Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Online Music Education's Elephant in the Room

By Mark T. Burke

Few can ignore the emotion brought on my watching a herd of elephants interact.  They are extremely social creatures. They love to play, touch and explore. Their social behavior plays a significant role in their longevity, as individuals and as a species.  Learning music has also benefited from social interaction.  Do we perform music to increase our social connectivity, or do we seek out increased social experiences to share our music?  Understanding social interaction is key to understanding best practice for online music education.

Music education, regardless of delivery, has to involve some level of social interaction for students.  Sharing music, sharing creations (other media), performing, sharing stories of musical heritage and collaborative creation are all activities found in high quality music classes. Online music classes and experiences should not be stripped of those activities based on the claim of value solely on inherent traits of online delivery.

Diving into how we can ensure quality social experiences in online music education, we'll first have to look at three learning environments.

1.  Supplemented Face to Face Classrooms (SFFC)
2.  Hybrid Classrooms (HC)
3.  Virtual School Learning (VSL)

These three environments represent the bulk of applications for online learning.  In SFFC's, a teacher teaches a class and uses online learning tools to supplement the curriculum.  In a HC, students participate in a near 50-50% split between face to face instruction and online learning.  VSL students attend school 100% (or near to it) online. As you can imagine, if viewed on a scale showing how social interaction is supplied, each environment would look as follows:

Of course, this chart makes some assumptions.  The first being that each environment is governed by educators who feel social interaction is important and second, the students who participate are not seeking a NON-SOCIAL educational environment.  In fact, this last premise led the development of many online learning models in the early days, many of which still exist.  While some K-12 students may claim they desire an educational environment devoid of social interaction at any level, I believe it is our job not to build systems that encourage or support that....that is another post altogether!

Back to the topic.  How can we build social interaction into online learning.

First, forget our outdated view of online learning, the systems that support it, pay models, teacher roles, compensation and grading...There...that felt good.  I needed to get that off my chest.  I believe this first step is HUGE, but needed and here's why.

I am being challenged every day to supply an online, music educational system that works...PERIOD.  However, too many systems are still routed in the traditional online model.  That model supplies pre-built courses, supported by 1 teacher who answers questions and grades an exam or two here and there.  They are paid per student or per hour for support and grading.  Well, frankly, that system, one that is mostly devoid of social interaction leaves little room for success in music education.  Therefore, in order to build a truly beneficial online music education program, many conventions must be put aside and a new way of thinking must emerge to support a new way of learning.

Sounds easy enough...right? 

The second challenge is to form a collective of educators with the talent, experience and here's the big one, the TIME to teach online.  The masters in our field are busy people with classes of their own, outside projects and active musical lives.  Again, this is why a revamped view of the teacher role in online education is needed.  While really talented teachers will not have time to take on a class of 100 students, they will have time to teach a session or two each week.  Placing responsibility for a class of students on more than one teacher ensures students get exactly what they need and want in regards to music.  Which brings up point three.

Next, online systems have to meet the desires of the students.  In face to face, we are very tolerant of varying student interests and levels of competency.  Online, we are not.  We generally put kids into courses with little pre-screening.  Think about music.  Kids can be successful in our face to face classes even if they don't accomplish all the projects or even if they do, may not complete them at the same level as other students.  However, online systems have not allowed for that diversity.  That, we must change.

Lastly, we must rethink performance and sharing.  Online programs generally provide independent instruction with optional social interactions.  I believe this is the number one cause of poor performance in online learning. Harnessing the power of social learning should be the key to online learning.  In fact, most of the instruction should be delivered through flexible social learning sessions leaving the students to access retrievable content on their own time as a supplement. 

The degree to which we incorporate the aspects of social learning depend on the environments as demonstrated above.  That's where too many variables and situation exist for me to write any guidance of value.  This overall challenge is one I am eagerly taking on for 2012.  If you read my post Online Music Instruction Vision for 2012, you know a bit about how I plan to accomplish my goals.

A key component to the success of online music education will be how well developers, schools, teachers and students harness the social aspects of learning.

Have an idea to share?  Want to become part of the team to deliver instruction?  Let me know.

Mark Burke is the founder of viaAcademies, soon to be Music Within Me.... http://music-within-me.com.  Mark is an active online curriculum developer and innovation planner for K-12 organizations.  In addition to his work at viaAcademies, Mark is the author and Program Director of EYE, the Entrepreneurial Youth Experience, a fully online youth entrepreneurship program for high school students.  EYE is a program of the BLaST Intermediate Unit 17 in Williamsport, PA.  Follow Mark on twitter at "viaAcademies", LinkedIn, or on Facebook (facebook.com/MakeMusicClick). 

No comments:

Post a Comment