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    Pedagogy Presentation

    Having recently received feedback from my teaching of Music 533, the one thing I was disappointed with was the inability to play a musical example via the speakers in the room.  Although I was quickly able to recover from this, and in hindsight probably should have had a reduction of the song ready to go so I could still play it on the piano, the issue highlighted one of the problems with using such technology in the classroom, something that has arisen quite a bit recently in my peers’ presentations.  Although technology is a great asset, if we do not have full control over it or do not have a legitimate reason to use it, we should leave it out of our presentations, as it will more likely detract from the overall purpose of the lesson.

    I’d like to start with the availability of almost every example we can think on Youtube.  As instructors, we’ve gotten into the habit of opening up the site and navigating to a video we would like to show during class.  This approach has a few drawbacks.  First of all, we cannot ensure that a solid Internet connection is available 100% of the time, meaning we may not have access to our example.  Second, and something that has come up quite a few times recently, is Youtube’s approach to monetization and the recent influx of showing ads at the beginning of a clip.  As seen in class, things can get out of hand pretty quickly when a Snickers ad comes up when you’re expecting Chopin, and student engagement can be lost quickly.  Because of these factors, I would advise that any examples, whether audio only or video, be downloaded ahead of time to avoid ads and possible Internet outages.

    One other issue with showing video in class is that instructors must give students the exact reason we are watching a clip before playing it.  Otherwise, it seems to me that the majority of these are time fillers.  At the very least, teachers should know exactly when in a clip the example they want students to reflect on or listen closely to occurs, otherwise we may listen to two different renditions of a song and never hear the portion of a tune that is being used to demonstrate a topic in class.


    Auralia (Part 2)

    I spent the last journal entry highlighting some of the pros and cons I have encountered with Auralia, and now would like to touch upon student reaction to the program and how it can be further integrated into our theory curriculum.

    The first thing to point out is that regardless of quality, you will not be able to please all students.  Aural skills are not topics most students are accustomed to practicing in their free time, and as such most attempts at quizzes and other outside practice will be met with some resistance.  I also had many times this semester where students complained that a quiz was much too difficult, but when viewing the statistics available via our cloud integration, I discovered that only six students had practiced the exercises before taking the quiz.  Because of this, I think integrating Auralia is more of a mental hurdle for the students than anything else.  The program is a different type of homework that they’re not used to, one that could theoretically never end, and as such some may not even try to attempt it.

    That being said, we have had many students this semester express their enthusiasm for the program, and have stated that it has helped them with aspects they were struggling with in class.  Additional experimentation with other topics, including sight singing (or at least pitch and interval imitation) would be very useful.  What would really put the program over the top is outreach to the developers in order to collaborate on the design of a Penn State SOM syllabus that would be included in the program, thus allowing students to take proficiency tests akin to MACGamut

    While some topics need improving, Auralia really shines when it comes to the quizzing of basics that are accomplished through drilling.  These fundamentals can then be applied in class for sight singing and dictation.  In the future, I would probably supplement Auralia with additional Laitz harmonic dictation exercises, but otherwise I believe it serves its purpose fantastically.


    Auralia (Part 1)

    Much has been mentioned in pedagogy concerning theory and aural skills textbooks and their accompanying materials, particularly the addition of digital and computer related materials to nearly all textbooks.  The ubiquity of personal electronics in the form of computers and smart phones that are capable of supplying information normally reserved for the classroom at any time makes these valuable commodities in the continued attempts to find teaching materials outside of the classroom.

    At Penn State, we have recently transitioned to using Auralia, a spot previously held by MACGamut.  As I was the sole instigator of this transition—and really the only one attempting to integrate it into aural skills classes this past year—and I will soon be leaving, I though I would share the ups and downs of using Auralia.  What is it good for?  What needs improving?  What can we no longer live without?  Should we continue using it?  Because this will turn into quite a long entry, I will split this up over a week of journal entries.  The first entry will focus on highlighting the negative and positive aspects of Auralia.  The second will concern overall student reaction to the program and where we can go from here.

    Let me begin by saying that yes, we should pursue continuing to use Auralia.  That said, I’ll start with some of the downfalls of the program.  First of all is the universal issue of sound quality.  To ensure compatibility with all computers, all of these programs use MIDI as the supporting sound engine.  Therefore, while you can change instruments, each sounds a bit fake.  While this is not an issue for single lines or isolated pitches, it becomes an issue in distinguishing individual pitches of a chord, which can make chord recognition and chord progression topics more challenging than they should be.

    The other issue, associated with chord progressions, is the idea that the progressions are created based upon a bank of chords and their relative associations.  As expected, this doesn’t always result in the best voice leading examples or overall chord progressions.  Even if one million chords are available for a two bar phrase, the possibility still exists that your progression will be I-V-I-V-I.  I believe this can be improved through linking with Sibelius but that is something to discuss with the developers.

    Which brings me to my last dislike, which is the location of said developers: Australia.  Which means support, if necessary, can take a bit of negotiating, most especially phone support (14 hour time difference).  That said, my requests or suggestions I have made have been promptly addressed and even quickly integrated into the program, and possibilities for collaboration with the programmers (Penn State SOM Syllabus?) exists.

    And now for the positive aspects of Auralia.  As mentioned in a prior journal entry, the cloud integration is one of its strongest assets.  This makes test creation, administration, and scoring incredibly easy, and also allows for teachers to view how at-risk students are coming along during practice, or if they are practicing at all.  The ability to create customized topics and integrate new chords and scales (CCRs?) means it is quite flexible and able to adapt to many course topics.

    The user interface of the program is really outstanding, especially when compared with MACGamut.  While it may seem superficial, this really has an impact on whether or not students feel as if they can work on these skills even if there is no quiz looming on the horizon.  It’s as simple as logging in to your account, and you’re ready to go.  No dealing with preset files, no command prompts, just some nice intro music and you’re off and running.  Also, what you are running into is incredibly varied, and although we may not use some of the topics for aural skills (tuning, jazz chords, chord clusters, etc.) they are still worthwhile for the student to check out, something made that much more possible because of its ease of use.


    The Student Mindset

    In pedagogy we have recently been summarizing the core objectives and goals of various theory fundamentals books, as well as what supplements are available for these titles.  One thing I have noticed is the increased frequency of including CDs and DVDs that supplement the written text.  While I am not certain what types of exercises or lessons are included on the external media, I am aware that there is a push by certain instructors to begin using these materials to extend learning outside of the classroom.  However, through personal experience I have found that students do not respond well to these exercises, not because they are poorly formed, but rather due to student mentality and associating these exercises with homework.

    While I believe that a lack of basic knowledge in fundamentals leads to deficiencies in student analyses, I do not believe that students treat these exercises equally with their other work, despite its relevance to their musical careers.  I would like to expand upon this with a quick anecdote about Auralia.

    I have spent the better part of the year trying to integrate and implement Auralia software with our freshman aural skills courses.  While the first semester went well, our attempts to use the software this spring have proven to be difficult, and I believe a large part of the issue is student willingness to actually work on these skills.  This past week, part of the quiz included chord identification (major/minor) and their inversion.  We received a lot of negative feedback concerning this question, with students claiming that it was too difficult, and that it didn’t tie into the overall class structure well.  However, one of the benefits of Auralia is that we are hooked into a server that allows us to view if students are practicing.  After these concerns, I decided to take a look at how many actually worked on test questions, and a total of six students worked on chord recognition before taking the exam.  Given this number, I can’t take these concerns too seriously, but I still feel the need to address these concerns.  While students don’t think twice about devoting hours to their instruments, the idea of practicing even fifteen minutes on music fundamentals is unthinkable to them, and I’m not sure what we can do to change their minds.