Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Embracing Technology in Piano Study

Apple iPad Mini Piano by iadwords

Technology has been slow in coming to the traditional piano studio. Most teachers over 40, like myself, didn't use anything more techy than a digital metronome and a cassette tape recorder in our own study. However, if we want to stay relevant in the decades to come, that means embracing technology such as apps, digital recording and composing tools, and digital collaboration via social media or other means. This is not just true for those who want to teach popular styles. Respected music schools and conservatories around the world are increasingly using technology in their courses, and young, tech-savvy music majors will soon transform the landscape. I want to continue to be a tree in that landscape for at least a couple more decades, so I'm working to evolve my teaching practices one baby step at a time!

A few years ago, I resisted technology in piano teaching because my impression was that the technology had become the primary goal rather than learning. While this is still sometimes true, better educational applications and practices have come along to improve on that situation.

I think, as piano teachers, we must consider two truths:

1. Students feel limited within traditional piano study when they know from their other learning experiences that so much more is possible with the judicious use of technology. Piano teachers who have not been inside a grade school classroom since they graduated from one may not realize that technology has created a new standard of service that is expected in 2016.

2. Students are going to access the internet, social media, and other forms of technology for piano study whether we are involved or not. We lose the opportunity to guide that discovery when we reject technological tools.

Even classically-oriented piano students live in the 21st century. They expect to use resources online and to have collaborative experiences that are facilitated by social media, even while also benefiting from the expertise of a highly-respected private teacher. Read this article to see how classically-rooted pedagogy is incorporating technology at schools and conservatories around the country: Conservatory Tech Makes Sweet Music. I still hear traditional piano teachers reject the idea of having students watch YouTube videos because there are so many poor ones out there. That's laughable when it also offers pages like this one from New England Conservatory. Instead of dismissing it, we need to give students a road map to navigate it, as we need to do for all of the online resources available for pianists. There are some really good examples of online instruction out there and some really, really bad ones. Our students are going to visit those sites with or without us.

Beware The Technology Generation Gap

While I assert that we should embrace technology, I'll also assert that we need to use it judiciously. One of the things I learned as a long-term sub in a middle school English classroom is that using technology for learning is no longer novel and exciting for the kids, but is as normal as a dictionary was for me at that age. While we piano teachers are dipping our toes cautiously into YouTube, my 7th and 8th grade students are using 3D printers and making "smart" clothing in their computer class. So, when a piano teacher uses a digital tool as a sort of bait to make learning more "fun," students are going to roll their eyes. They are highly perceptive (and frustrated) when teachers use tech tools merely for technology's sake. In fact, that may be the new definition of "generation gap." I asked my 13-year-old daughter what she saw as the pros and cons of using technology in her classes. Her number one con: "Sometimes, teachers will get too attached to it and rely on it way more than they should. It can become an extra that is just more busy work." Adam Schoenbart writes about potential pitfalls of tech tools in the classroom in his online article 5 Mistakes I Made With Educational Technology, and my daughter's frustration is one of his points. However, he also asserts that technology is the new normal. The lesson is always to consider the learning outcome you hope to create by using that particular technology.

Embrace The Opportunity For Student Discovery
If some obscure subject like circumzenithal arcs piques my daughter's interest, she can look it up online and, in the space of a few days, practically become an expert on the subject. She has the opportunity to communicate via email or within online forums with bona fide experts, perhaps college professors or working scientists. If I wanted to do the same at her age, my parents had to drive me to the library. It isn't at all likely that I could have had a conversation with the author of the book I read. My school teacher and my textbook were my narrow world, but kids today don't have to depend on anyone else to explore their interests. As the internet becomes a more prominent feature of human life, teachers and schools naturally lose the role of being the gatekeepers of knowledge. While I have resisted the death of the "sage on the stage" model of teaching, the truth is that no single teacher can compete with the internet. We must be the navigators in a vast, wild sea. We need to see the internet as an advantage in piano instruction, not a threat, and find ways to encourage students to use technological tools to discover things that go far beyond what we teachers know ourselves.

Embrace The Opportunity For Collaboration

My daughter told me that one of the best benefits of using technology at school was that it "allows you to connect to what other teachers and students are doing." As my very old-fashioned dad frequently reminds me (he still uses a typewriter), "two heads are always better than one." Collaboration is not a newfangled idea, but we are still married to the idea of the teacher as the ultimate source of knowledge for a studio full of disciples. If you read blogs and watch webinars on the internet to improve your own teaching, you are using technology to learn from many teachers. We need to facilitate the same kind of learning opportunities for our students rather than corralling them into one stable with one trainer.

So, as a 51-year-old, classically-trained teacher, what should I do? I can start by considering how technology might enhance my student's learning experience. We should always start with the desired learning outcome, not the technology itself. But, the technology available right now is absolutely mind-blowing, and failing to embrace it is like a doctor failing to consider the newest medical technology. There are more fantastic apps and programs out there than I can stay current on. When I can't figure out how to use them, I can enlist my students or students' parents for help.

Second, I can look for opportunities to allow students to collaborate in any way possible using technology. This might involve using MuseScore to share student compositions, or allow them to work collaboratively on compositions. It might mean creating a mini masterclass using Instagram. They want this community.

Third, I can use technology as a means to bring in experts besides myself to broaden the knowledge base my students have access to. This might include creating a webquest for students to complete at home, or collaborating with another studio, or watching really fine teachers teach students online.

Explore what music schools around the country are doing in their degree programs. Make friends with your local school music teachers. They've been using technology for a long time. Follow some mus. ed. blogs and resist the urge to click away out of intimidation/fear when the article gets techy. Ask questions. And keep reading here because I'll be elaborating on those ideas above!

1 comment:

Leila Viss said...

Thanks for this insight, Laura. As a piano teacher who always integrates technology, I need to read thoughts like this to help me better understand how to come alongside other teachers who are hesitant about technology.