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Twenty-First Century Pedagogy: A Whole New World Again

Do you have an iPad or some other type of tablet? How about a smartphone? Do you use them in your lessons? A large number of responses would probably be in the affirmative, but how are university pedagogy programs training the next generation of piano teachers to use these and other technologies? Are collegiate piano pedagogues grappling with new ways to teach pedagogy? Andrea McAlister and Courtney Crappell have some insights for us!

— Rebecca Grooms Johnson, Associate Editor

Pedagogy professors around the country are busy educating the next generation of music teachers.

Year after year, we tweak our syllabi, explore new repertoire books, and research the latest trends in pedagogy in order to give students the tools necessary to become successful pedagogues. While the basic topics remain the same, the ways in which we disseminate that information have changed radically. With rapid advancements in educational technology we are learning that our classrooms are no longer just a physical space. 

Armed with their laptops, cell phones, and 4G networks, the Millennial Generation students (1983-2000) expect us to keep pace. As professors, we have been teaching these students for more than a decade and have gradually entered—or been pushed—into their world of technology. Students send us emails at all hours of the day or night; written assignments can be turned in as digital files, and many universities employ a "blackboard" that is so much more than just a black board with chalk. We strive to keep up with all the new technology, but even the digital world of our Millennial students cannot match that of the next generation. The iGeneration (2001-present) is growing up with devices, apps, and technology that neither we nor our pedagogy students could ever have imagined. Not only do we need to teach the students of the present, we need to anticipate the students of the future.

What's really important?

As busy teachers, making the additional effort to update our use of teaching technologies can be challenging. We recently conducted an anonymous online survey of piano pedagogy instructors (n=125) in an effort to determine the technologies that are currently in use in the classroom and those viewed as significant tools for modern teachers. The majority of respondents (61%) perceived website creation, media sharing website, and music notation software as being important for future piano teachers.  As shown in Figure 1, other technologies such as music education apps/software and audio software (MIDI/DAW) were also seen as important. In fact, the majority of responding pedagogy instructors labeled every technology listed on the survey at the medium-to-high level of priority. 

Interestingly, all of these technologies labeled as important in the survey did not appear in regular use in the pedagogy classrooms themselves. For example, the pedagogy teachers we surveyed found group piano lab technology, sheet music websites, and media websites useful, but indicated a rather low rate of incorporation for music education and notation apps/software, or thought that they were not applicable (see Figure 2). Graduates should be aware that just because their pedagogy teacher never got around to talking about a specific technology does not indicate that it was seen as unimportant by teachers.

The survey also revealed that several technologies commonly described at conferences and even in the media have not yet been adopted into the pedagogy classroom, or seen as important to the modern teacher. Pedagogy instructors labeled both digital textbooks and distance learning labs as mostly not applicable or low in use (see Figure 3). One would assume that in the case of distance learning labs the instructors do not have access to the necessary equipment, and in the case of digital textbooks, that they have not yet adopted digital versions for the selected course text. With the increasing speeds of commonly accessible broad-band access, and the growing popularity of tablet devices, we can look to the future for these technologies to become more accessible, user–friendly, and applicable to our teaching. 

The content of our courses remains strong, and learning to teach traditional pedagogy is imperative. It is, after all, the teacher who educates and motivates the student. But technology has provided us with tools to make this learning more interactive, customizable, and student-directed. It has opened up new, virtual doors that allow pedagogy to move beyond the classroom, campus, and community—to move into a world that gives tomorrow's educators the tools necessary to teach the twenty-first-century student. While our survey results outline technology currently in use in the classroom, rapid and recent advancements keep us looking toward new teaching applications in technology

Apps at our fingertips

Today's students have a wealth of information literally at their fingertips. With the rise of mobile technology, music education apps are not only more interactive than some of the more traditional lesson materials, they are also portable. Apps for private lessons are growing in number and our pedagogy students should be familiar with a variety of these educational tools. Many are game-like to encourage repetitions of the concepts learned in the lesson and to provide instantaneous feedback on learning—a quality that is valued by the upcoming generation.

Hard copy flashcards have been given to students for decades to assist in learning notes, intervals, and chords; however, while these do provide reinforcement of note reading, it is easy for the student to misplay notes at home without feedback from the instructor. Flashcard apps, on the other hand, give the student immediate feedback on learning and help them discover the correct answers when mistakes occur. This creates a much more productive practice situation, and, because of their mobility, music study can occur anytime, anywhere. Apps like these are available from early study (such as the Music for Little Mozarts app), to more advanced theory. iHarmony, Piano Tutor, and Read Rhythm are just a few of the many apps on the market designed to increase understanding of theoretical concepts for our intermediate and advanced students. 

Many college students come to class already owning devices capable of downloading apps. Class presentation of musical apps can vary widely from semester to semester as new programs are created daily. Often, students will already be familiar with a variety of apps and, with a quick search, can learn even more of what is on the market for all levels of students. (Many are free!) As professional educators are incorporating these tools into their studios, many leave comments for the developer discussing benefits or improvements that need to be made. These comments provide our pedagogy students with a clearer picture of how the app works in the real world of music education. Incorporating these mobile technology devices into a lesson plan creates variety and new educational experiences for their students.

Virtual collaboration

Having students work together to create presentations not only gives them input from a variety of educational backgrounds but also prepares them for a world of professional pedagogy presentations. This has previously involved verbal and PowerPoint presentations, but new avenues are allowing our students to communicate digitally. Slide Rocket ( is a presentation tool that goes beyond the basics of PowerPoint and allows users to virtually collaborate on the same project and share the final product online. A variety of themes is available, and students have the ability to add images from Flickr, videos from YouTube, and live audio to their slides to create a more stimulating presentation. Viewed online through email links, posts on social media, or through the mobile app, there is no need to download or unzip files. Surveys can be added to the presentation, and a comment section is available for each slide, allowing viewer feedback. Survey results and comments can be reviewed, along with analytics that report which slides were viewed most often and for the longest amount of time. 

Prezi ( is a collaboration and online sharing tool that uses a large canvas for creators to build a virtual map and determine the navigation of their presentation. Viewers simply click on an arrow to move through the pre-determined path. One notable feature of Prezi is its Zooming User Interface (ZUI), which allows users to zoom in and out of information based on the amount of detail needed. While the same information can be displayed in a slide format, Prezi allows the information to be connected in a way that shows topic relationships in a more creative, visually stimulating manner. The Prezi for this article can be found at Like Slide Rocket, Prezi allows students to add images and YouTube video as well as virtually collaborate and display the presentation through a mobile app. This virtual collaboration also allows the professor to view students' progress before the presentation is complete and give comments in the working stages.

Along with presentation software, students also have the ability to collaborate and share documents through a number of sites. File-sharing programs such as Dropbox, Sendshare, and Yousendit allow large files to be easily uploaded and viewed.

Video sharing made easy

Student teaching and observation are two of the cornerstones of piano pedagogy courses. Allowing students to experience a variety of teaching approaches through observation and giving them their own, supervised teaching experience provide students a foundation for growing their pedagogical skills. In the past, this meant scheduling observation time with independent teachers, making certain travel was possible for our students, and finding time in our own schedules to watch our student teachers in action. However, portable video cameras and numerous online resources have made observation of professional educators as well as student teaching easier than ever. 

Many computers now come equipped with video recording devices, as do phones and mp3 players, so recording a lesson can be done with the touch of a button. Students can easily record their own lessons and upload them to the web, making professor, peer, and self-observation much more accessible. Depending upon the size of the file and quality of video needed, lessons can be burned onto DVDs, uploaded to YouTube, or sent through cyberspace using sites such as Vimeo ( Vimeo is a video-sharing website that enables users to upload, share, and view video of all sizes. Privacy settings in both YouTube and Vimeo allow videos to remain private, only viewable by those who are given permission. Alternatively, universities can supply a server where students upload videos, keeping all digital materials from the course on the college campus. In our survey, a majority of respondents (58%) used both video recording devices and video sharing websites in their student teaching assignments.

While devices such as laptops and mp3 players do have video capabilities, the quality of video will be lower than that taken with a portable video camera. These cameras, such as the Kodak Playfull, or, on the higher end, the Zoom Q3HD, are as small as the typical mp3 player and provide excellent video as well as sound. Uploading video is as easy as connecting the camera directly to the computer's USB port and choosing the video you wish to send. These cameras are often comparable in price to the average textbook.

No boundaries

Technology also creates wonderful opportunities for students to interact with independent teachers from all over the country. Professional teachers have the ability to record lessons and send them to our pedagogy classes with the same methods described above. Communication can occur via phone, email, and social media; video chatting services such as Skype and Facetime allow for face-to-face discussions as well as instantaneous observation; and Google Hangout can be used for group meetings. Through these communication tools, students are able to ask questions of the teacher before and after the lesson. 

The use of recorded or live videos opens up many possibilities for pedagogy students when their observation is not limited to the immediate community of teachers. We live in an age where a student in Ohio can observe a teacher in Texas in real time; a wonderful tool for any pedagogy program, but an especially invaluable tool for those colleges located in communities with a small number of independent teachers

Creating a website

More then half of the pedagogues surveyed felt that the ability to create websites is an important tool for music educators. Most music studios, academies, community schools, and music organizations now maintain websites that provide information on studio policies, calendars, billing, and upcoming events. Having a presence on the web has become a necessity for today's teachers. Fortunately, with the abundance of free website builders available, setting up a site is inexpensive and requires little knowledge of web design. Sites like Weebly, Wix, Zoho, and Google Sites supply users with a variety of templates that make page creation simple and fast, yet flexible enough to allow for customization.

Business practices are often included in the pedagogy curriculum, and, although college students may not currently have studios to promote, many students are required to create studio policies and advertising materials for future use. This assignment can easily include the creation of a website for housing these documents. Additional information such as a biography, performance videos, blogs, and links to relevant websites aid in customizing the site and serve as a foundation for our students as they build their future careers.

Twenty-first-century teachers and students

Integrating educational technologies creates pedagogical experiences that could not have been imagined even a decade ago. In many respects, we are still catching up to the technology that currently exists. Many parts of the world now have wide-spread, high-speed access to the Internet. This phenomenon, combined with the proliferation of mobile devices, has created an enormous number of possible teaching applications. While traditional teaching tools, such as method books and recordings are migrating to new digital platforms, it remains to be seen how they will adapt in innovative ways.

Technology provides us with opportunities to create exciting, customizable, interactive pedagogy courses that build upon the foundational curriculum seen in syllabi across the country. Twenty-first century piano students are ready and eager to take their seat on the bench. The twenty-first-century teacher must be ready to meet their needs.

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