Enriching the Traditional Classroom Through Internet-Based Technologies
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In recent years, distance learning via the Internet has received a great deal of attention. Through Internet-based technologies, students may take courses or even complete their entire degree requirements. While this new paradigm is revolutionizing higher education, much instruction still takes place in traditional face-to-face classroom settings. I have been exploring ways of enriching the traditional classroom environment by using common components of the distance learning model.
Meeting with a small group of colleagues from across campus has greatly benefited my work in this area. This ad-hoc group provides support[what kind of support, e.g. technical, moral?], suggestions for technological solutions, and ideas for appropriate pedagogical uses of technology. The individuals involved have multidisciplinary backgrounds[by this do you mean: each individual has a multidisciplinary background, or: the group members each come from separate disciplines], and often provide insights I may not have come to as quickly or easily on my own. The group's collaborative efforts have also become an important cog in my professional development as a teacher. Integrating technology in my coursestaught in traditional settings to students preparing to be music teachers in K-12 schoolshas been driven by a search for ways that technology can solve specific teaching or learning problems, as well as by the need to help students become technologically savvy so they can function in 21st-century schools. In working to address these areas, I use Internet-based resources to facilitate communication, improve the motivation of students, and expand the resources students use.
Electronic communication has fundamentally altered the way information is shared, with a tremendous impact on education. In the past, music teachers had few opportunities to discuss problems and ideas with colleagues. With today's electronic bulletin boards, listservs, and chat rooms, these discussions can take place around the clock, around the globe. In order to acquaint my students with valuable professional resources, I require them to participate in a music education listserv. Reading and responding to list discussions gives students a connection to the daily pleasure music teachers derive from students' accomplishments, as well as to the typical concerns and frustrations teachers have. These discussion lists also help broaden students' perspectives on music education. Many times students come to the university with a parochial view of music teaching and learning, thinking that the way things were done in their high school ensembles is the one correct procedure. The discussion lists expose them to a multitude of new ideas and perspectives.
Electronic discussion has also provided more flexibility during face-to-face class time. While I still conduct discussions in class, I've moved several discussion activities to a Web-based bulletin board, allowing class time to be used for other projects. Several of my online discussion assignments ask students to reflect on a particular topic we've covered in class. Because courses meet only for a certain amount of time[3 hours?]a week, only a few students have the opportunity to address a topic during classroom-based discussion. Online discussions give every student a chance to be heard. In addition, students who are not comfortable speaking out in class are more willing to express their views in a written forum that allows them time to compose their thoughts.
Another assignment that I conduct through the bulletin board is an online debate on the merits of competition in music education. I randomly assign students pro or con positions on this topic, and they are required to substantiate their positions by referring to arguments found in course readings. Since all students are required to contribute a specific number of postings, individuals cannot hide among classmates. Students must also consider all sides of the issue. This process encourages students to develop their own beliefs and identities as music teachers. While grades are assigned only according to participation, the quality of most entries is highperhaps because students know that classmates will read their entries.
Motivating students to complete assignments was not an issue I had given much thought prior to my college teaching career. I assumed that if students were asked to read materials given to them, they would do so. I quickly discovered that this was not the case. Well-planned classes can degenerate quickly when only a small number of students complete the background reading.
To solve this problem, I tried various strategies, such as requiring students to submit a reaction to required readings. These tactics met with limited success and increased my workload. Then I learned about a program at my university that lets students take quizzes from any computer with Internet access. I began assigning an online quiz for each reading assignment prior to attending class. The short quizzes were open book, since my purpose was only that students be familiar with background material prior to class, but since quizzes closed after a certain number of minutes, students did not have enough time to complete the quiz by hunting for answers without having read the assignment. The quiz was available until class time, when it automatically became inaccessible.
The result: most students now come to class having completed the reading assignments, driving meaningful discussion and expansion of the textual material. Because students complete required readings and are actively engaged in class discussion, responses to essay questions in formal exams are also of higher quality. Students report a preference for the reading quizzes over the paper-based assignments they still do in other courses. One of the greatest benefits is that I no longer have to spend extra time assessing students' papers since the quizzes are automatically graded. Quiz grades can be automatically imported to an electronic grade book, and from there, I can electronically submit my grades to the registrar at semester's end.
Expansion of Resources
The Internet has greatly expanded the number of easily accessible music education resources that students can use. For group projects, students search for Web sites on their topics, incorporating them in their written and oral presentations. But while the rich variety of resources on the Internet is a blessing, finding resources on specific topics and determining their quality can be challenging. I have found it necessary to provide students with instruction on using search engines and evaluating Web sites.
I require students to read and examine certain Internet resources, such as the National Music Education Standards. The standards provide a thread that runs throughout the undergraduate music education curriculum. Because they are available online, students can easily access them for various assignments. I also require my students to read material related to seeking employment and career development. Excellent resources for developing resumes, writing cover letters, and assembling professional portfolios are available online. With the Internet, I can easily pick and choose among a variety of readings that would otherwise be more difficult and expensive to assemble.
An additional way in which Web-based technologies have expanded resources for students is through our library's electronic reserve system. An instructor takes printed material, such as a journal article or a book chapter, to the reserve desk, where the library staff scans the material, and, after receiving copyright approval, places the document on an online, password-protected site. Students can access these materials from anywhere in the world. Graduate studentsin-service teachers who are also degree candidatesare especially appreciative of this technology because it saves them valuable time in their busy lives.
Connecting the Elements
To tie these technologies and resources into a seamless package, I've developed a Web site for each of my courses. From the site, students follow hyperlinks to take quizzes, check their grades, participate in online discussions, and access online readings. The course Web site is a portal to all other course resources, including general course announcements and reminders.
While many think of Internet-based learning only as distance learning, the same Internet-based technologies are valuable for classes in more traditional, face-to-face settings. Students' attitudes toward these technologies have been positive. In end-of-semester questionnaires, students have indicated that they understand the course content better because of the use of Internet-based technologies. They have also expressed interest in taking additional courses that use technologies such as those described here.
From my standpoint, it is clear that students are better prepared for class, experience more depth in course content, and gain access to a rich variety of resources that was not possible a few years ago. They are also developing valuable technology skills that will serve them well in their professional and personal lives. In short, they are leaving my classes further along their career paths than they would, were it not for Internet-based tools and resources.