Two thirds of the way through 2008, my principal came to me with mention of a proposed music project with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. I promptly forgot all about it until towards the end of the final two weeks of term, I was told that a representative was going to come and speak with me and our secondary classroom music teacher. Not wishing to be rude, but being so busy with end of year functions and other exciting online projects that I was involved in, I reluctantly attended the meeting with the full intention of being honest and saying that I really was not interested.
However, 5 minutes into the meeting with Ajax I was ‘hooked’. This was exactly the type of activity I wanted to try out in 2009 and the type of classroom that I was working toward! The answer was:-‘Yes, please! We will be part of it!”
The project: This pilot project explored new ways of delivering music education to year 6 and 7 students from 4 rural Victorian schools, using in-house teaching artists, blogging and online virtual classroom workshops with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO)and Orchestra Victoria. Students composed short compositions/sound stories and uploaded them to the website, as well as participating in online video conference workshops with MSO and Orchestra Victoria musicians.
The classes: As I did not want any of the year 7 students to miss out on this project, 28 students crammed into our computer lab. This meant we had to borrow 5 netbooks to ensure that they all had computer access. Joseph Abou Zeid, a resident artist from the Song Room, worked in the classroom with us. For 50 minutes we would listen to an instrumentalist from MSO or Orchestra Victoria. For the next 50 minutes students would learn how to use audacity and compose their own musical stories. These stories used pre-recorded music clips uploaded onto the Ping blog by the instrumentalists. Students then uploaded their stories back onto the blog.
- Always exciting to be involved in a pilot project – love the challenge, new adventures and the constant learning.
- Working with the amazingly well connected, Ajax McKerrall, whose innovative idea this project was – a former digital productions manager with the London Symphony Orchestrata – gifted and talented user of multimedia and web 2.0 tools. I learnt so much more by working with him, about blogging, using multimedia and the elluminate room to fuller potential. He capably and professionally led the elluminate class sessions, ensuring that we had the best quality sound from the 3mbs radio studio in Melbourne.
- The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra came into our classroom, when our students would rarely attend any of their concerts, as Melbourne is 3 ½ hours drive and Warrnambool, our closest regional city centre is 30 mins away. (MSO may visit Warrnambool once a year) To have our students learn about the wonderful classical instruments, their physics, their sounds etc and then to be able to use their recorded clips and mash them together into their own personal musical stories – the impact cannot be justified in words.
- Having an artist in residence from the Song Room, Joseph Abou Zeid, to teach the students about muscial composition through the free software audacity.
- The sheer engagement of the students in the elluminate classroom. This was an unexpected outcome. The learning for me, as a teacher, to see each student at their own desktop, interacting with the musicians, chatting, offering feedback, using a range of emoticons to convey feelings, was enlightening. Students would readily state in the chat section that they did not understand the instructions. This rarely occurs in the normal classroom. Students are reluctant to state that they do not understand, they are rarely given the opportunity to offer feedback or evaluate what the teacher or instructor is saying and are not given the opportunity to interact as individuals.
- The student outcomes. Their musical stories developed from ‘basic sound grabs thrown together’ that challenged the musical ear, to musical stories that actually reflected animals, soundscapes and ‘stories without words and pictures’.
- Many of the students who struggle with usual classroom work in the generalist classrooms, were able to excel in this environment. Literacy no longer became an issue as they could work with music and creativity.
- The collaboration with the students and teachers from the three other rural schools who share similar experiences and characteristics, threats and challenges working on a common and shared blog site . This is an area though, that could be further developed.
- Witnessing the increased confidence in all students, especially those who do not normally achieve to a high degree in generalist classrooms.
- Ovbserving the improvement in student listening skills.
- Having a chat option when outside the elluminate classroom and when just working on the blog or in the normal IT classroom.
- Lack of Experience: This project started in the first full week of term 1, when 30% of the year 7 class was new to our school, some with little computer expertise and few of the new ones knowing what a blog was and it was their first time in our computer lab. None of the students had been in elluminate before. The rehearsal was done with my year 9/10 class as they were my class at that time.
- Lack of a computer technician: We were on our own, with many technical hitches getting the audio – microphone/headsets working. The class was noisy trying to work it all out. It took more than 20 minutes for us all to be logged into elluminate. Students had to get used to an online classroom and use the tools there to communicate. Frequently they were vocally calling out for help.
- The Chat: Initially the chat was being abused, students discovered the private messaging function, but strangely, they did not fiddle with the white board tools. Students tended to ‘bully’ one of the students, but interestingly, other students told them to stop it. A couple of swear words came through and spamming was frequent (where students type 20 smiley faces in one sentence etc.) We worked together to formulate a code of conduct when using online chat. That code now rests on my class blog and the school blog.
- The web cameras It was vital that we had the video image on our computer screens, but as we worked in a basic lab, it was difficult to get our webcamera in a position that was useful to our instructors. Being able to see the class was essential for them, but it was an issue that was never really resolved.
- The time delay The streaming was often delayed between desktops and netbooks in the classroom and this could be annoying.
- Student curiousity Students will fiddle and check out everything. So hands will be raised for prolonged periods, the white board will be covered with graffiti and private messaging will run rampant. To overcome this, students need time to play and explore and the first lesson should do just this.
After two lessons, I was ready to say that it was not working and we would remove ourselves from the project, but…..
….after 10 mins into the third lesson, I could have heard a pin drop. Students were engaged, listening intently and had sorted out any technical issues by themselves. The tapping of keys would break the silence as students happily chatted away, made use of the range of emoticons and tools and interacted with the guest musician. They would provide feedback on what they heard, interact and ask questions. They learned to work the chat and asked questions of me through it as well. At times, a student would hum along, oblivious to their surroundings.
And so, I was led into the classroom of the 21st century.
On behalf of the year 7 students and I, I would like to sincerely thank Ajax McKerrall, Joseph Abou Zeid, and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria, The Song Room, and Country Education Project. In particular to our generous sponsors – the Helen MacPherson Smith Trust and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development Innovation Division.
- improved listening skills (students were able to interact, use various emoticons and tools to keep them engaged and listening.
- Appropriate behaviour and codes of conduct in a virtual classroom – (learnt by experiencing)
- how to tweak the audio controls in elluminate
- Learnt how to use audacity and many of its finer features to create muscial stories and mp3 files
- how to grab flk files from the Ping blog to import into audacity
- how to embed musical stories in mp3 format with a player into a blog
- how to blog (this was especially so for some of my new students who had never blogged before)