Unknown-1I have been thinking some lately about teaching music technology and what is important when giving guidance to others. Perhaps many of you have taught large classes, small groups, or perhaps individuals about how to do something with a computer and a music keyboard. If you have had the same experience as I have had, some things seem to stick and some not. Many times, I find myself answering the same sort of question or explaining again a procedure that I thought was learned. It has occurred to me that my pedagogy is wrong--somehow I have not been good at teaching for transfer. Here are four big goals that we might consider as we teach:

  1. Spend a fair amount of time with the notion of data structures.
  2. Do not assume that everyone really understands what operating systems do and how it controls hardware.
  3. When a file is "lost" or does not appear where we think it is, there really is a system of finding files that each computer offers.
  4. Insist on redundant saving.

Data Structures. Teach a student about data structures and you teach them 35-50% of what they will need for their technological life! I am completely convinced of this. Dave Williams and I feel so strongly about this that we have designed our writings together to always include heavy doses of what data structures are. For example, once a student understands that the same kind of file, say a digital audio file, can be saved in different file formats and given the appropriate extension (using those extensions is critical always!!!), a new world of understanding opens. This is certainly true for graphics and word processing files and really saves a lot of time when trying to understand why something does not open that is attached to an email. Naming things is critical. Understanding how a computer deals with files, folders and volumes naturally follows or is part of all this. A good part of teaching "computers" is understanding data structures and it certainly is critical for musicians.

Operating Systems and Hardware. I have found that taking a computer apart for a class is magical for them. I have an old "pizza box" Mac LC that I took off the junk heap. In the early days of every beginning class, I take off the cover, show them the parts, and explain what things are. I then follow with a rather detailed description of what the operating system does. I have actually found that this does wonders for folks who have not considered "why" certain procedures are followed. I try to do the same with music keyboards and other gear when I can lift the cover.

Lost File. Just today, I was helping with a conference on my campus and a presenter was very upset because the QT Movie that had been copied to the computer's hard drive was lost! It was actually there but placed into another folder by the presenter before. This person had no idea how to find a file or had no trouble-shooting skills to find a file. Perhaps the greatest gift we can give students is the ability to solve their own problems. Taking the time in class to encourage critical thinking about what might have happened is very important. If nothing more than learning how to use the "find" function were routinely taught, much could be accomplished independently.

Saving Twice. You hear it over and over, and it is so true. Developing a routine of saving in two physical locations has to be THE most important thing about using computers. Today, with memory sticks and flash memory thumb drives, there really is no excuse. I now ask all my students to purchase a thumb drive as part of my courses. Teaching this the FIRST DAY, can save hours of time and frustration.
These, in my humble opinion, are the big four.

Let me know if you have others!
Peter Webster

by Peter Webster
Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

Peter R. Webster holds the John Beattie Chair of Music Education and Technology at Northwestern University. His primary academic interests center on music teaching and learning. He is co-author of the book and CD, Experiencing Music Technology (Thompson/Schirmer, 3rd edition to be published in the Fall of 2004), Measures of Creative Thinking in Music (MCTM), and many chapters and articles on creative thinking in music, music assessment, and music technology. He is finishing a new book on music composition in the schools, written with the aid of doctoral students in the Center for the Study of Education and the Music Experience.

He has served on the editorial boards of major journals in music education, including the Journal of Research in Music Education, Bulletin of the Council of Research in Music Education, Interdisciplinary Journal of Education and the Arts, Journal of Technology in Music Learning, Research Studies in Music Education, and Psychomusicology. He is a frequent keynote speaker a major conferences nationally and internationally. He teaches courses in the music education, music cognition, and music technology programs at Northwestern.

Webster holds degrees in music education from the University of Southern Maine (BS) and the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music (MM, PhD). He has taught in the public schools of Maine, Massachusetts, and New York and has served on the faculty of the Department of Music at Case Western Reserve University (1974-1988) where he was Department Chair. He has been at Northwestern since 1988, serving as coordinator of the music education program and Department Chair of Music Studies prior to his current role as Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Research.

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