Different views on technology in teaching

Literature around the question of how to introduce young people to technology in a particular context, such as learning a musical instrument, is fraught with the scepticism many have for Technology (with a capital ‘T’) in general. However, there are also some interesting points of view arising among educational researchers which suggest a much more secularized integration of technology – using different technologies in combination with domains of learning in very specific ways that transform the short term goals of the teaching. In order to present a thesis, I had to trim some of the more interesting overtones of this debate into a basic dichotomy – ‘Transformative’ or ‘Amplicative’. In hindsight, things probably aren’t that simple, but at the same time different views do seem to either find themselves in either of these camps. The following is another chunk from my thesis in which I explain and illustrate these a little more:

Keen, in a recent article from the Sunday Times entitled Do as iSay, not as iDo: Silicon Valley’s two faces on learning (Keen 2015), examines the facts surrounding web-based learning and argues that optimism for the industry is primarily monetary rather than genuinely representing a positive change in education. Rather than democratization, the effects will be those of centralization; surveillance; and an increase in the gulf between those who can afford a technologically advanced education and those who cannot. Keen identifies this sweep of reinvention as the next wave of the internet revolution after Web 2.0, where “the outcome was anything but beneficial for anyone except the increasingly monopolistic platforms that owned and operated this content” (ibid). The automatic free sharing of content taken up by many online education companies is thus seen as a self-deprecating move. Such a funded sweep of reinvention of traditional means of education takes on a more pessimistic hue when we consider that the majority of children of the burgeoning industry’s leading moguls in Silicon Valley take part in ‘Waldorf’ education which prioritizes human over technological interaction, to the point of exclusion of the latter.

The question of how technology can and should be employed into traditional teaching methods in music is well debated and documented, with a general dichotomy between an ‘amplicative’ integration and one that is ‘transformative’ (Kiesler, as cited in Beckstead 2001). An ‘amplicative’ integration of technology is one in which the way of teaching and the tasks set for the student remain the same and the computer is merely another instrument to be used for this purpose, thus amplifying pre-determined and unchanged teaching methods. The efficiency of the tool can be assessed against the reaching of the predefined goal. The example offered by Beckstead is a student’s composition of a piece for string quartet via a MIDI keyboard and notation software, where the beat-alignment between the parts is visually obvious and transposition to different clefs can be done easily. Technology has served to reinforce traditional compositional practices in a manner more efficient for the student.

Ruismaki et al. (2009) offer the term ‘inside-out’ as an approach where technology is used to develop new methods for traditional tasks and goals. According to this view, technology must be thoughtfully integrated into predefined praxes to avoid the wholesale replacement of ‘living music playing, music teaching and students with machinery’ (Ruismaki et al. 2009. My italics). On the other hand, Draper (2008) stresses the importance of finding and maintaining an ‘authentic ontology’ in the balance between old and new ontologies in music education, as a disconnect develops between a new techno-integrated culture and previous educational models. Although a clear fault line between these approaches is hard to find, a need for integration is generally identified, with more weight given to either tradition or innovation. For our purposes, the terms ‘amplicative’ and ‘transformative’ (adapted from Kiesler) will represent both sides of the debate on technological integration.

A ‘transformative’ use of technology involves a qualitative change in what constitutes music. Beckstead (2001) cites the debate argued by composers like John Cage and Edgard Varese as they began to experiment with electronically produced sound. With new and detailed ways to achieve sound, the working habits transform from the classical image of the composer with manuscript sheet in hand to a whole wide range of experimental activities. For example, in An end to Electronics, composer Steve Reich gives an account of how he developed the Phase Shifting Pulse Gate by collaborating with Bell Labs’ Larry Owens. The device contained 12 channels, which each gated an analog signal and were also capable of shifting the sequence according to a programmed length of time for each gate. By gradually shifting the sequence of the gates a rhythmic process is initiated, the sound of which would become recognizable as part of Steve Reich’s style as a composer. Due to reservations Reich had about performing with the machine – its instability as a prototype, lack of a visual musical performance – he went on to score similar rhythmic processes in traditional notation for different combinations of instruments, beginning with four organs and maracas (Reich, 1970). This is an early example of how a composer’s habits were both transformed in a practical sense, and later a theoretical one, by technological research.

         Reich’s Four Organs was completed and premiered in 1970. That same year saw the first publication of Sound and Silence by Paynter and Aston, which presented a series of exercises in creativity for music teaching and learning which situated the lessons in a contemporary context. Project 17, Sounds on Tape, is another early illustration of a transformative use of technology, this time in an educational context. By using the various speeds for recording and playback on a tape-recorder, Paynter offers methods for creating new sounds – such as increased and decreased speed; loops; and reversed sounds – as well as compositional exercises using those techniques to create pieces by students in the then relatively recent genre of Musique Concrete.

Although these may be examples involving extra-ordinary individuals (both Paynter and Reich were definitely ground-breakers in their fields), there seems to have been a general climate of creative behavior in many disciplines at that time. Clouse (2009) identifies a general trend towards exclusivity in Computer-Aided-Instruction softwares, from a nascent period of free and open use in the 60’s. Bitzer’s original system Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations (PLATO) from 1959 was constructed with two goals in mind: to investigate the potential for the use of computers in education and to develop a system which was economically viable and sustainable. The fourth iteration, PLATO IV, proved a success in terms of the second goal, while its subsequent use would help determine the potential in educational settings. The system was devised both for solving educational needs, and for educational research where new ways of teaching, using the system, could be measured statistically. Different uses of the PLATO system began to develop into curricula within the system, such as Hofstetter’s Graded Units for Interactive Dictation Operations (GUIDO) – an aural skills programme devised within PLATO. MUSFUND by Gross and Foltz was another example which focused instead on music theory, recognition of notated scales, intervals, chords and terminology. GUIDO recorded incorrect answers, and allowed Hofstetter to better identify aspects of aural training with which students were having difficulty. Gross and Foltz compiled scores and interviews at the end of a study period where some students used MUSFUND, and noted “higher degrees of comprehension of music fundamentals than those who did not” (as cited in Clouse 2006). The pattern recognized by Clouse in this historical review was that scholarly research, and use of CAI steadily rose from the 60’s, peaked during technological and commercial innovation throughout the 80’s, but diminished in the 90’s with the arrival of more finished and commercial CAI products that put CAI under a sealed hood, inaccessible to the teacher. Without the possibility to interact with and change the drills, or how the correction data was collected, the use of CAI diminished in general.

Although the case of PLATO exemplifies how educational technology should be researched and developed, it is also an example of the ‘amplicative’ integration of technology to a pedagogical approach which is instructional rather than ‘constructive’ in the sense of Piaget. The use of computers for contingent tutoring in music technology education as described by King (2009), is situated in a social constructivist (Pear & Crowne-Todd, 2002, as cited in King 2009) – a recent development on Piaget’s learning model of active construction, which values both peer-to-peer and expert interaction. King’s case study in 2009 involved a web-page style Learning Technology Interface, to be used as support in assigned tasks in the recording studio. The same tasks were carried out by pairs of students with use of the LTI and other pairs working from a paper manual. Both the time spent on a particular task and how the pair interacted towards the outcome were recorded, and revealed significant time benefit as well as overall enthusiasm from the students for the LTI supported learning. The use of an interactive interface was found to facilitate the ‘social constructivist’ approach to activity learning to a greater degree than the paper-based counterpart. The use of technology in the study is ‘transformative’ because of the departure from typical ‘instructional’ lessons on recording studio techniques to social constructivist exercises supported by a Learning Technology Interface.

Webster offers a survey of tools in Music Technology as a Servant to Real Music Experience (Webster 2009) as well as ways to use them, which will have a minimal impact on time spent actually making music. He focuses specifically on the possibilities for contingent learning and asynchronous interaction offered by many tools, all of which are either available for download or hosted online. This presentation of tools and methods is an appeal to music teachers who value their lesson time as time for playing the instrument itself. The tools, therefore, are presented in an ‘amplicative’ way in that they serve the traditional purpose of the teaching without imposing on the time spent in the class.

Although it may be difficult to draw a clear boundary between the ‘amplicative’ and ‘transformative’ approaches, it is clear that the group of teachers just mentioned would view Paynter’s Sounds on Tape project as an imposition on class time rather than as a ‘creative project’.


Strategies towards the successful integration of technology into traditional teaching methods offer a potential middle ground between these two extremes. However, the debate about how to do this is also interwoven with the preconceptions of both teachers and students as prospective users of the technology.

Ho (2004) carried out a study of teacher and student reactions to the usage of technology in music education, carried out at the end of a five-year strategy to incorporate the use of IT in the education system in Hong Kong. The strategy ‘Information Technology for Quality Education’ involved the professional development of teachers, and sought to initiate a paradigm-shift in teaching methods, from a largely text-book based, teacher centered approach to a more interactive and learner-centered approach, with recurring grants to research and to buy new educational software. Despite these measures, as well as IT training in previous education, many teachers still maintain their image as knowledge-givers, rather than learning facilitators in an information-rich age. The study was to measure the planned paradigm shift through ethnographic research. 11/28 teachers agreed that in some respects IT was more effective than traditional methods. Respects such as visualization of knowledge, availability of information, and interactivity were mentioned. From the 10/28 who answered ‘depends’, the answers referred to more physical activities such as choir practice and rehearsals, and feedback in lessons by experienced musicians as cases where IT could not help. Unsurprisingly, the majority disagreed that IT usage was a good measure of quality of education.

Students’ positive reactions included improved accuracy of musical accompaniment programs for practice, that the availability made IT convenient for learning, and that it was tidier than a manuscript. This last point is particularly relevant for our study of the usage of Noteflight, as it prevents the untidiness of the students own writing from discouraging their activity, as well as offering accurate playback and correct beat alignment of what is written. The minority who disagreed that IT helped motivate their learning cited examples of physical interaction – gestural learning absent from IT, immediate response from a teacher who knows your background, unwillingness to listen to electronic sound, or that they were uninterested in music anyway and IT did not achieve in arousing their interest.

Ho concludes that in order for the challenges of IT to be met in education proper designs for use of technology in musical pedagogy are needed, as well as teachers with both technical skill and appreciation for the ‘knowledge-based age’. Further identification and dissemination of appropriate technological tools for students and teachers are also needed.

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