By Alex Newton
Technology has both positively impacted the way educators think about teaching and heavily influenced pedagogical trends (e.g. the flipped classroom) in recent years. With the emergence of distance/e-learning, the effects of rapid globalization, and current trends like MOOCs, how has role of the music pedagogue in the twenty-first century changed? Below, I explore three concepts that, while not new, still play a primary role in the ever-shifting landscape of pedagogy.
Educational platforms work as digital interfaces and therefore can offer dynamic engagement between content and user, particularly in disciplines where multi-sensory stimulation (e.g. musicianship) is a requisite part of study. But using the newest, shiniest technology does not de facto promise a more engaging learning environment any more than a traditional classroom or textbook. There are as many classroom tasks and textbook activities that can engage students as there are dry, detached, and often ineffective educational software out there. Therefore, maximizing engagement is still a priority whether using a web application or teaching a class. The dynamic potential of multimedia and the interactive possibilities of a digital interface, however, afford a more direct link to active participation outside of the classroom.
Active participation is always important for learning, but it is especially crucial to developing musicianship skills and analytical processes related to interpreting music. Why? Because music is by its very nature a knowledge of engagement. According to Sir Ken Robinson, music, along with other areas of “The Arts,” is an aesthetic experience. “An aesthetic experience,” says Robinson, “is one in which your senses are operating at their peak, when you’re present in the current moment, when you’re resonating with the excitement with this thing you are experience, when you are fully alive.” If learning musicianship is a participative process, then the audiovisual capabilities and pseudo-ludo environments offered by online platforms and applications are rich as potential educational playgrounds where students build implicit (learning to internalize tonal centers, meter and rhythmic perception, etc.) as well as explicit knowledge about music through interactive engagement.
Online platforms may offer a myriad of strategies for participation and engagement and these actions might motivate students, but they are not motivation in themselves. Motivation is a crucial part of our pursuit of knowledge, but what motivates us is usually unique and dependent on our personal experiences and choices. It is also dynamic, meaning that what motivates us to learn about a topic can dramatically shift over a relatively short term or long term. The existence of self-help books at least suggests that self-motivated students can garner knowledge outside a classroom environment. The same is true for many education applications. A recent development that addresses motivation directly in ed tech is gamification techniques, for example using “hearts” like Picardy or offering a reward system, like Code Academy’s badges. These techniques, borrowed from video games, can be useful in motivating students, but the teacher here plays an absolutely pivotal role due to the highly personal and often-whimsical nature of motivation. Interacting with students, knowing their backgrounds, their obstacles and their inspirations goes a long way to cultivating motivation. For the teacher in the twenty-first century, student motivation should be a priority.
Engagement, participation, and motivation remain key concepts to understanding the role of the educator in the twenty-first century, but they are by no means the only ones. Teachers should evaluate the levels and types of engagement, participation, and motivation components offered by various educational technologies just as they would a textbook because they will play key parts in what and how much musical knowledge and skill their students retain. Similarly, these are key concepts for the educator developing such technology to keep in mind. Here, user feedback in the form of data and discourse can lead to a more effective product.
 For more on implicit and explicit knowledge, see: Elizabeth Margulis. On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.