Using new technology in the classroom

For the past number of years, technology has been slowly but surely edging its way into every aspect of our lives, including education, but incorporating new technology into the music classroom can be a challenging crossover for any teacher/instructor.

Most learners won’t have desks which leads to an issue logistically i.e. devices with a keyboard present a problem, practically. Despite this, integrating innovative new software, apparatus and methods can pay dividends. By enabling learners to utilise digital composition techniques and virtual instruments, teachers are inspiring students to be much more innovative and creative than before; also promoting learner autonomy and interactivity within a musical space.

Despite this wave of instrumental gadgetry, a lot of instructors are still using traditional methods of teaching; using the same methods that were used to teach in the 1950s. Christopher Russell, director of choirs at Oltman Middle School in St. Paul Park, MN, says those teachers can be “very successful and have very good programs, but they are missing out on tools that could help their students become better musicians…you can’t force it on anyone, and if you do, it ends up being a tremendous failure.”

In the fall of 2013, Oltman Middle School established a 1-to-1 iPad program, but Russell was a step ahead of most teachers in other areas. For three years Russell had already been using iPads in the classroom: “I already had the pedagogy figured out and I knew which apps I was going to use,” he said.

Using Tablets Instead of Paper Music
One simple, albeit, annoying problem in music teaching is students losing their paper sheet music. Russell believes that i-pad is the no.1 substitute for sheet music. Having a digital copy of the music alleviates this issue. “Talk to any music or band teacher and they will tell you that it is a huge issue,” he said. Students can now access applications to annotate their scores.

Russell has the ability to send audio recordings to students. They can then play with the track as they rehearse. Using a music-writing application such as Notion, learners can make their own practice tracks and compose original songs. “That is a complete redefinition of what you do with students. It was inconceivable before they had these devices.” He said. 

NotateMe is a relatively new app which Russell says he is very excited about. It allows hime to pen musical notation and then translate it to digital format. The app takes a picture of your score and then converts it into digital music. Now, music teachers can scan music without expensive software and equipment. “I have used the app with students to compose music and also to dictate what they hear,” he explained. “The free version allows a student to scan a single line. That might allow band and orchestra students, who get music with one part, to scan their music and edit it, either to hear what it should sound like, or perhaps to create their own music based on their own part.”  


Russell has admitted to some challenges regarding the 1-to-1 iPad program. One of the biggest issue last year was, sixth-graders getting distracted by games such as Minecraft.
“There is no teacher that can always be as exciting as Minecraft,” he said, “so at some point, kids are tempted to make bad decisions. The tools we have to deal with that are getting better. Apple has done a lot at the back end to fix those problems, and so have the mobile device management companies.  Ours is Casper, and it allows you to lock students into a specific app.”

Technology is not only impacting the way we socialise, interact and do business, but more specifically it is impacting on the way in which we learn.