Final Reflection Paper


Over several years, the School of Music faculty have found that incoming students lack critical listening skills and the ability to see where music fits into history and culture. These skills are essential for the development of an accomplished and comprehensive musician (Pogonowski, 1989, pg. 36). Sheldon & DeNardo (2005) show that music students typically develop these skills throughout their undergraduate years, but it was hoped that an entry course could spurn this development earlier.

In an attempt to achieve earlier development of critical listening skills and even out the disparity in backgrounds between all incoming music students, MUSC 100L Recital Class Laboratory was added as one-credit course. It is taken by every new undergraduate student in the USC School of Music - freshmen and transfers.

Though the course is only a few years old, it has lacked direction and has changed implementations several times. Currently, the course tries to deliver the equivalent of a 3 credit music appreciation course (designed for non-majors) in a 1 credit hour course. This format is universally hated. The graduate assistants who teach it complain that it leaves no time for discussion or higher thinking (‘a mile wide and an inch deep’). Students enorlled in the course leave ‘hating music history’. This is certainly not a great impression to give first semester freshmen and it can only serve to dampen their enthusiasm and motivation.

Dr. Julie Hubbert, Associate Professor of Music History, applied for and received a grant to revise the MUSC 100L course during the 2011-2012 academic year. She is being assisted by Dr. Kunio Hara, lecturer, who oversees the current MUSC 100L course. I worked with them on the course re-design during the Fall 2011 semester as a part of EDET 650 Internship in Educational Technology.

As we brainstormed through various ways to handle the classroom instruction, we decided that one of the bottlenecks is the presentation of a piece of music. In a standard lecture class, the instructor plays a musical piece with the score projected on the screen. The instructor points out the elements of the music, from sections to primary themes to key centers. This is time consuming and potentially inconsistent. We were looking to bring the study of the score outside of the classroom, so students could be prepared for deeper discussions when they came to class.

Besides freeing up the already scarce face-to-face time by moving guided listening outside of class, we also wanted to implement streaming. Once of the important roles of Music libraries is to provide reserves for listening assignments. Students cannot be expected to purchase every piece of music they are asked to listen to. Streaming extends these reserves outside the physical library. Phinney (2005) points out that utilizing streaming provides three important benefits: 1) 24 hour access to listening, 2) students do not have to fight over limited copies, and 3) students can listen from locations outside the physical library. This benefits students greatly and reduces the burden on the music library. Where streaming has been implemented, it has been highly favored by students (Cox, 2007).

One of the primary ideas that led me to proposed this internship was the idea I had for what I have since termed an ‘enhanced musical listening example’. By combining multiple modes of expression (visual, aural and textual cues) it tries to accommodate various learning styles. Durbridge & Stratfold “point to the potential of the media mix to support exploratory learning: the way that audio and visual data are used together to mutual clarification and enrichment (1996, pg. 20). The “enhanced musical listening example” includes a score synchronized with an audio recording. Commentary is overlayed on the score, utilizing both text and boxes that outline important parts of the piece.

In some ways, this is the musical version of the sports “telestrator” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telestrator).

I created the enhanced musical listening examples using TechSmith’s Camtasia, which is screen casting software. Even though the examples don’t involve screen-casting, I chose Camtasia because it had the sufficient (or so I thought) commentary tools. However, I quickly found that I wasn’t able to notate the scores in all the ways I wanted to. I was surprised to find that I couldn’t even draw a box on the screen. My workaround was to create various shapes (rectangle, ovals, etc.) in a drawing application and import them as TIFF files. I was thankful for the exposure to various tools I had in courses such as EDET 603 and 703. Not only so I knew which tools to use, but also how to find workaround.

From the initial concept of the enhanced examples I was worried about balancing video compression with bandwidth and file size. In my initial attempt to making the final videos as legible as possible, even with compression, I had originally made the excerpts with the score tightly zoomed in so that only a single line of music was visible. These had an HD video (widescreen) aspect ratio. When I reviewed these with my mentor, she felt that it would focus the student’s attention too much and prevent them from seeing the ‘big picture’. She preferred to have a full page of the score visible at once. Lesson learned - determine the parameters of media you are creating before you begin work.

However, seeing the revised versions, I realize her decision was correct. Musical scores commonly use a portrait aspect ratio (taller than is is wide), so this is more appropriate and it works well on a computer. But it also made me think of an increasingly popular device that works well in portrait mode - the Apple iPad. I decided to create all the examples using the display size of the iPad - 768 x 1024 pixels.

The commentary in the enhanced musical listening examples uses instructional scaffolding to promote learning and critical thinking. At the start of a new piece, the commentary includes multiple components - a box around the musical phrase, an arrow pointing at the start of the phrase, and text defining its function. Later on, only the box and description may used, and later still, only the text. As the student progresses through the piece, they initially receive ample assistance in finding the form or identifying the main theme, later on the receive some help, and by the end they see only minor cues. I was especially pleased that this use of scaffolding was a natural development of the design process and not artificially grafted in. It is always rewarding to see work in one course pay off in another.

A typical weekly module for the course involves pre-information, which the students are to view online. It includes text and images that put the particular work in historical and cultural context. Flowers (1983) found that adding discussion to music listening was beneficial, especially when combined with explanations of music terminology. Once they’ve read the pre-information, the students view the enhanced listening excerpt. All of this provides a common background for the students to be prepared for in-class discussion. The module may include a short selected response quiz. This assessment serves to confirm (both to the student and instructor) that the module has been viewed and understood. Often the instructional module leaves them with questions, or ‘food for thought’ that they are to mull over before they come to class. Or the module may give them addition audio-only excerpts with instructions about what to listen for. These assignments might include a contrasting performance of the same piece where they are to examine the use of rubato or another movement of the same work where they need to identify the themes.

As with any use of copyrighted material, one must always be concerned about rights and permissions. The USC Music librarian, Ana Dubnjakovic, was very helpful in explaining what we could and could not do with materials with respect to copyright. Cox (2006) supports echoes her advice with conditions that “include limited access through library equipment and user authentication, music taught only in the course, ownership of the original item by the library or professor, and removing access at the end of the semester” (pg. 27). By using Blackboard, we can restrict access to students enroll in the course, but the video files are too large for Blackboard. Thankfully, the School of Music has a streaming server with enough space and bandwidth to host the necessary files.

I spend a good deal of time fighting with video compression and streaming options. The settings suggested by the School of Music IT department would not stream to the iPad. I ended up creating a very short test excerpt and exporting it a half-dozen different ways to see which would successfully stream and look best. I finally settled on the Quicktime save for web option. I found it exports three resolutions of video, one optimized for computer on wifi, one for for smaller devices on wifi, and one for cellular. It also provides a reference video, which is a very small file that the user sees. These files are uploaded to the USC SoM streaming server and the reference movie is linked from BlackBoard. When the student accesses the movie, the streaming server determines the bandwidth available and serves the users the optimized file. The reference file can be downloaded, but it contains no actual data.

I did several tests of the video streaming. Streaming to a computer or an iPad over wifi look great. Wifi streaming to iPhone yields a small image, but it is crystal clear. An iPhone via cellular network (3G) was still able to stream in real time, however the video was not as clear. I could see the score, the shape of the music, and all the commentary, but individual notes were not legible. Still, it was rewarding to see that the examples I developed would down grade gracefully and students could study from their phone in a pinch. Pretty slick.

A major frustration during the internship was that the course re-design schedule and the internship schedule did not align. The course re-design is scheduled to be finished by Fall 2012. While the grant period is already underway, Dr. Hubbert and Dr. Hara were not planning to begin actual work on the course redesign until the beginning of 2012. However, since my mentor was excited about the internship, the assistance I could provide, and my ideas for the enhanced musical listening examples, she agreed to push the schedule forward.

We found that narrowing the scope of the content was a constant battle. While my mentor naturally wanted to teach the students everything there is to know about music history, form and analysis, I had to remind her that this was only a one credit course, and that it is aimed at freshmen. Durbridge & Stratfold show that this disparity between expert and novice has caused difficulties: “students were distanced from their expert teachers in terms both of content (different conceptual and perceptual repertoires) and form (means of approach)" (1996, pg. 20-21). By the mid point of the internship, it was clear that our initial goals were too lofty. We decided to focus on the 5 Western music modules since Dr. Hubbert and Dr. Hara are experts in this content and could easily pull together the material.

Though they finalized the Western music selections, they did not, have an easy time deciding exactly which selections to feature. They agonized over choosing one piece to represent an entire time period. In fact, three days before the completion of the internship, they changed two of the selections. At this point I discovered the benefits of a well developed workflow. I was able to create the enhanced musical listening examples quickly.

Because of the change in focus, not all of the deliverables in the contract were completed. Dr. Hubbert and Dr. Hara did not settle on the selections for other genres such as jazz, world, and popular music, nor did they decide exactly how they want to present these. These genres are not as closely associated with written scores, so the enhanced musical listening example may not be the best way to present the information. Many of the selections also have more complex copyright issues since they are not in the public domain.

Looking back at the internship, perhaps the lessons learned are more important than achieving the original goals. I know now that determining the actual content to be taught must be completed before design and development takes place.

What we have completed I am very proud of. I think the enhanced musical listening examples are a unique and useful way to study a piece of music. They will serve the new MUSC 100L very well.