By Dr. Peter J. Perry
As you use more and more technology in your teaching, you might find yourself eventually intertwined in a technological web of software, hardware, apps, desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones, interactive white boards (IWB), etc. As part of their functionality, these devices and applications interact with one another using a variety of computer platforms and systems. This point of contact can be daunting for most users. How do you manage all of this without adding to your already crazy workload?
To begin unraveling this technological web, an understanding of some terms is helpful.
A platform is a digital environment (typically a hardware device like a computer, and an operating system) that an application or program runs off of. Currently, primary platforms include: computers with Windows or Mac operating systems; OR smartphones or tablets with Windows, Android, Apple, or other mobile operating systems. Peripherals like interactive whiteboards (e.g. SMART™ Board, PROMETHEAN™), printers, scanners, etc., attach to these platforms to further extend their use.
A system consists of a group of interconnected and integrated devices that input, output, and store data—all sharing a central data storage. Devices connect to this system as well as peripherals (e.g., printers, scanners, IWB). Each computer, tablet, or smartphone can function independently, but has the ability to communicate within the system with the other devices.
In education, Learning Management Systems (LMS) have become popular tools. An LMS is a system of applications (usually web-based) put together for the singular purpose of delivering instruction. A key characteristic of an LMS is its connection to large data like a universal grade book. In this case, the LMS allows students to access grades for all their classes, and teachers to input grades for all their classes. Canvas™ and Blackboard™ are examples of LMS. In some academic situations, like colleges or private schools, student financial data is also linked into the LMS.
Google Classroom similarly organizes applications for instruction, but is not connected to a big database (like an external global gradebook or student financials). Instead, it specifically organizes and syncs Google apps to work together (causing some refer to it as a Google Management System). Microsoft Office 360 is a similar system, but for Microsoft applications.
Putting It All Together
While the above descriptions seem more like Computer Science 101, understanding the basics of platforms and systems allows you to better manage the devices and applications you use within them. To place this in an instructional context, an example of this technology synergy, is the following: You use a Windows desktop computer in your classroom to deliver instruction via LMS or Google Classroom. Students respond to the information projected on the SMART™ Board and interact with that information using a Chromebook or tablet. Later, at home, you assess the student work on your iPad, accessing the system remotely.
To manage all these systems and platforms in a music classroom setting, here are some tips:
- KEEP IT SIMPLE! Or at least as simple as possible. Do not use technology you do not need. See how many tasks you can accomplish using the same platforms and systems. The more streamlined you are the better. Also, by doing this, your expertise with these tools increases—further elevating your ability to accomplish tasks quickly.
- When possible, use applications that work across platforms — software that is available for both Mac and Windows, as well as multiple mobile devices. This enables you the freedom to automatically use content created within the application and access/edit it regardless of the device you have.
- Don’t forget about mobile apps! Many of the applications you use on your desktop have mobile versions. These allow you to finish grading or send messages via your tablet or smartphone.
- Check out web-based apps! Across the board, the locally-installed software is still more powerful and sophisticated. These applications are also more expensive and are more hardware intensive (e.g., requiring faster processing speeds and storage space). For general use (i.e., transposing a part in a notation program), web-based apps are great. They can be use across many more devices, and you and students can use them both in the classroom and at home. Some of these include Noteflight and Soundation. These also work well within an LMS environment.
- Get to know your management systems. The LMS your school is having you use is full of useful, time-saving applications (i.e., grading assignments that automatically sync with the official gradebook). Additionally, LMS continually have internal and external developers creating content and templates that can be used or manipulated for your uses. MusicFirst Classroom contains music-only applications.
As technology continues to evolve and change, understanding how to efficiently use the platforms and systems together can make you an effective user of them (and technology as a whole). Together, these can make your instructional tasks easier to accomplish and lighten your overall workload.
Reprinted with permission from National Association for Music Education (NAfME). The original article, published on July 18, 2018, can be found here.
About Dr. Peter J. Perry
Peter Perry is a lifelong Maryland resident, and has traveled the world teaching and performing music. A NAfME member, he is currently in his twenty-third consecutive year as Instrumental Music Director at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland. Here he conducts the: Chamber Orchestra, Concert Orchestra, Pit Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, Jazz Ensemble, Concert Band, and Marching Band. These ensembles consistently receive critical acclaim on local, state, and national levels.
Dr. Perry is a strong advocate for music technology usage in the large ensemble. His doctoral dissertation, “The Effect of Flexible-Practice Computer-Assisted Instruction and Cognitive Style on the Development of Music Performance Skills in High School Instrumental Students,” focused on how the practice software, SmartMusic™, and the cognitive styles of field dependence and field independence affect musical performance skill development. He is completing his first book about using Technology in the Large Ensemble, to be published by Oxford University Press as part of their Essential Music Technology: The Prestissimo Series next year.
He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Music Education from Shenandoah Conservatory, as well as a Master’s Degree in Music Education-Instrumental Conducting Concentration, and a Bachelor of Science Degree-Instrumental Music Education, both from the University of Maryland. While at the University of Maryland, Dr. Perry was awarded the prestigious Creative and Performing Arts Scholarship in Music.
In 2006, Dr. Perry received a Japan Fulbright fellowship and participated in the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program. He is an active guest conductor, clinician, adjudicator, lecturer, author, composer, and performer.
Follow Dr. Perry on Twitter: @peterperry101.