A look at the state of technology in music education at the end of the 2013 academic year

The circle of “leaders” in the topic of technology in music education is quite small, and most are on Twitter. Throughout the country, schools are wrapping up for the year, and the annual process of summer breaks and recharging has begun.

At the end of 2013, what is the state of technology in music education, and what looks to be on the horizon? Here are a few of my thoughts.

1. The continued influence and dominance of the iPad in education.

I won't go into great detail about this, as the iPad is a frequent point of discussion in this blog. The fact is that Android still lacks the apps (and paying consumer base) to be effective in music education, and Windows programs have not been tweaked to work without a keyboard/mouse on Windows 8 tablets. Meanwhile, we've seen wonderful improvements in many existing apps, including forScore, unrealBook, Chromatik, Notion, and Explain Everything. We now have the first version of SmartMusic on the iPad, and this will change music education as we know it.

2. The emergence of online services/programs.

Although online services (notation products, etc.) have existed for a while, the improvements in cloud computing and emergence of HTML 5 programming (packaging audio and visual interaction into webpages without the negatives of Flash) have resulted in a number of new online services. In music education, the most agressive packaging of these services is offered by Music First. The idea is that these programs are less expensive and available everywhere on every device. I still prefer on-device apps (or programs), but as this technology improves, it may completely cause us to rethink how apps.

In a similar fashion, more and more districts are moving to Google Apps. Not only do you gain (very) basic office apps (i.e. documents), you gain interactivity on documents, sharing of resources, storage space (30GB per user), e-mail (student and staff), creating teacher websites, and more. Many districts could pay for Google Apps simply by shutting down their e-mail services and moving to Google Apps. I'm all for Google Apps with one caveat…Google is in the advertising business, and they use the information we provide to sell services. But that's a cost most of us are willing to pay for the services that are offered.

3. The tricky Chromebook

Related to online services, the Chromebook offers a computer with a keyboard at the low cost of $200 (after school discounts). As schools move toward Google Services, it is hard not to also throw $200 per student into a Chromebook implementation. In the Chromebook, everything runs in a browser…if it can run in a browser. For “traditional” educational computing tasks, such as writing papers, making presentations, and taking tests, a Chromebook will do fine. It is harder for a Chromebook to reinvent what you can do in your classes with technology, and the device does not fit in traditional music classrooms at any level.

4.The Interactive White Board

The IWB continues to be a standard in teaching rooms, but it is a technology past its prime. Schools would be better off spending the money on improving wireless infastructure, using iPads and either computers with Reflector or Apple TV (mirroring), and investing in high quality audio systems in rooms (voice reinforcement) that actually work. There is value in IWBs at the elementary level as there are issues with audio on iPads (writing to the music files and using those audio files in presentations). But there are work arounds for even this…better to save the money and use it on other technology.

5. Traditional MIDI/Music Labs

If your school has a traditional MIDI/music lab, you are fortunate. Music Technology courses are somewhat rare, but terribly important. This is my opinion, but I am not sure that I would recommend the construction of a MIDI/music lab at this point. Although the iPad cannot do everything that a true music computer station can do, it can certainly do most of what would need to be done with music technology courses at the secondary level. If you use iPads and existing apps, you do not need a dedicated room, and you can buy devices such as the Akai LP25K to use for keyboard entry…and iPad apps keep getting better. We have also seen the introduction of Audiobus, which allows output from many apps…including Apple's own GarageBand…to work with each other. In my opinion, iPad music tech labs offer a wonderful option for many more schools to get into the offering of music technology courses.

6. Social Media

Social Media can be a wonderful thing; and it can be destructive. Teachers need to be aware that anything they post…private or not…has the potential to find its way to the general public, and teachers have been fired or harassed for what they have posted on social media sites. I find Twitter to be a wonderful place for professional development; I have also seen students use it in my current school to attack and destroy other students, teachers, and administrators. There seems to be a limit as to what the administration can do to stop this behavior (what can be considered “bullying” between students can be seen as first amendment rights when it comes to student comments about teachers), it is nearly impossible to montior all student social media accounts, and students even change information about themselves so as to avoid getting into trouble. As Twitter continues to explode in the world of students (along with its video counterpart, Vine), schools are going to have to find ways to better educate students and to protect the rights of anyone bullied online.

7. A season of change in the music notation industry

2012-2013 has been a crazy time in the music notation industry. Avid basically shut down development of Sibelius and dismissed their entire creative team–a team which was picked up by Steinberg and is in the process of writing a whole new notation program. MakeMusic has recently gone from a public traded company to a privately traded company, although much of the same leadership remains in place (including the CEO, who has been named permanent CEO after being Acting CEO for a year). Notion released a major update last fall and is agressively improving their iPad app. 2013-2014 will be a great year to see what is next on the horizon.

8. We get to see what comes next, soon.

Apple's WWDC is just around the corner. Apple will announce what iOS 7 will look like and some of the features that are included. I'm hoping for a few things (things that many people don't care about):

  • The ability to write to the music files in the iPad, allowing music to be shared. I know there is great concern about piracy, but I am mostly concerned about sharing audio tracks I have created for my students so they can practice. Right now, I can share the audio file, but they cannot save it from the internet to their iPad to use in apps.
  • The ability to write on Keynote (without using Explain Everything).
  • The ability to add sound files to Keynote, either as a background track or as a linked audio file in a presentation (right now, you have to make a sound into a movie, and embed the movie in your presentation–over complicated to say the least).

As always, your ideas/observations may be different than mine, but this is what I've seen this year, and what I see coming just over the horizon. One thing is certain: we have never had better tools for music education than what we have today.


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