Music instruction goes virtual


Virtual music instruction could have big implications for K-12 and higher education.

Virtual music instruction could have big implications for K-12 and higher education.


As online courses spike in popularity across the nation, students are finding that even the most traditional face-to-face courses offer virtual options that are just as thorough as in-person classes—and music instruction courses soon could follow suit.

This past spring, Louisiana State University (LSU) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) partnered for a remote piano teaching demonstration using technologically enhanced pianos from Yamaha.

During the demonstration, LSU connected a Yamaha Disklavier IV piano over the internet with another Disklavier at UCLA. The demonstration featured a mini-master class with LSU School of Music professor Michael Gurt teaching a UCLA piano student, UCLA visiting associate piano professor Jennifer Snow interacting with an LSU piano student, and LSU graduate students in piano pedagogy teaching a UCLA undergraduate student.

Such a program could have great implications for aspiring music students and professors alike.

“This has big potential for us at the university level. We’ve wanted to do this for a few years. I’m very intrigued by it,” said Pamela Pike, assistant professor of piano pedagogy at LSU. “Yamaha experts have demonstrated this long-distance teaching at professional conferences, [but] this is the first time that faculty at a university have engaged in this type of long-distance teaching.”

Music educator, clinician, author, performer, and music software developer George Litterst led the LSU demonstration. He showed that while the Disklavier looks like an ordinary piano, it is digitally enhanced and uses a musical instrument digital interface program (MIDI) to communicate with another Disklavier.

The pianos’ audio signals are transferred through the connection. Also, through the use of optical sensors, keys played on one piano show up as being played on the other, as well as pedals being depressed.

“It is an acoustic piano. It has hammers and strings and must be tuned, just like a regular piano,” Litterst said. “But, it has something regular pianos don’t—the ability to record and play back and to be connected to other Disklaviers.”

Litterst and Snow have been part of a multinational team working on behalf of Yamaha to help develop the remote learning program. Other members of the program are located in Texas, Minnesota, and Colorado, as well as in Toronto.

“There are many ways the piano can connect,” Litterst said. “For this demonstration, we used a built-in program called Remote Lesson. The program has been evolving over the past few years. We’re still working on some aspects of the software and hardware, such as microphone audio cancelation.”

Litterst said the schools used a telephone-based internet connection during the demonstration to link the two pianos, and operated the connection through the use of a smart phone that calls the IP address of the other piano to connect.

“Basically, we’re making a piano-to-piano telephone call,” he said.

Video cameras at each location, connected through the Apple iChat program for this demonstration, also allowed participants to communicate, as well as to see hand positions, arm movements, and musical gestures during performances. Litterst said popular video conferencing programs such as Skype or iChat can be used to provide visuals for Disklavier connections.


Learning by playing: Video games in the classroom

A New York Times Magazine writer asks: What if teachers gave up the vestiges of their educational past, threw away the worksheets, burned the canon and reconfigured the foundation upon which a century of learning has been built? What if we blurred the lines between academic subjects and reimagined the typical American classroom so that, at least in theory, it came to resemble a typical American living room or a child’s bedroom or even a child’s pocket, circa 2010 — if, in other words, the slipstream of broadband and always-on technology that fuels our world became the source and organizing principle of our children’s learning? What if, instead of seeing school the way we’ve known it, we saw it for what our children dreamed it might be: a big, delicious video game? It is a radical proposition, sure. But during an era in which just about everything is downloadable and remixable, when children are frequently more digitally savvy than the adults around them, it’s perhaps not so crazy to think that schools — or at least one school, anyway — might try to remix our assumptions about how to reach and educate those children.

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Google tablets may pass iPad with more accessibility

Tablet computers running Google Inc.’s Android will start taking sales from Apple Inc.’s iPad this holiday season and may surpass it in a few years as device makers adopt the software for a slew of models, analysts said in a Bloomberg report. Samsung Electronics Co. showed the newest Android-based tablet for the U.S. market at an event in New York. AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile all have agreed to sell the Galaxy Tab, Samsung said today in a statement. The device will be available in time for the holidays, carriers said. Smartphones running Android have already surpassed Apple’s iPhone in the U.S., according to researcher Gartner Inc. Google may repeat its success with tablets because its operating system is freely available to any company, said Ed Moran, director of insights at Deloitte Services LP. “There are a whole slew of factors behind the success: the open-source nature of it, the lower price, it’s not proprietary to one company,” Moran said in an interview. “Will that port over to the tablet? I don’t see why not.” Dell Inc., Acer Inc. and LG Electronics Inc. have said they will make Android tablets…

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Midwestern states revamp teacher evaluations; Duncan talks education, technology

Illinois is not alone in the recent changes it has made to teacher evaluations. Several other Midwestern states are taking similar steps, reports the Catalyst Chicago. But a new analysis by nonprofit education consulting group Learning Point Associates has found that “most of the states do not have a cohesive, intentional system for developing, recruiting and retaining effective teachers and school leaders.” States do not invest much time or effort assessing their programs’ results, the analysis found, and supports for principal recruitment and retention lag behind those for teachers. “Although six of the seven states have established standards for principals, the number and scope of policies aimed at improving the quality of school leadership is limited…  there are few initiatives aimed at improving the recruitment, hiring, induction, working conditions, or compensation for principals despite evidence that these factors strongly influence decisions to become school leaders,” the group said in a news release…

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The School of Hard Drives

In a wide-ranging interview with the New York Times, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, “I think every student needs access to technology, and I think technology can be a hugely important vehicle to help level the playing field. Whether it’s in an inner-city school or a rural community, I want those students to have a chance to take A.P. biology and A.P. physics and marine biology.”

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Diaspora, Facebook’s potential rival, offers a peek

Mark Zuckerberg is having a bad publicity day. Despite a flattering New Yorker profile of the founder of Facebook (both in writing and in a rather Roman statue-esque photograph), a flurry of media activity has not been so kind, the Washington Post reports. Although Facebook remains one of the most popular sites on the web, with 500 million users, there has been a backlash against Facebook over Zuckerberg’s global openness policy, and the buzz behind the upcoming movie “The Social Network” has put more public eyes on the usually publicity-shy Zuckerberg. Today, Diaspora, a potential rival for Facebook, released its open source code, inviting designers and programmers to help shape the network. It is still in a very early beta iteration and the alpha site will not launch until October, but there are signs that Diaspora could improve on Facebook and supplant part of its market share. Mashable asked today whether Diaspora would be the social network Firefox to Facebook’s Internet Explorer. Firefox was an open source web browser that took a large chunk of Internet Explorer’s market after its launch in 2004…

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Students: Video lectures allow for more napping

More than half of students said streaming lectures improved their grades.

More than half of students said streaming video lectures have improved their grades.

College students gave video lectures high marks in a recent survey, although many students supported the technology because it freed up more time for napping and hanging out with friends.

And three in 10 said their parents would be “very upset” if they knew just how often their child missed class and relied on their course web site.

A majority of students who responded to the survey, conducted in August by audio, internet, and video conferencing provider InterCall, said they would only attend a live lecture if an exam were scheduled for that day, or to borrow notes from a classmate. The survey didn’t indicate the percentage of students who took this position.

Far from being a scientific study, the poll nonetheless seems to confirm a key fear of many college professors about the availability of video lecture-capture technology: that it could lead to a drop in attendance at the live lectures themselves.

Working students seemed “to reap the greatest benefits from video streamed course content,” according to the InterCall survey of 504 college-aged respondents, because web-based lectures would allow them to work longer hours and watch the videos during their free time.

Overall, video lectures were popular with students who participated in the survey. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they “learn more effectively” with online lectures, and 54 percent “report that their grades improve when lectures are streamed via video online,” according to InterCall. That also confirms an important benefit of video lectures as noted by supporters: that they allow students to go back and review the content as needed.

Nearly three-quarters of students said that streaming lectures online “helps them be better prepared for exams.” And when lectures aren’t available via online video, 49 percent of students take matters into their own hands and record lectures on their own so they can review the material later.

Some respondents pointed out the convenience of being able to plop down in front of a laptop and watch lectures instead of schlepping to the lecture hall bright and early. About four in 10 students said “not having to get dressed for class” was among the benefits of online lectures. Twenty-three percent listed “being able to take more naps during the day” among their benefits.

Corinne Gregory, an author and expert on social skills, said that while educational video content has become an important part of higher education, some of the reasons students lobby for video lectures are “indicative” of the modern college-student mindset.

“They can’t be bothered with things that require stepping out of their own comfort and convenience zone,” she said. “Rather than adapt themselves … they want things the way they want things. College isn’t Burger King—you can’t always have it your way.”

Attending lectures and sticking to a schedule, Gregory said, is a critical part of college life that prepares students for the professional world. Relying on instant access to everything at any time, she said, could be detrimental for teenagers and 20-somethings.

“The continued attitude of, ‘It’s about me and my convenience’ is one that extends into many aspects of their lives, from school, to work, to community obligations,” Gregory said. “How much more self-absorbed does it get?”

InterCall’s survey—while reporting largely positive views about web-based lectures—showed that many students have taken courses that use video content rarely, if at all.

Twenty-six percent said their professor “sometimes” broadcasted class sessions over the internet, and 44 percent said their instructors “rarely” or “never” used the technology.

Twenty-three percent of respondents said their professors “often” provided streaming lectures, and 7 percent said they “always” had the online lecture option available.

The potential isolation of online learning didn’t affect student opinions; nearly half “prefer joining their classes online rather than interacting in person with their classmates and professors.”


U.S. ramps up efforts to improve STEM education

The new initiatives are part of President Obama's "Educate to Innovate" campaign.

A grant program that challenges students to design their own video games is one of several new initiatives announced by President Obama Sept. 16 as part of a broad expansion of his “Educate to Innovate” campaign, which aims to spur students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

The day before, Obama announced the launch of Change the Equation, a CEO-led effort to dramatically improve STEM education in the United States.

The National STEM Video Game Challenge competition, the first in a series of planned annual events, will be led by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and E-Line Media in partnership with sponsors Microsoft Corp., the AMD Foundation, and the Entertainment Software Association.

The video-game challenge features two competitions:

• The Youth Prize aims to engage middle school students (grades five through eight) in STEM by challenging them to design original video games. The program will be open to students from any U.S. school, with a special emphasis on reaching students in underserved urban and rural communities. The total prize pool will be $50,000. The winners will receive AMD-based laptops, game design books, and other tools to support their skill development. Cash prizes and educational software also will be awarded to the winning students’ sponsoring organization, with additional prize money for underserved communities.

• The Developer Prize challenges emerging and experienced game developers to design original games for young children (grades pre-K through four) that teach key STEM concepts and foster an interest in STEM subject areas. The program will feature a special prize for developers actively enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program in the United States. Special emphasis will be placed on technologies that have high potential to reach underserved communities, such as games built for basic mobile phones that address urgent educational needs among at-risk youth. Developers will be competing for a grand prize of $50,000. Prizes of $25,000 also will be awarded to the top entry submitted at the collegiate level, as well as the top entry for reaching underserved communities.

The National STEM Video Game Challenge will accept entries from Oct. 12, 2010, through Jan. 5, 2011. Complete guidelines and details on how to enter are available at and at

“Children of all ages are immersed in technology; today’s kids spend as much time with digital media as they do in school. With the need to make learning both more engaging and productive, we need some real game changers,” said Michael Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. “The Cooney Center and E-Line Media are delighted that national leaders in policy, practice, and philanthropy are investing in video games’ potential to help change the equation.”

The National STEM Video Game Challenge is just one of several initiatives the Obama administration is announcing to encourage students’ interested in STEM.

For a full list and detailed explanation of the new initiatives, click here.

The initiatives are part of Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign to raise American students to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next decade.

Change the Equation (CTEq), a new 501(c)3 nonprofit organization consisting of CEOs from 100 leading U.S. companies, is a response by the business community to the president’s “call to action” at the National Academy of Sciences in spring 2009.

It is the first and only STEM education group that brings so many corporate leaders together in collaboration with the White House, state governments, and the education and foundation communities, organizers said.

All of the new STEM initiatives announced Sept. 16 were created by, and are backed by, the companies that are part of CTEq, in partnership with public organizations.


Intel awards $1 million to schools

2010 SODA Star Innovator, Walter Payton College Prep.

2010 SODA Star Innovator, Walter Payton College Prep.

Things are looking up for six U.S. schools dedicated to providing innovative and effective STEM education, thanks to Intel Education’s donation of more than $1 million as part of the company’s Schools of Distinction Awards (SODA).

This annual award is in its seventh year as part of the company’s “quest to prepare tomorrow’s innovators,” and the six schools honored do just that in the areas of innovative math and/or science programs.

“The critical knowledge base provided by math and science education is the foundation for innovation,” said Shelly Esque, vice president of Intel’s Corporate Affairs Group. “These schools imbue a deep passion for math and science in the next generation, a critical requirement for America to remain competitive in the global economy.”

Twelve finalists were selected from 149 applications. The 2010 finalists were from Florida, Kansas, Texas, New York, California, Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia, Louisiana, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Ohio. You can find more information about these finalists here.

In recognition of and support for their efforts, each of the six winning schools will receive an estimated $160,000 through a combination of cash grants from the Intel Foundation and an award package of curriculum materials, professional development resources, and hardware and software from program sponsors, which include Blackboard Collaborate, Brainware Safari, Dell, DyKnow, I-CAN, SAS, Scantron, SMART Technologies, and Tabula Digita.

The six schools that received awards are Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (Alexandria, Va); Roxbury Preparatory Charter School (Roxbury, Mass.); Westdale Heights Academic Magnet School (Baton Rouge, La.); M.S. 223 The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology (Bronx, N.Y.); West Elementary (Wamego, Kan.); and Walter Payton College Prep (Chicago, Ill.).

The awards were announced as part of a black-tie dinner affair hosted in Washington, D.C., Sept. 14.

“We have such gratitude for Intel,” said Amy Flinn, principal of West Elementary, “because they’re really committed to developing 21st-century skills in students and investing in the future. The sponsors are also providing a great opportunity to explore new hardware and software.”

“Now is the time for corporate enterprises to invest in education for the future,” said Doug Conwell, West Elementary superintendent. “We really are a believer in Intel’s mission.”

Faculty from West Elementary.

Faculty from West Elementary.

West Elementary, which serves students in grades three through five in rural Kansas, has 305 student currently enrolled. The school takes pride in many of its innovative math and science programs, some of which include a robotics club for fifth-graders, a six-week aerospace program for fourth graders, and a grant-developed outdoor science classroom.

“Group work and including real-world problem solving is so important in making students engaged and showing how STEM is relevant in today’s world,” said Flinn.

“All students, not just those with a natural proclivity to STEM, need these skills,” said Conwell, “because in today’s economy, even if you want to be an auto mechanic, you need to know engineering and math.”

Flinn said school representatives felt like it was Christmas morning after the awards were announced.

“One teacher said she wanted to put on her pajamas and put her hair in a ponytail and go downstairs to do our meetings,” she said.


New STEM initiatives

“Youth Inspired Challenge” by a coalition of science centers and museums: 350 science centers and science museums, with leadership from the Association of Science-Technology Centers and local corporate and foundation support, are pledging to offer 2 million hours of science enrichment to at least 25,000 youth in all 50 states, with an emphasis on girls and underrepresented minorities.

Transforming Libraries and Museums into 21st Century Learning Labs: In partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will fund the creation of 30 new hands-on learning (“YOUMedia”) centers across the country. These centers, based on YOUMedia Center at the Chicago Public Library, will become hubs for youth engagement, creativity and hands-on learning, advancing Obama’s goal of empowering young people to be “makers and creators of things, rather than consumers.” MacArthur and IMLS will provide more than $4 million in planning grants over a three-year period, and will be joined by a number of partners such as the Knight, Pearson, Mozilla, and Grable Foundations, and the Chicago and New York Community Trusts.

Raytheon’s New STEM Tool for State Policymakers: Raytheon will leverage its engineering workforce and expertise in modeling and simulation to expand its national “STEM Modeling Tool” to the state level, allowing policymakers to identify promising STEM education interventions to expand the STEM-ready workforce, based on the specific characteristics and assets of each state. In total, Raytheon has committed to investing $55 million in STEM programs over the next five years.

National Math Science Initiative’s (NMSI) To Assist Military Families: In partnership with Lockheed Martin and Military Child Education Coalition, NMSI will announce a new effort to expand access to Advanced Placement (AP) classes in STEM subjects to public high schools that serve a large number of military families.  This initiative starts this fall with four schools serving Fort Campbell and Fort Hood.  Additional corporate partners will provide support for an additional three schools in Fall 2011. NMSI’s support program for AP classes will make it possible to offer college-level courses for children in military families that will travel with them if they are transferred, because the AP curriculum is consistently uniform regardless of the district they may attend. The curriculum, which is reinforced with intensive teacher training by NMSI, will help children in military families build a future of college-readiness wherever duty calls.

Nature Publishing’s “Bridge to Science” Program for Parents and Scientists: Nature Publishing, parent company of science publications such as Scientific American and Nature, will make a three year, $5.5 million commitment to a series of programs to build stronger connections between parents, students, and scientists, including providing parents easy-to-do experiments, and creating an online platform for parents and children to become “citizen scientists.” In addition, Nature and its affiliated journals will provide cost-free professional development for biology teachers interested in incorporating cutting-edge science, and recruit 1,000 scientist-readers to participate in classrooms through efforts such as National Lab Day.

New Efforts to Bring Passions of Scientists and Engineers into Classrooms: HP will be launching a major US-wide employee volunteering initiative to improve STEM education.  They will provide matching donations for volunteer hours, recruit scientist and engineer retirees, start a major collaboration with Donors Choose and National Lab Day, and engage HP business partners to also expand employee volunteering. They will also launch the HP Catalyst Initiative, a global network of education leaders in STEM dedicated to developing more effective learning experiences for students. In addition, the biotechnology industry, with leadership from the Biotechnology Institute, is announcing a “Scientists in the Classroom” Campaign to train and deploy scientists from companies in high-impact collaborations with teachers and students on laboratory projects in high schools.  Eight founding biotechnology companies have already pledged over $4M to the effort.  In partnership with efforts such as Citizen Schools and National Lab Day, the program will be launched in communities this fall in 10 states, reaching a run-rate of 1,000 life scientists assisting in schools over five years.

Multi-Year Investments in STEM Programs: ExxonMobil will commit to investing $120M in STEM education programs over three years, impacting thousands of teachers and students. This will include major investments in scaling programs with a track record of success, such as the UTeach and AP programs through its support of the National Math and Science Initiative. Merck will launch a five-year $19.5M investment to support science education in schools, and for the first-time, focus on the multi-year partnership with a large urban school district near Merck facilities.  This will include a multi-year partnership with Newark Public Schools to co-design an intensive professional development program for both teachers and administrators, expanding every year with the goal of district-wide adoption.