A new framework is giving music teachers the tools and strategies needed to enhance student outcomes by harnessing technology
There are clear challenges musicians face when rehearsing online, including sound delays that influence students’ ability to play together, hear and conduct in time. Another difficulty relates to accessing the technological knowledge and skills to record performances while maintaining both musical presence as a performer and connection to other players.
Dr Carol Johnson's research shows these challenges could be minimised with key pedagogical strategies and technology use. For example, while Zoom enabled students to talk and perform one at a time and receive real-time feedback, the challenge is that Zoom also lags beyond the 21-nanosecond threshold at which the human ear can interpret music as being ‘in time’.
However, specialised technology, such as RealTime Audio or Jack Trip, can overcome these issues and support the synchronicity required when performing online together.
Drawing on education, education technology and music education research, her approaches and pedagogical framework demonstrated the need for agility as teachers need to move fluidly between teaching to facilitating the various elements essential for instructing musicians remotely.
For example, clearly communicating how to describe the positioning of a student’s instrument without being able to physically adjust the position.
Developing a solution
To support the transition to an online model of music instruction at the University, Carol collaborated with fellow Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (MCM) researcher Dr Brad Merrick (now at the Faculty of Education) to work with and advise musicians from the Faculty – both staff and students – on effective methods for using educational technology in the online environment.
One of the key benefits of using technology during lockdowns was the sense of community and presence shared by music students working in isolation.
This included training many of their colleagues through a range of sessions for Faculty and the University more broadly, aiming not only to ensure that teachers were able to deliver their programs online, but that they were equipped with the tools and strategies to remain focused on student outcomes by harnessing technology, rather than using technology as simply the vehicle for a lesson.
At the University of Melbourne, dual-mode music teaching continues in masters-level subjects, supporting accessibility for students who are not able to attend class in person. Additionally, online teaching enables the benefits of adopting technology to continue, such as improving customised and personalised learning, and fostering a more collaborative and feedback-centric learning environment.
Outside the University, Carol’s research influences practice. Many organisations that were new to, or had questions about, how to use technology effectively for music learning sought new ways to provide their students with options for using of technology, in particular online.
The Australian Music Examinations Board (AMEB) for example, now has the capability and skill to assess students online, providing flexibility and inclusion at a level not afforded by mandatory in-person exams. Carol has also been supporting Australian Defence Force (ADF) School of Music instructors in their approach to online music teaching.
The paradigm shift has changed not only how teachers are teaching, but also learning in their role as both student and musician. As such, students now enter the industry equipped with the sound-based and technical skills to create and edit videos that showcase their work, which can be used for examinations or remote auditions, which have historically also been in person.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Carol continued to share her research speaking at international conferences (online) around the world in 2020 and 2021. Together with Brad, she convened the annual Teaching Music Online in Higher Education Conference, speaking with almost 150 academics from 13 countries, helping them respond to their immediate teaching needs in a rapidly changing environment to the demand for online music research.
In 2022, Carol’s monograph published narratives on experiences of teaching music online, including practical strategies of how to establish your own music teaching approach. This publication enables music teachers to shift from face-to-face delivery and transform their teaching for the online space. Together with her decade of research, her framework has informed practice at the Royal College of Music in London and other key institutions around the world, preparing students for what they can expect in online music lessons and how to best prepare for a great learning experience.
Today, Carol is working with a team based in the United Kingdom, building on a remote music learning project established by Andrew King and collaborators, to enable remote music teaching across the UK. Their Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Impact Accelerator grant will be used to develop approaches that advance music teachers’ skills in online instruction when delivering remote music learning across the UK.
Dr Carol Johnson collaborated with fellow University of Melbourne academics including Brad Merrick and other national and international researchers.
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First published on 8 November 2023.
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