a bit more time on "play testing" so below the video I included a bit more on that topic.

Play Testing:  Play testing is a key component of the entire reed prep process.  The goal of play testing is to play each of the reeds that you've prepped BUT play them only for a small amount of time.  Here's the process overview.

After you've prepped all the reeds as demonstrated in the video, and waited for them to dry for 24 hours after the last rubbing, start the following.

  • Wet the reeds using a bowl of water.
  • Lay them out onto the glass after 1-3 minutes of soaking.
  • Choose a reed and place it onto your mouthpiece.
  • Play a semi long tone and a simple scale or solo passage so you can determine if you like the overall sound of the reed.  
  • Next try some articulated tones such as repeated eight notes.  Listed to the responsiveness of the reed.  
  • Assess the sound.  Is the reed responsive or does it seem too hard and non-responsive?  Does the reed sound clear or is it muffled?  You want to ensure the reed sounds good and feels good.
  • If the reed sounds good and feels good, it's a keeper.  Place it into an area on the glass for "good" reeds.  
  • If the reed has a fuzzy tone, seem hard and non-responsive or is overly bright and thin sounding, place it in an area on the glass for "not so good" reeds.
  • Repeat this process until all reeds have been played. 
  • Go back to the good reeds and play each one again for about 5-10 minutes.  Pick your current literature, solo, etude etc.  
  • After playing the good reeds, put them on the glass to dry.
  • The next day, play them again.  I also like to try the "not so good" reeds again as well.  

In the end, this process should ensure you have a great set of reeds, ready to play when you need to play and a set that you know will work for you.  Happy prepping!