How can VLEs work for music teachers?
I’ve used my fair share of VLEs. More often than not, however, I’ve used them despite their dramatic failings when it comes to being genuinely useful in the music classroom. While a good VLE can enable great feedback, this tends to favour the written word over musical sound. As great as this can be when it comes to written work, whenever I’ve tried (or been urged to try) integrating a VLE into the more practical aspects of music lessons, the whole process just feels forced. With the recent (yet gradual) demise of NUMU as a platform for school music, now seems like a good time to reflect on the features that would make a VLE useful for music teachers.
Four simple features
To my mind, a VLE needs just four features to be of genuine use to music teachers. In short, they would be:
My thinking behind this list is pretty simple:
This is the big one. While all the VLEs that I’ve worked with allow you to upload an audio file, it’s rare to find audio as a key feature of the platform. The ability to drag and drop an audio file onto the page and have it instantly appear in an HTML5 player would be a huge boost for music teachers – if YouTube can do this with video, surely someone can do this with audio. If this could be extended with the inclusion of timed comments (in the spirit of SoundCloud), then that would help too. Taking this a stage further, if those timed comments could be audio too, then just think of the possibilities that would open up.
Audio is how music teachers can gain an insight into pupils’ learning and this is a near-constant feature of their lessons. A simple way of allowing pupils to upload audio and for teachers to respond with audio (because musical feedback makes more sense than written) would make a world of difference. Again, the emphasis needs to be on simplicity – no file format/size/length limits. Schools have a wide range of recording equipment with enormous variety in default export formats; let the technology take care of the hassles this generates.
This doesn’t even take into account Robin Hammerton’s Ofsted/TES blog about using catalogues of recordings.
Video might help too but uploading lengthy video on a flaky school wifi network is rarely fun. The option would be good but some finesse with audio would be my first priority.
The lack of a music-friendly VLE has led to music teachers getting very good at using products that weren’t necessarily designed with education in mind. SoundCloud, AudioBoo, ReverbNation, Noteflight and Soundation come to mind. Being able to import and export to these services would allow pupils and teachers to get the best of both worlds and give them reassurance that their work would still be available if SLT decide not to renew the VLE contract.
Anyone who has read ‘Open’ by David Price will be familiar with his imperative of social learning, ‘Do it for the world to see’. Being able to share work with the world at large can be a great motivator for pupils. NUMU used to make it easy to pin a pupil’s work to your home page, can this be brought back with a ‘share to school website’ button? Twitter integration for your music department account would be nice too.
While we’re at it, bundling the appropriate licence for sharing pupils’ cover versions would be a nice return of one of NUMU’s coolest features.
Music teachers are pretty mobile. With practice rooms to move between and a variety of instruments that need moving, it’s probably safe to say that only PE teachers move more. Let’s have a VLE that accepts this fact. If a teacher is lucky enough to have a laptop, that’s still quite a big tool to carry if you’ve got a guitar in the other hand. Apps for smartphones and tablets are a must but why do so many VLE apps only allow for photo (or maybe video) uploads? Build the aforementioned audio abilities into the app and make it a breeze to add it to a pupil’s workspace. Steve Jackman wrote a great piece about how he uses Showbie for this and highlights how even the might of Google couldn’t replicate the experience.
Who will take on this challenge?
>Have I just been unfortunate in that I’ve never encountered a school VLE with this range of features? Has someone already built it? If not, who will take on the challenge?
Finally (and implausibly), have I thought of everything? Tweet me (@johnskelleher) if there’s anything that you think I should add to this list.