The smartChoir Module: A Prototype
for Teaching Teachers to Develop
Online Instruction/Rehearsal Enhancement
Using the National Standards for Music Education
James F. Daugherty
Center for Music Technology
University of Kansas
Anne Millard Daugherty
The Online Academy
University of Kansas
Equipping the nation's schools with up to date computer technology and internet
access has been a focus of efforts at federal, state, and local levels. Yet the
impending success of this national crusade uncovers a dilemma aptly depicted by
Guernsey (2000): "O.K, Schools Are Wired. Now What?"
Numerous studies suggest teachers lack sufficient preparation and background to
incorporate substantive electronic learning into their teaching contexts. The
Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress (1995a, 1995b), in one of
its last reports, reveals that while over 50 per cent of teachers feel
comfortable with traditional computer applications (e.g., word processing,
tutorials, games, publishing), less than 10 per cent consider themselves
competent to use more involved formats such as electronic network collaboration,
problem solving applications, or multimedia. In a similar vein, the National
Center for Educational Statistics (1999) reports that only 20 per cent of
teachers feel prepared to integrate electronic learning into their classrooms.
Bosch and Cardinale (1993) find that many pre-service teachers have not
experienced useful models that embody instructional use of computers in their
undergraduate courses and field experiences. Baron and Golman (1994) indicate
that pre-service teacher education tends to focus on less sophisticated computer
skills that do not lend themselves to problem-solving applications or
higher-order thinking skills. A recent study released by the Milken Exchange on
Educational Technology (1999) finds that of 416 teacher preparation institutions
surveyed, most report that technology use is not integrated into regular
coursework or field experiences.
Context of the smartChoir Module
Benefits and dimensions of electronic learning for enhancing choral music
rehearsals and choral music education courses have been identified and discussed
by Daugherty (1999). Strategies associated with web-based rehearsal notes and
links, web forms, electronic portfolio assessment, audio and video files,
discussion boards, and electronic collaboration can relate "knowledge of" to
"knowledge about" music making in creative ways that foster the active
participation and reflection of each singer. Yet, students who, as learners, may
favor such online engagement in their own education at the undergraduate level
appear to have little clue how they, as teachers, might design such electronic
learning opportunities for eventual use in their own classrooms and rehearsal
In the fall of 1999, pre-service teachers in a choral music methods class at the
University of Kansas engaged in a pilot project designed to ascertain the
feasibility of teaching teachers to develop electronic learning resources. A
particular focus of the project was to design electronic learning experiences in
conjunction with the National Standards for Music Education and specific examples
of choral literature suitable for school choral ensembles. Specifically, this
pilot project sought to gauge the effectiveness of using models or templates that
could readily be adapted for use with various real-life contexts and objectives.
It was assumed that these pre-service teachers would have some experience with
traditional computer applications, but no expertise with more advanced skills
such as creating web pages, designing web forms, or crafting electronic learning
experiences. Rather than teach technology per se, the project sought to enable
pre-service teachers to contemplate and design opportunities for electronic
learning by providing them only the minimum technological tools needed at any one
time to achieve their pedagogical goals. Provision was also made to empower
teachers to progress beyond these minimum tools when they discerned a need to do
Participants and Timeline
Students (N =14) in the choral methods class were juniors and seniors pursuing certification
as music teachers. Four students intended to teach public school choral music upon graduation.
Ten students were instrumental music education majors. For all students this course was a
requirement for state certification as music teachers. There were three female students
(21.43%) and eleven (78.57%) male students in the class.
Six fifty-minute class periods were devoted to the project, including brainstorming ideas,
constructing the modules, and sharing the finished products. The class met 45 times
during the semester. The smartChoir project, then, encompassed 13.33 per cent of total
As indicated in Table 1, prior to the project 11 students (78.58%) described themselves
as either "totally lost" (50%) or "uncomfortable" (28.58%) about designing an
instructional web module. Of these students, two (14.29%) did not own a personal
computer and five (35.71%) did not have internet access from home. Only three
students (21.42%) described themselves as "somewhat competent." Interestingly,
all students had completed a one semester music and technology course required of
first music education students.
Self-reported competence/comfort prior to smartChoir
| ||Totally lost|| Uncomfortable|| Somewhat Competent || Competent || Very Competent|
Respondents ||7 || 4 || 3|
Percentage ||50.00 ||28.58 ||21.42*|
*Compare to national estimates(OTA/NCES) of 10-20%
The smartChoir Module: Method and Design
The smartChoir Module consists of six components. (See Figure 1).
Figure 1. smartChoir splash page (click for a larger image)
The first section, "About smartChoir," relates the module to research based
strategies for effective instruction, discusses the philosophy of the module, and
provides links to the National Standards for Music Education.
The second section (see Figure 2) features examples of modules crafted with the
use of smartChoir. These modules are categorized by the specific National
Standards and choral literature to which they apply. Included here also are links
to some electronic learning opportunities in use with choral ensembles and choral
methods courses at the University of Kansas.
Figure 2. smartChoir Examples
The third section illustrates various formats for constructing electronic
learning. Included here are interactive web pages for learning to use web forms,
bulletin boards, and discussion/chat formats, as well as incorporating audio,
graphics, and links to the World Wide Web.
Section four provides templates of these formats that pre-service teachers can
copy and modify to their own specific contexts and needs. These templates
include instructions for synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities, as
well as quizzes and directed questions in various formats. Among these modes of
assessment are options to create multiple choice questions that have an auto
response from the computer, reflections and answers that can be sent to the
instructor for comment, and others where students can compare their responses to
exemplary responses provided either by the instructor or fellow classmates.
Section five shows how to use browsers and FTPs. It also features basic tutorials
on writing basic HTML code and viewing source code information from other web
The final component of smartChoir provides a wide array of links to online
materials of potential interest to music educators. These resource links
constitute both a means of further research and exploration and a collection of
useful materials that teachers might profitably link to the modules they are
Throughout its six components, smartChoir endeavors to show teachers how to
design and construct electronic learning opportunities without requiring teachers
first to accumulate large amounts of technological savvy. Rather, the emphasis
remains on the pedagogical possibilities of electronic learning, and teachers are
invited to jump right in and work with this pedagogy from the beginning.
Following completion of the project, 13 students (92.86%) described themselves as basically
competent in their abilities to design an instructional web module (see Table 2). Of these
students, seven (50.00%) felt "somewhat competent" and six (42.86%) described themselves
as "competent." No student felt "very competent." One student described
himself as "uncomfortable" both before and after the project.
Self-reported competence/comfort before and after smartChoir
Totally lost|| Uncomfortable|| Somewhat Competent || Competent || Very Competent|
| Respondents ||7 || 4 || 3|
| Percentage|| 50.00 || 28.58 || 21.42*|
Totally lost ||Uncomfortable ||Somewhat Competent || Competent || Very Competent
Respondents || || 1 ||7 || 6|
Percentage || || 7.14 || 50.00* || 42.86* |
*Compare to national estimates(OTA/NCES) of 10-20%
As indicated in Table 3, between 78.57% - 85.70% of all participants reported that they
agreed or strongly agreed that teachers could design instructional web modules , that
modules adapted to the National Standards and specific choral literature could be a
valuable part of school choral music instruction, and that they would likely incorporate
some form of online instruction in their teaching careers. The same student who described
himself as "uncomfortable" both before and after the project consistently reported
disagreement with such statements.
Self-reported views of instructional web modules in choral music instruction
Choral music teachers can learn to design and implement online instructional
modules by following a pattern/model such as the one I used on my project:
Strongly Disagree|| Disagree || Neutral || Agree || Strongly Agree|
|Respondents || 0 || 1 || 2 || 9 || 2|
Percentage || 0 || 7.14 || 14.28|| 64.29 || 14.28|
Web modules adapted to the National Standards and specific literature being rehearsed
can be a valuable part of school choral music instruction.
Strongly Disagree|| Disagree || Neutral || Agree || Strongly Agree|
Respondents || 0 || 1 || 1 || 6 || 6|
|Percentage || 0 || 7.14 || 7.14 || 42.85 || 42.85|
I will likely incorporate some form of online instruction into the choral music classes I teach.
Strongly Disagree ||Disagree || Neutral || Agree || Strongly Agree|
|Respondents || 0 || 1 || 2 || 7 || 4|
Percentage || 0 || 7.14 || 14.28 || 50.00 || 28.57|
Technological issues constituted the bulk of responses to questions concerning both what
students learned most from the project and what was most frustrating to them about the
project. Students also stated they learned a lot in examining choral literature from the
perspective of the National Standards. In addition, students offered practical suggestions
for improving this web project in future classes, most of which centered around allowing
more time for finishing the
project and more instruction in writing html code. Many students commented on how much
they were able to learn in a relatively short amount of time.
Results of the pilot project suggest that an approach such as smartChoir holds
promise for enabling pre-service teachers to comfortably design electronic
learning opportunities without extensive prior experience in advanced computer
applications. More research is warranted, including field testing in contexts
where choral music education students are not previously accustomed to e-learning
in their regular coursework.
Further refinements of the smartChoir module may include a more extensive sample
base of templates, provision for users' self-assessment of skills imparted by the
module, and a database of exemplary choral literature for ensembles of various
abilities and voicings. It must be recognized as well that not all choral music
education professors are proficient in those technological skills typically
associated with ability to design e-learning enhancement opportunities. The
smartChoir module, then, should be further refined to serve as a self-instruction
strategy that both pre-service teachers and their instructors can utilize
Results indicate that pre-service teachers were able to advance considerably in
their abilities to understand and design electronic enhancement experiences for
choristers in a two week timeframe. However, more time is likely necessary to
incorporate smartChoir into a typical undergraduate choral methods course. In a
meta-analytic research review of 36 studies addressing the impact of computer
use on student achievement, Khalili and Shashaani (1994) found that duration of
instruction may be a primary variable. Instructional strategies incorporating
technology appeared to be less effective when they lasted less than three weeks,
and more effective when four to seven weeks in duration. Future trials of
smartChoir might well encompass a four week period.
Following experience with the smartChoir module, approximately 93% of students
described themselves as competent to some degree to design and implement
e-learning experiences. Moreover, 78.57% - 85.70% of participants evidenced
favorable attitudes toward use of online enhancement strategies for choral music
classes. As noted in Tables 2-3, one student remained uncomfortable throughout
the project despite the fact that he was able to create a very good e-learning
module linking the National Standards with specific choral literature. One or
two other students took a neutral stance concerning the value of online
This dispersion of attitudes serves to underscore some value considerations
inevitably associated with electronic learning in a choral music context. Some
research (Laffey and Musser, 1998), for instance, indicates that a preponderance
of students entering teacher preparation programs may be negatively disposed
toward teaching with technology, perhaps because they believe that technology may
interfere with teacher-student relationships. The extent to which such an
attitude might be characteristic of entering music education students, whether
more or less so, is worthy of further investigation.
Nonetheless, the case of the doubting student who stuck to his guns throughout
the smartChoir project raises important philosophical and pedagogical concerns.
On the one hand, it might be argued that the purpose of any teaching strategy is
to enable students to learn. In a choral music context the music-making itself
must remain a primary focus. If, for whatever reason, the major focus shifts to
the technology per se, or the prospective teacher is less comfortable or less
efficient using technology, student music-making may ultimately and adversely be
affected. In that situation, making an issue of technology might be
On the other hand, it may be that pedagogical concepts and practices associated
with electronic learning, not particularly the technology itself, are
legitimately threatening to some teachers. Such may be the case for those whose
presently held beliefs about the nature of music teaching and learning,
particularly in the context of performing ensembles, are constrained by a more
teacher-centered, objectivist perspective. In this case, an argument for keeping
music-making as a primary value might well make the point that student music-
making is arbitrarily constrained and stunted by the teacher's rather narrow
beliefs. As Nicholas Cook has argued, most recently in Music: A Very Short
Introduction (1999), what music making is and the ways we teach and talk about
it may be two different things. In a similar vein, Christopher Small (1998)
discusses the "cult of the conductor." An outgrowth of the aesthetic approach to
music typically found in the western classical tradition from the late 18th
century forward, such prominence afforded the conductor may arbitrarily usurp or
obscure the responsibility of ensemble musicians to contribute fully both to the
process and product of music making.
Such considerations point to two primary ways of viewing enhancement of choral
music rehearsals though electronic learning: (1) the technology may allow
teachers to become more efficient and more intentional in some of the ways they
presently teach and structure rehearsals; or (2) the technology suggests and
makes more feasible a pedagogy that may essentially change the ways teachers
teach because it can change their concepts of music and music education.
If the technology behind electronic learning is viewed primarily as a
value-neutral tool, then pre-service teachers should become apprised of this
technology and skilled in it to the extent they are prepared to utilize it or not
according to their present perspectives on the nature of choral music teaching
and learning. In this sense, the smartChoir module may become a sensible means
of enabling pre-service teachers to attain sufficient technological skills in a
relatively short amount of time.
If, however, there are pedagogical values immanently, though not necessarily,
made more feasible by electronic learning, then the smartChoir approach may serve
as an entree to what can be fresh worldviews on the nature and practice of choral
music instruction. The shape of that practice, to some extent, might perhaps be
glimpsed from discussions of the past decade, particularly in math and science
education, under the rubric of "constructivism" (e.g., Postlethwaite, 1993;
Whether pre-service teacher education should serve to support and make more
efficient present ways of teaching school choral music, or whether pre-service
teacher education has a role to play in reforming accustomed ways of practicing
choral pedagogy in the schools, is an old tension raised anew by electronic
learning. Dynamics associated with that dialectic, however, merit continuing
reflection at this time because they underscore an essential value question about
the proliferation of technological hardware in today's schools: Now what?
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