Category Archives: General Musings

General Musings

National ACDA Convention – Salt Lake City

Tomorrow I am scheduled to present at 4pm on the topic of “Choral Music in the 21st Century: Integrating Technology into Choral Music” at the 2015 National ACDA Convention in Salt Lake City.  At the moment, I say, “scheduled” because I do not know if I will make it.

One of my professional goals is to support other teachers.  Most of my work is unpaid–this includes the blog and presenting.  Not only do you have to pay your own way to and from conventions–many conventions also require you to pay to attend the convention as well.  While my work does generate some income (less than $700 last year from book sales and app referrals, as well as under $3000 for individual district training/consulting sessions–and don’t forget to subtract income taxes for all of that income at filing time), my costs of traveling for this “non-job” usually absorb all that I earn and more.  I am not complaining about it–I am simply stating how it is.  Potentially, you could get connected with a sponsor who would pay your traveling costs–but I do not have any such arrangement.

The one saving grace is that i have a father-in-law who works for an airline, and I am able to fly standby (not free, but greatly reduced), which makes it possible for me to consider presenting in other states (I drove to Ohio, which I would not do again–I would fly next time).

This all works well…unless the plane fills up and you can’t get on.  The plane I was scheduled to take tomorrow morning filled up tonight–so I am not sure if I will make it on that plane or a later plane.  I get to hang out at an airport tomorrow morning and find out.  As a in-law that doesn’t work at the airline, my place on the priority list is last on the standby list (and I am grateful simply to be on the list!).

With the conventions I have attended this school year (IA, MN TIES, IL, OH, TX, and now ACDA in UT), I could not plan on attending ACDA for longer than my presentation, so the plan was to fly in and try to get out late Wednesday night or Thursday morning.  Originally, I thought getting back would be the issue…now it appears getting there will be the challenge.

As a result, I am going to do something I usually don’t do: I am going to post the presentation and the handouts (I made the handout this evening) in advance of my presentation, in the event that I am unable to get to UT and people still want the core information and materials.  The focus of this presentation is PRACTICAL applications of technology that fall in the areas of “substitution” and “modification” in the SAMR technology integration model.  As a rule, choral music has been less open to technology integration than other fields in music education (the highest from of technology in many choir rooms is a CD player), so therefore it is really important to stress the very practical ways technology can be used in a choral program.  You want people who attend your session to leave with a tool or set of tools they can actually apply in their rehearsal rooms.

I don’t take the honor of presenting at conferences lightly–I love doing it–so I am hoping everything will work out.

Choral Music in the 21st Century handouts (PDF)

Choral Music in the 21st Century presentation (PDF)

2 In 1

I am seeing a lot of Twitter posts about 2-in-1 programs this morning. The 2-in-1 is a detachable keyboard or 360° fold-over keyboard Windows-based computer. You can see Intel's advertisement about this here. I am not sure where the sudden 2-in-1 push is coming from, but I do have some thoughts about this line of thinking.

First, I am still not convinced that keyboards ultimately make that much difference. I know adults prefer physical keyboards, but some studies have shown that students are faster while typing on a tablet keyboard than a physical keyboard. We have had less than 20 checkouts of iOS keyboards in our 1:1 over two years (and we bought hundreds of keyboards). When you add the additional features of speech-to-text and predictive text, the perceived advantages of a physical keyboard should be reconsidered.

Second, most 2-in-1 devices are running Windows 8.1. There are a few cases of Android 2-in-1 devices, but I will not address those at this time. I have one of these Windows 8.1 devices, the Asus T-100. Most 2-in-1 devices pair a lower speed processor and overall lesser hardware to make an affordable device. These machines can run Windows 8.1, but it isn't a smooth experience. There are excellent 2-in-1 devices, like the Surface Pro 3, but they cost as much as a MacBook (more when you add the keyboard in the case of the Surface Pro 3). Let's be honest…your school always looks at budget. It will often buy the cheapest device, whether Chromebook, low cost 2-in-1, or cheapest iPad.

Third, sticking with the Windows issue, schools have to install all kinds of monitoring and anti-virus utilities, which ultimately impact the performance of any device. Think of 2-in-1 devices as the replacement of the netbook (this is a very solid comparison). Additional utilities that take up system resources result in slower performance, more time, and frustrated users.

Finally, the app experience on Windows 8.1 is lacking. Many quality apps from iOS and Android (if they are on Android) are missing on Windows 8.1, and have often found that the same app costs more on the Windows App Store than on the iOS or Android App Stores. I am fully aware that Windows 8.1 runs all “traditional” software. So, for example, you can run Finale, Sibelius, Notion, or MuseScore. But these programs were never intended to be run in tablet mode. When you use a tablet, you need programs that are optimized for tablet use. Native tablet apps are essential in a tablet environment. Additionally, computer programs are often hundreds of dollars more on traditional computers than on tablets. There are some open source solutions, but when you have to buy a program for an entire inventory of computers, it is going to be far more expensive than a large purchase of multiple iPad or Android apps.

On a related note, I am not sure there is any educational app distribution model for Windows 8.1 as there is for iOS and some Android devices.

Ultimately, I feel this 2-in-1 push must be a result of a financial campaign to move Windows devices back into education. No one can use educational-level 2-in-1 computers with background utilities causing performance issues–or visit the Windows App Store and examine the availability of apps–and leave thinking that 2-in-1 computers are a viable 1-to-1 solution in schools.

I did, however, want to end on a positive note. I do like “tile world” on Windows 8.1, Microsoft's answer to mobile operating interfaces. Tile World works well, and is a refreshing attempt to solve the issue of mobile operating systems, rather than just copying Apple or Android. But for you–likely as a music educator–Tiel World isn't going to offer the range of apps that you need for your classroom or personal musical involvement.




Great Fundraising Ideas

One of the big questions regarding technology is “How do I afford to purchase technology for my program?” Some teachers are lucky and they can simply request technology. Some schools have waited so long for a request from the music department that they immediately grant requests. Other schools need to fundraise.

In my program, we do a local restaurant sale (a box of discount cards) and a combination of chocolate boxes (World's Finest) and Coffee (Annick's Old World Coffee). The money we raise pays for just about everything, including music, technology, and apparel for students (if they cannot afford it).

From time to time I write about Ozark Delight Lollipops. In the old days (pre-Obama), you could sell these things in school and you could sell a ton. Two things happened…first the price of each lollipop raises where you could no longer sell two for $1.00; and of course, school regulations about selling candy at school. Well, Ozark Delight has a new lollipop that meets federal standards and is made of sugar (they also come with 100% of Daily Vitamin C and 26% of Daily Fiber requirements). We recently obtained two bags (one from Illinois, and one from Texas) of these suckers–and they are great! At this point, $1.00 for a long-lasting sucker is not a bad price, yielding 62% profit. Or you could sell 6 for $5.00 (which many students would do). I LOVED this fundraiser in the past (you will get students who buy a bag for themselves), and the changes to the formula (D'Lites) will allow them in your schools. We may sell them in choir before and after school. I like this product so much that I would consider going to work for them. Really.

The other fundraiser of interest was the “Ten Foot Fundraiser” by SmartCell. The idea is that you sell 10' charging cables for Android, iPhone 4 (and earlier), and iPhone 5 (and later). I believe the cables sold for $15, and came with a 50% profit. The cables are not Apple certified and thus will not work with iPads, and come with a 90 Day no-questions-asked policy (shipped replacement). I haven't used the cables, so I cannot attest to their quality, but it is an interesting concept, particularly as we travel with kids with iPod Touches, and a 10' cord could make our lives better. Even more so, the ability to get an Apple certified cord would be great in our 1:1, as student cords break ALL THE TIME, and many families would be willing to purchase a back-up, particularly if the back-up was cheaper than an Apple cord, and easier to buy than via the internet (i.e. face-to-face sale with a student).

So…there you go…try Ozark Delight and SmartCell. You might also want to give Mark H. a call with Annick's Old World Coffee, which we have found to be a unique product and a good value (the roast coffee has to be compared with a fresh roasted coffee, not packages at your large department store).

I should note that I do not receive any referral kickbacks for writing about these posts, although I did get a free bag of suckers from Ozark Delight in 2014.

The Importance of the Vendor Area

The vendor area at the Ohio Music Education Convention

The vendor area at most (all?) music education conventions is often one of the most important elements of a conference. This area, which differs in size subject to the size of the state music education association, is where:

  • Music instrument companies show off their inventories
  • Music publishers show off their latest available works
  • Fundraising companies show off (and often give free samples) of their items available for sale
  • Uniform vendors show off their latest marching band, formal apparel and robe designs
  • Free trade and jewlery companies come to sell items
  • Colleges come to promote their music programs
  • And music technology companies show off their software and hardware solutions

Music teachers, spouses, students (typically middle school through college), and parents all travel through these areas. This is an incredibly important place for finding things, and building connections (networking).

I have only had the opportunity to visit the vendor areas of six states, but I am willing to bet that Texas is the largest. Texas has an East and West vendor area, and I am sure you could play two to three football games comfortably in each wing. If you are a music technology company, it makes sense to display your product at the Texas MEA show, as you will have a large audience to work with. There are vendors at TMEA that do not come to any other music convention in the United States.

I view myself as a music educator with a passion for technology in music education. I know that we, as music educators, lead unbelievably busy lives–even more so if we also have families of our own. Tone Deaf Comics has created posters showing the many hats that we wear.

So here's my point of concern when it comes to technology in music education: if teachers are busy, where are they going to find technology that will improve teaching and learning? It isn't enough to take a company at its word, and every blogger (including myself) have their biases. You can talk to other teachers about what is working for them–but as you know, everyone has their own talents, skills, gifts, and needs. One of the best ways to find technology is to go to a convention and actually use that technology yourself. But what if your conference doesn't have that technology? Or what if someone is presenting on technology that you would like to know more about, but your school only let you go to the convention on a day other than that presentation? And what if your state's vendor area is shrinking each year?

Undoubtedly, some services such as MusicFirst, which bundles major online services at a decent cost for music education (e.g. NoteFlight, Groovy Music, etc.), are a good place to start. At the same time, every company is going to offer its services as a solution, even in situations where there might be something better for you on the market. Don't get me wrong…NoteFlight is a wonderful tool, and pretty much the only multi-platform solution on the market. But you might be in a teaching situation where some other tool such as Finale, Sibelius, MuseScore, Notion, Notion on the iPad, NotateMe, or Symphony Pro might be a better solution for you.

Unfortunately, I don't have a solution. The best possible way to learn about software and hardware is to be able to go somewhere and try multiple solutions at one time. I just don't know how we can provide that ability for everyone equally. Don't go to your state education technology conference expecting very much technology that can impact music education.

I have heard that the Pennsylvania TI:ME group is offering a technology room during their state music education conference. This is wonderful, but at the same time, unsponsored music educators shouldn't be using their personal time to sell products for companies, either. Perhaps there is some way to have vendors work together to avoid the costs of presenting at a clinic and instead “chipping in” to a set-up of several Macs, PCs, Chromebooks, and iPads where music educators can try out various software and hardware tools–but then how do you make sure they are represented fairly? And how do you build a level of cooperation between competitors?

Again, I don't know the answers…all I know is that a problem exists.


Notice: A Number of Blog Posts Coming Up!

I wanted to let regular readers know that I am going be writing a series of blog posts over the next days. Life has been busy this year, filled with teaching, being a parent, and being a husband. At the same time, there hasn't been a great deal of huge news in the industry. As a result, I haven't written very many blog posts.

Although I have one more convention coming up, my 2014-2015 convention schedule is basically over (I will have some sessions with the summer WSMA, and pehaps with the University of St. Thomas). At the moment, we are trying to get used to single digit temperatures after three days and four nights in San Antonio as part of the TI:ME/TMEA convention. If we didn't have personal committments here, I am not totally convinced that we wouldn't be packing up a U-Haul with all of our belongings and moving. It was REALLY hard to go outside to get to church this morning.

After attending sessions at ILMEA, OMEA, and TI:ME/TMEA, visiting vendor areas, and talking with a lot of people, I have some clear concepts about music education and technology, conferences, and trends that I want to put down “on paper” (or, at least, on the blog).

And with that, I will move on to writing those posts, but also wanted to explain why there will be a series of posts coming in the next days.


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