Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Music Teaching Via Polycom Demonstration

Here is a short demonstration of video conferencing assisted distance learning I did at Memorial University on Nov. 29th. The audience is made up of intermediate and high school
student teachers in their final year of study. This demonstration is one part of a large presentation on the work of the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovations (CDLI).

Feel free to sing along :)


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Learner-Center Web-Based Teaching and Learning

Learner-Center Web-Based Teaching and Learning

In 2006/07 I worked with Dr. Andrea Rose and Dr. Elizabeth Murphy on a collaborative inquiry examining the learner-centerness of teaching and learning music via the Internet. Here is a video highlighting some of this work.


Friday, December 14, 2007

I found this neat place where I can simply upload a file I wish to share with someone. The site is called drop.io. I think this could be very useful when I need to share a large file or files with someone.


I recently came across a site called doodlekit which offers a very simple interface for creating your own website. It seems to be pretty intuitive and have quite a few features.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Friday, December 07, 2007

Tips for Recording Audio and Video

Boy, what a busy time of year. A music teacher's work is never done around now :)

Like many music teachers, I am involved in many concerts around this time of year. From time to time I like to record some of our shows. Here are a couple of things that I do to help get our shows recorded nicely.

I use a small digital audio recorder called the Edirol R-09. It gives great sound quality and is small enough to fit in my pocket. Before we begin playing I will lay the recorder on a chair or a music stand close to the stage, turn it on and let it do its thing.

It seems like every parent these days brings along a video camera to their children's shows. I never have a problem getting some video footage.

When I get the video footage and my audio recording I combine the two in iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. By combining the audio and video this way I get a great audio signal rather than the one captured by the parent's camera.

To edit the audio I sometimes use Audacity. This is a great free audio editor. Oftentimes I get my students to do the editing of our concert recordings. This is a great little project and they have WAY more patience than I do for these sorts of things.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I use GoogleReader to keep track of my RSS feeds and to do the bulk of my blog reading. I found a great post on how to optimize GoogleReader from Sue Waters. Great job Sue!

Teaching Guitar Class Via the Internet

In Sept, 2007 CDLI began offering Applied Music (guitar) to students throughout NL. This is a new course for CDLI and as far as I know, this is the first k-12 course of its kind.

To deliver this course we use several pieces of communication technology: Elluminate Live, Desire2Learn, and Polycom video conferencing. The combination of these technologies allow me to create a learning experience for my students that built on each student's own unique learning style.

In today's class I was working with an individual guitar student in Labrador using the Polycom video conferencing system. He is an intermediate level player with a couple of years experience. Through our discussions he has identified scales and picking as an area in which he would like to focus. Today I played him a blues scale in E and showed him how to play it himself. I asked him to explore the scale by improvising around on it. He realized that no matter what order he played the notes, it all sounded great. I then played a 12-bar blues chord progression and asked him to jam along with me using the blues scale. He rocked.

I asked him what he thought of the process. "Wicked" was all he could say.

I then sent him the tab for the blues scale and asked him to continue practicing it. I then recorded myself playing the 12-bar blues with Audacity and sent him the MP3. His assignment is to use Audacity to record himself improvising on the blues scale along with me on the 12-bar blues. He then needs to send me back the new MP3 for my files.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I recently found a new discussion tool called VoiceThread. (Thank you Wesley Fryer)

I have struggled for some time on how I can get my students to actively discuss in an online setting. I have tried "discussions" in WebCT and now "discussions" in D2L. For the most part, these solutions are geared toward the text-based learner. I have tried embedding slideshows and videos into the discussion as a discussion topic with varying degrees of success. The students are still required to type in their discussions. So those students who are not comfortable with this medium contribute very little.

VoiceThread looks promising because it allows discussion entries to be posted in either text, video, or audio. This brings the whole online discussion practice closer to a truly learner-centered state.

I will be playing with this new app over the coming weeks and will report my thoughts as they ferment.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mashup, Imitation and Creativity

I recently watched a "Ted Talk" by Larry Lessig entitled "How Creativity is Being Strangled by Law." I found him message relevant to my professional situation where I am constantly being confronted by questions of the "right and wrong" uses of online content.

Larry discusses the concept of Mashup as it relates to online content. In short, it is practice of taking a piece of existing content and using it as part of something new. This practice has been around for as long as we have been creating. Beethoven would use a musical theme from another composer as a basis of a new piece. Andy Warhol's image of the Campbell's Soup Can could be seen as an example of image mashup. Scratch DJs use vinyl recordings to create new music - Grandmaster Flash. I believe this artistic practice is widespread today because of the digital format of our content. Digital content lends itself to the art of mashup because it is infinitely editable. What a creative opportunity!

Young artists can use mashup as a easy entry point into the creative process. Rather than having to look for the creative inspiration in a blank canvas they can use an existing piece of content as a starting point in the creation of something and unique. This concept relates closely to my view on the role of imitation in the development of new artists. On March, 2007 I posted a talking-head video about my general thoughts on creativity. In particular, I talk about the role of imitation in the creative process. Check it out...

What is the role of mashup in today's new artists? Are we seeing mashup as the modern version of Beethoven using another composer's thematic material? hmmm

Introduction to the Canadian Music Educator

The following is a reprint of an article published in the Canadian Music Educator in 2007 as part of the column Technology and Music Rewired.

My name is Andrew Mercer and I am a music teacher in Newfoundland and Labrador. I am honored to have been asked by the CMEJ to contribute in the area of technology in music education. Through this column, I hope to spark some interests and extinguish some fears as we explore the opportunities afforded to music educators by new and emerging technologies. In this issue I will provide some insight into my current educational context.

Since graduating from Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) in 1994, I have had the opportunity to be involved in a variety of activities related to music and education. Technology has oftentimes played a role in these activities; not for the purpose of using technology, but rather to offer an alternative and hopefully an improvement to the endeavor. Being born and raised in a small rural town, distance education has been a personal interest of mine. In 1995 I began my involvement with Internet-based distance music education.

In 2004 I joined the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovations (CDLI) and became their first online music teacher. CDLI was founded in 2000 by the Department of Education in partnership with MUN and the Newfoundland and Labrador Teacher’s Association to apply modern information technology tools and techniques to this practice of distance education. As an online music teacher, I teach high school music courses via the Internet to rural and isolated students throughout our province. This is a very exciting opportunity as the teaching of music via the Internet is, for the most part, uncharted territory.

Upon my joining CDLI, we began offering the official high school course Experiencing Music 2200 via the Internet. Experiencing Music is a two credit general music course with no prerequisite and adheres to the curricular guidelines designed by the provincial Department of Education. The course is designed and delivered in a way as to have the students exploring music via hands-on and experiential strategies which are focused on listening, performing, and creating.

CDLI has found that most effective model for online learning is to have the students and I work in a combination of full class interaction periods and independent work periods. In this entirely Internet-based model, the students and I interact in a real-time/live environment (synchronous) for a specified number of periods and the students working independently (asynchronous) for the remainder of the periods.

During the synchronous periods I work with the students to explore topics, discuss course content, assign work, ask and answer questions, and generally interact. It is during this time that the learning objectives for the upcoming asynchronous periods are established. During the asynchronous periods the students work on the assigned work independently. I am available for consultations with the students if the need arises, but the intention is that the students work independently during these asynchronous periods. This combination of synchronous and asynchronous periods allows me to work the students to find a pace that best suits the students’ diverse needs.

A typical online Experiencing Music class includes students from numerous isolated communities. The students’ diverse cultural and social backgrounds, along with the variety of students’ experiences, skills, and knowledge create a unique set of educational challenges.

The students’ collaboration with me and their classmates is critical in the delivery of this course. Technology such as video conferencing, discussion forums, interactive websites, online whiteboards, and MSN Messenger are used to facilitate this interaction and collaboration. To assist in exploring the course topics, a set of appropriate multimedia ‘learning objects’ have been developed and are available to students through the course website.

The online offering of Experiencing Music has been very well received by the students since 2004. To date, the course has been taken online by 109 students with an additional number of 52 students registered for the 2007 school year.

In 2004 I started an online violin ensemble as a co-curricular activity for my online students. Using video conferencing and other collaborative technologies I teach the students how to play the violin over the Internet. CDLI purchased twelve violins which I ship to interested students in numerous communities each September. The students work with me throughout the school year and return the violins in June. This has been a very successful group and has been a great source of pleasure for me.

Today’s generation of students are seeing technology and the Internet develop into significant facets of their personal and social lives. The complex relationship that students have with this new medium can not be overlooked as we consider the social, cultural, and personal effects on their learning. Today’s technology-assisted music educational offerings have excellent potential to engage and inspire our students in both online and traditional settings.

Mercer, A. (2007) Technology & Music Rewired. Canadian Music Educator, 49(1), 54-55.
Sample-Based Music Composition

The following is a reprint of an article published in the Canadian Music Educator in 2007 as part of the column Technology and Music Rewired.

Sample-Based Music Composition in a Learner-Centered Music Program

In recent years computer software and hardware developers have been making good on a promise of reliability made in the 1970’s. Only now are these tools appropriate and intuitive enough for the average educator to rely on them for practical and consistent educational uses. An increasing number of teachers are finding computer technology to be an asset for their learner-centered music programs (Webster, 1998). This article will examine a ground-breaking use of computer technology that holds great potential for music education – sample-based music composition.

Sample-base composers create new music by manipulating existing pieces of sound. These pieces of sound are called samples. A sample can be as long or as short as the composer requires. In a typical piece of sample-based music, samples can range from a fraction of a second to many seconds in length. A sample could be a drum beat, bird song, or any sound the composer requires. Composers wishing to create music in a specific style would use a library of samples appropriate to that style.

Sample-based music is created mainly through the use of computer software. There are numerous software titles available that enable this form of composition. Some popular titles include Cubase, Sonar, Groovy, and Garage Band. These applications are very intuitive and provide users with an easy entry point into creating sample-based music. These applications represent samples graphically, much like building blocks that can be arranged, combined, repeated, and manipulated to create a piece of music.

The ease of use of sample-based compositional tools provides students with a means to cope with the frustrations experienced in the early stages of musical study. Students often experience high levels of frustration in the early stages of learning music as they struggle with the basic musical concepts and skills. Some students can excel in this phase of learning. They can use the mild anxiety to fuel them on to the next level of musicianship, while others are unable to deal with the emotional rollercoaster and discontinue their musical studies. Even with a teacher’s best efforts, some students will develop an expectation for failure as well as negative beliefs about themselves as learners – sample-based music can offer a solution. The creation of sample-based music does not require students to possess prior musical knowledge. Students can begin to create meaningful sample-based music with practically no musical experience. Once students have a functional understanding of how to use a piece of sample-based software they can immediately begin creating personally relevant and compelling music (Wiggins, 2001).

Students’ motivation to learn can be facilitated through tasks that they perceive as being interesting, personally relevant and meaningful (Learner-Centered Principles Work Group, 1997). Students are passionate about their own music and will put a great amount of effort into related activities. As previously mentioned, students can explore and create music of virtually any genre by using samples specific to that genre. This allows students to work with musical styles that are personally relevant. Teachers can help students expand their exploration and creation of compelling and relevant music by providing students with appropriate guidance and sample libraries. The combination of curiosity to explore an area of optimal novelty and difficulty with high quality musical results can provide students with a very positive emotional and educational experience.

It is very easy for a novice musician to begin using sample-based tools in the study of music, but that is not to say that sample-based tools are only for beginner students. As students increase their proficiency level with these tools, their composed music can reflect their skill set and knowledge base. The feature sets of most popular sample-based tools are open-ended enough that the only limitation is that of students’ imaginations. Students must be carefully guided in their use of sample-based music to ensure they are consistently challenged by the tasks while maintaining their expectation of success.

The ubiquitous PC is so much a part of our students’ lives that we must consider its role in our music programs if we are to be truly learner-centered; our students will lead the way. One may be surprised to find out that many students already use sample-based tools and other pieces of technology to make music at home. With expert teacher support and guidance on these technologies our students will find creative uses that have not yet been imagined.

Learner-Centered Principles Work Group (1997); Learner-centered psychological
principles. Retrieved July 11, 2007, from http://www.apa.org/ed/lcp2/lcp14.html.

Webster, P. R. (1998). The new music educator. Arts Education Policy Review, 100(2), 2-6.

Wiggins, J. (2001). Teaching for musical understanding, New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.