One Step Forward…and Two Steps Back

In mid-March, I was happy to receive this e-mail message from Sheet Music Plus:

Sheetmusicplus is finally moving away from the “one-time” digital print model to PDF format, and doing away with their iPad app.

This is a huge win for everyone, from sheetmusicplus to the consumer. I think that sheetmusicplus will experience higher sales, higher customer satisfaction, and lower cost of operations (I had to call in a couple of times when printer issues caused a misprint [even after the “test”] and the print count had to be reset). They also don't have to maintain their app, and their product can be used on ANY platform. As for the consumer, they now have choice when it comes to displaying the music (e.g. using forScore or unrealBook instead of the sheetmusicplus app), and for those wishing to use digital music, they don't need to print it out first and then scan it in again. As a further bonus, since the music is in PDF format, it may be readable with PDFtoMusic Pro, which can convert a PDF generated by a music notation program into a MusicXML file. Most of us want MusicXML files so we can manipulate music or make accompaniment/rehearsal files–most of us are not selling scanned/recognized music on the black market to make a living.

To date, none of my purchased scores have been converted to PDFs. I was going to see if I could convert a sheetmusicplus PDF with PDFtoMusic Pro–but I cannot test that yet.

Again, the move to PDF away from having to print a digital copy or use a proprietary app is a wonderful change in the industry.

And then this e-mail arrived this past week from Alfred, one of the large music publishers:

Alfred went forwards in terms of technology (Hal Leonard has been offering their own system, SheetMusicDirect, for some time) by offering Total Sheet Music, but in terms of usefulness, this model of distribution–print to use or use a proprietary app–is the wrong direction for the industry.

As a teacher in a 1:1 setting, it is hard enough to keep students in the app you want them to use. When each publisher has their own app, a nightmare scenario is created where choir members have to change apps for songs from different publishers. Furthermore, the interaction of every app is different. Most of these services still don't have a way to purchase or distribute a library for students. And from a financial aspect, the companies are still getting face value for the music (when my local music store gives us 10% off on paper music). So as it stands, there is no reward for moving to digital, other than for the company, which gets to keep all of the profit and shares nothing with the local economy. Don't get me wrong–these companies deserve to make money–but when you change the delivery model to a digitial model, the economics change drastically.

I will work on my manifesto for the music publishing industry at another time–but what I wanted to share today was this related news from two different companies in the music publishing industry. I would rather see more of the first news than the second.

 

JamStik in Education…and the Campaign Continues!

As I said in a previous post, Zivix has always been focused on education, but they have been expanding their mindset from 1:1 guitar instruction to classroom instruction. The video features the MacPhail Center for Music, which is in the Twin Cities (close to the headquarters of Zivix in Minneapolis).

I only have one complaint about the video: it doesn’t go far enough in expressing how the JamStik can change guitar instruction.

As a music educator with licensure in both vocal and instrumental music, I am not afraid to say that guitar should be a part of every high school music program. That doesn’t mean that band, choir, or orchestra doesn’t have a place in the curriculum–but guitar does. This is a scary statement for a lot of music educators, as they fear losing students to a guitar class, or they fear that they will have to teach the class.

The JamStik is uniquely situated as the perfect guitar for classroom guitar classes. To use the device, you do need an iOS Device (iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch) or a Mac. That said, many schools (even Chromebook schools!) will have a classroom set of iPads or iPod Touches available which can be used with a set of JamStiks.

Once you have a device to link with the JamStik, you have a perfect solution for a guitar class. First, the devices never need tuning. Yes, you eventually need to teach students how to teach a guitar (or do you?). Second, the students are learning with real strings and real frets. Third, the environment is silent, and every student can hear what they are doing, as they would be using headphones to practice their guitar skills. Should you also need to hear what the student is doing, you could use a headphone splitter, or you could look at a solution like the JamHub (no relation to the JamStik) for multiple inputs at one time. Fourth, you can use Zivix’s JamTutor, or you can use other materials, such as GarageBand’s (Mac) guitar lessons, or you can even use a “traditional” guitar book. Fifth, although you need a place to store and charge the devices, the amount of space required is a fraction of what you would need for a set of acoustic guitars (and likely will cost a fraction of the cost of storage units). And last in my list (but not final by any means), the devices are extremely rugged. Our units are showing some scuff marks where you strum the guitar, but are otherwise in perfect condition. One student dropped a JamStik wth the guitar strap in place, and the JamStik landed on the peg that connects the strap to the JamStik. The peg will no longer hold in place on that JamStik, and that is our only mechanical error (and that is because of a student’s mishandling of teh device). Although we bought some extra strings, all of the strings are holding up and show no sign of wear, even though they are being used multiple hours per day.

Another important aspect of “traditional” guitar classes is teaching music literacy, which means reading music on a staff (in addition to reading guitar tablature). When I taught guitar classes, I would always have students who could play guitar and read tabs, but could not read music. Those students actually had to start at the beginning, for a very different reason than other students (learning to read versus learning to play). When they had “down” time, those students would often pull up a tab sheet and play songs from various webpages. The JamStik+ connects via Bluetooth MIDI, meaning that you keep an active internet connection on your device. This means that students will have the ability to access those tab sheets online, as they don’t have to sacrifice their internet connection for the JamStik.

The cost of a guitar and a case for a guitar class is under $200 (make sure to get a guitar with a truss rod…just trust me on that one), and plan extra money for new strings and eventual repairs. Once the campaign is over, I would suggest keeping an eye on Zivix for information on educational pricing, classroom sets, and other solutions. I don’t think Zivix can match “bargain basement” guitar pricing, but I would expect a discount below the $299 MSRP, and the promise of a device that may be more rugged and stand up better over time than a traditional guitar.

In my case, I am not teaching a “traditional” guitar course (specific students in my 8th grade classes are doing an independent study versus singing in choir), but I have taught those courses at the high school level in the past, and I would have loved to have had a JamStik at that time. By the way, every “traditional” guitar class only covers the first 5 frets (or less) of the guitar. There are a few guitar purists who insist that they need more frets (maybe they do), but I would guess that the JamStik’s capo feature would make playing in most keys a possibility.

As an instructor, I bought a Washburn Rover travel guitar so that I could easily navigate a classroom and help students. That guitar was about $120, although they list at $175. How much better would a JamStik have been for those classes…showing fingering using the open play feature on a screen, and walking around the room with even a smaller solution than the Rover.

So again, I have no arguments with the video–I would just love to see an entire guitar classroom, teaching “traditional” guitar classes, outfitted with JamStiks. If you are interested in the JamStik+ for yourself, you can still purchase one at a significant discount through their campaign.

 

Another iOS Device Repair Recommendation: Dr. Phonez

My family hasn't had a very good record as it comes to iOS repair. There was a Minnesota shop that I used successfully until an iPad wasn't repaired for more than two months, and it took a process to get the (poorly) repaired device back (including daily e-mails & calls that were never answered, BBB reports, and eventually calling the police in that community). That business is no longer in business, I am sad to say.

 

My previous iPad (4th Generation) suffered a cracked screen that I took to another local place to repair, and that repair was good. However, my iPhone 5 (previous iPhone) speakerphone stopped working, and the company was unable to do that repair successfully. That iPhone eventually was traded in to T-Mobile for our current iPhones. However, I cannot recommend that repair company because it was unable to follow-through on that repair (and follow-up calls were promised and never followed-up on).

 

We had a faulty iPod Touch, and sent it to a store in Iowa for repair, and that device was damaged by the company and replaced without any request from our part (for the cost of the repair). We felt we were dealt with fairly from that company, but the destruction of the original device makes me hesitant to recommend them for other repairs.

 

Well, my wife's 1st Generation iPad Mini stopped charging. I tried cleaning the charging port with no change–and even took the device to Apple, who verifed my conclusion, but they were unwilling to try to fix the device. As a result, they would sell us a refurbished unit for $199. Keep in mind you could buy a refurbished 2nd Generation (Retina) 64GB device from the Apple Store for $299, so that wasn't a good option, either. Incidentally, Apple's selling price for a normal refurbished 16GB 1st Generation iPad Mini without a trade in? $199. Not much of a deal there.

 

I checked locally, and no one was willing to tackle the charging port, but a company in San Antonio, Dr. Phonez, was. They came up with a Google search for “iPad Mini Charging Port Repair.” I bought the repair online ($89.95), sent in the device ($12 with insurance), and about a week later, it came back to us (their shipping/packaging is included in the price). The iPad Mini works and it charges, with all of its original data, for one-half the cost of an Apple replacement. I have looked the iPad mini over, and I can't see how they repaired it. An iPad screen (any kind) is very difficult to take off, and very difficult to take off without breaking. They did it. And there is no way that they replaced the port AND replaced the screen for $89.95.

 

Again, this was my first repair from them, and we had nothing to lose. If the iPad was unrepairable, it was unusable. So it was an all-or-nothing repair. They did not know that I am a blogger, and I am not receiving any commission for referrals.

 

But as of today, I can recommend Dr. Phonez. You can find them at www.drphonez.com.

 

 

Rant #2: 1:1 Issues

I am very fortunate to teach in a 1:1 situation. Our district made five schools 1:1 schools in the fall of 2013, with the attempt to change instruction and learning at our poorest performing schools. Not as a surprise, those schools all follow the same “feeder” path…three elementary schools, all which feed into our middle school, which feeds into the high school (there are seventeen schools in our district, including four middle schools and three high schools).

Observation #1: Our kids quickly forget how fortunate they are to be in a 1:1. It doesn’t take long before they act as if they are entitled to the devices, as if they are their own personal devices, and as if they can do whatever they want on their device at any time. It also isn’t long before you see students misusing or mishandling devices. Then you always get the naysayer students who openly complain about the iPads and say that the school should go back to paper. It doesn’t help that our school is so overwhelmed by other issues that we cannot police the devices more carefully. My bet, however, is that every 1:1 faces this issue. We all begin to take the positive things in our lives for granted.

We do have a few kids whose parents have requested “no iPad” because “the iPad is a distraction,” and we do have a few students who no longer have an iPad because they have broken theirs (usually at least twice) and did not purchase insurance. The parent request IS their perrogative, but with no-iPad students, most are classically disorganized with a binder full of scattered mad-scientist-like papers. And humorously, almost every one of the no-iPad students has a smartphone of some kind, which often find their way out during class time. It is nice to know that the “no-iPad” parents don’t think a smartphone is a distraction.

One other related rant: when a student has no iPad, the teacher is then responsible to make paper copies of everything that is digital for every other student. The teacher is given no extra time or funds to make this happen–but the expectation remains.

Observation #2: Students cannot avoid the distraction of the device (regardless of the device), and if you somehow restrict their device, they will do what they can to circumvent the restriction. There is a false proclamation from educational technologist who say, “If you were more engaging as a teacher, students wouldn’t go off-task on their devices.” This is a complete myth. Human nautre is to go to the most engaging thing at any moment when we are bored. Go to any faculty meeting and watch the teachers on their notebook computers, tablets, or phones. And that principal/administrator is your BOSS. Remembering that helps me keep the right perspective when dealing with off-task students. And trust me…I try to be entertaining (you can’t always be, and some topics ARE boring) and I use every tool to keep kids on task.

We had to block iMessage and AirDrop. Even so, there are hundreds of apps that act as messengers–and when all else fails, students fall back on e-mail which we cannot block. Ah, the joys of modern life.

I attend faculty meetings without my devices. I know what I would be doing.

Also: distractions occured in the past. I have gone through enough music libraries to see what students did to paper music in the past. The artwork and written notes match anything kids with a device could ever do.

Observation #3: You can never have enough money for additional tools, subscriptions, apps, or training. This is the great lie of the Chromebook…buy the $200 Chromebook, and that is your only expense. The truth is that–particularly in the case of the Chromebook–the best services (other than GAFE, which is NOT enough) cost money in the form of an annual subscription. This could mean the cost of Schoology (sorry, Google Classroom users, but Classroom can’t stand up against Schoology, Edmodo, or Showbie), or in the case of music education, a number of services from MusicFirst. In my last post (Rant #1), I talked about how frustrating it is to be in a 1:1 and to not to be able to afford green note/red note apps for my students.

Training needs to be continual. And the more basic the device, the more training is required to make sure that technology integration does not stall out at the “Substitution” level (on the SAMR model).

The reality is: once you have that device, don’t count on any extra money for anything. And if you are a music teacher, good luck receving much professional development in the area of technology that relates to you.

Another educational technologist myth is that “Students never need PD.” That is a statement to make teachers feel guilty for wanting professional development, and it assumes that students know how to use their personal devices for education. They don’t. They know how to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and maybe e-mail. If you want them to use a device for education, you are going to need to show them how to use it. If you are lucky you will have a “techy” kid who can teach the other kids–but someone still needs to offer PD to kids, too.

Observation #4: Getting stuck in the rut. We have noticed that the majority of teachers in year two of our 1:1 are no longer requesting apps (partially because of Observation #3), nor are they having students try new apps. There are new apps every day (unless you are on Chromebook and are a music educator–sorry, but it is true…in fact, in my prep for a presentation in Ohio, apps actually disappeared), but teachers are generally using what they are alrady using.

Don’t get me wrong–you can’t keep installing apps, particularly with 16GB iPads. But the sense of exploration that our entire staff had in year one has disappeared. I would like some level of that to continue. There is a small group of “technologists” in our school that bring an “app of the week” to our staff (my apps have been Showbie and Pages [we did not have Pages last year–long story]). On the positive side, my seventh grade students tell me that many of their teachers are now using Showbie. Incidentally, Showbie is a paperless classroom solution that allows students to complete most of their work inside the app, as well as to upload work to it, without the social aspects of Schoolgy (which also has such functionality). Teachers can correct easily in Schoology as well (I will blog about this soon).

Final Thoughts: My other issues with a 1:1 are centered around the specifics of my particular job, where students are required to take music, but if they are not in band or orchestra, they are in choir. The lack of a general music class can make for a very challenging experience in choir. That percentage of students who would rather be in any other class add to the challenges of classroom management in choir, 1:1 or not.

All this said, I do support 1:1 programs. Technology does have the potential to change the learning environment, to help teachers be better teachers, and to help students be better learners. The challenge is making sure that we stay grateful; that students learn to confront their desire to be distracted; that there is enough money for accessories, subscriptions, apps, and training; and that you don’t get stuck in a rut.

Speed of the iPad Air 2

Yesterday I happened upon the first situation where the speed improvements of the iPad Air 2 (over my 4th Generation iPad) became apparent and impacted my life. 

I use Notion on the iPad as an accompanist, and at some point I export audio out of Notion (which is incredibly easy to do) to an AAC audio file, which I then import into forScore to link to score (the audio can then be played from the score, sent over AirPlay). 

The conversion process in Notion used to take a while to complete. The app saves the file as a WAV, then converts it to an AAC, then exports the file to the destination (“Open In” would be an easier step, but Notion saves the file to Dropbox, Sound Cloud, e-mail, or to the app’s folder that can only be accessed through iTunes).  This process used to take a little while on my 4th Generation iPad–minutes.  On the iPad Air 2, the process takes seconds. 

This is the first time I have seen any process that is substantially faster on the iPad Air 2, and it represents a true time savings for me.  For example, creating practice tracks for a four part choral octavo used to take a half hour (including distribution of the recordings).   Now I could do it in 10 minutes.  In the past, I could never convert a song “on the spot” in a rehearsal as it would take too long. Now I can take 30 seconds to do this task. 

Incidentally, it seems that Notion makes an audio file just as fast (if not faster) on the iPad Air 2 as it does on my 2008 MacBook. 

I’m not sure what other situations will occur where I will see speed improvements…but this discovery is both repesentative of the speed of the device and a real time saver. 

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