Problem-based learning in the music technology classroom

Innovations in technology have generated both challenges and opportunities for music instrumental educators. Twenty-first century learners have the opportunity to learn, share, edit, and create in a multitude of ways and at a rate faster than ever in history, through seemingly ubiquitous mobile devices. One of the many challenges of teachers of preservice music educators in this era is to keep up with the rate of advancements in technology. With an increasing call for integration of instructional technologies into the classroom, it is vital that instrumental music educators incorporate these tools. Unfortunately, many preparatory courses in music technology are focused around learning content, rather than teaching critical thinking skills around learning with technology.

Further complicating matters is the speed of innovation in technology. Often, preservice music teachers are introduced to a cutting-edge piece of instructional technology (IT), to find it obsolete by the time they enter the classroom. While the IT is constantly changing, the instructional outcomes remain the same, making the technology itself a means to an end. By focusing on the context of It rather than the content of IT, a music technology course can allow learners to focus on the curricular outcomes instead of the technology itself.

Problem-based learning (PBL) centers around complex scenarios that do not have a single correct answer; this allows students to engage in self-directed learning (SDL) and apply new knowledge to problems to reflect on what they learned. By employing the PBL approach, the teacher acts as facilitator, rather than the disseminator of knowledge, allowing students to develop 1) flexible knowledge and understanding, 2) effective problem-solving skills, 3) SDL skills, 4) effective collaboration skills, and 5) intrinsic motivation (Hmelo-Silver, 2004). Within the context of a music technology classroom, this approach allows for flexibility to adapt the curriculum to individual students’ strengths, interests, and future goals as an instrumental music educator.

Jonnasen (2000, 2006) inculcated the importance of using spreadsheets as mind tools to help organize and prioritize, leading to greater conceptual understanding. The same kind of approach can be used to develop administrative skills by applying the same mind tools to further crystalize ones understanding of their future classrooms and allowing the teacher to understand the meaning of students’ ideas rather than just correct them (Lampert, 2001). 

As technology has become an increasingly valued skill and a core competency by NASM, how we prepare future teachers to think about using technology should be addressed (Bauer, Dammers, 2016). Demonstrating instruction that encourages students to think and reflect on their own leaning can send a powerful message about effective instruction that can impact their own teaching I the future. The purpose of this presentation is to share experiences, student work, and outcomes of teaching an undergraduate music technology course using PBL. The presenter will demonstrate the effectiveness of a problem-based approach to teaching music technology over the last decade and share ideas for implementation at other institutions interested in doing the same.


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