R. Upitis1, P. Abrami2, J. Brook1

1Queen's University (CANADA)
2Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance, Concordia (CANADA)
Despite numerous advances in music technology and changes in educational practices that have focused on the benefits of student-driven learning, private music instruction remains largely unchanged. While millions of children take weekly lessons in countries world wide, many students stop taking lessons after a year or two, when they realize the level of commitment that is required to learn to play an instrument so that it is personally satisfying (McPherson, Davidson, & Faulkner, 2012). This lack of engagement results, in part, from the isolation that music students experience when expected to practice at home between lessons. A recent survey of Canadian studio teachers indicated that an overwhelming majority of teachers also experience a sense of professional isolation (Feldman, 2010).

Technology can reduce isolation for music students and teachers by providing ways to interact between weekly lessons. iSCORE is an online learning tool, specifically developed to support students learning to play a musical instrument from private (studio) teachers. Prior research shows that iSCORE is a successful means for helping students set realistic practice goals, document their work between lessons, and to reflect on the progress they make as they work towards mastery of the instrument (Upitis et al, 2011). Further, iSCORE contains tools that encourage students to communicate with one another, thereby decreasing the isolation that is often associated with private music study.

Even though there are demonstrated benefits for using iSCORE to support student musicians, one persistent challenge is that of providing sufficient professional development for teachers so that they can use the tool successfully. This paper describes several methods that have been used to reach teachers, including embedded online tools, paper materials, targeted email messages, webinars, and face-to-face workshops. The success of each of these approaches is analyzed by an examination of teacher feedback, the uptake of iSCORE by students, and the depth and breadth of work demonstrated by the students in their iSCORE portfolios.

There is strong evidence that face-to-face workshops and other forms of personal contact, such as targeted emails, are the most successful means of reaching teachers. Teachers with personalized professional development report that they become more explicit about their expectations for students as a result of using the tool. After an initial adjustment period, none of the teachers felt that it was an onerous task to check students’ portfolios, claiming that mid-week check-ins made the lessons more efficient. That said, only a small proportion of teachers elect to take face-to-face workshops, and thus, an ongoing challenge for the widespread dissemination of the tool is to develop ways of reaching more teachers effectively so that they and their students might also benefit in these ways.

Feldman, S. (2010). RCM: A quantitative investigation of teachers associated with the RCM exam process. Toronto, ON: Feldman & Associates.
McPherson, G. E., Davidson, J. W., & Faulkner, R. (2012). Music in our lives: Redefining musical development, ability and identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Upitis, R., Brook, J., Abrami, P. C., Varela, W., & Elster, A. (2012). Revitalizing studio music learning through digital portfolios. Proceedings of the Research Commission of the International Society for Music Education, Greece, July 2012.