Perceived Importance of Technology Skills and Conceptual Understandings for Pre-service, Early- and Late-Career Music Teachers

February 16, 2015

The technology skills and conceptual understandings that music teachers develop, either through formal professional development or through some other means, have influence on the activities they design for their own students. Individual teachers are frequently the catalysts for offering technology-based music classes (Dammers, 2010). While those who conduct classes and workshops are often responsible for selecting the emphases of technology education, teachers may not deem the foci of education as particularly important for their practice. It is therefore important that the development of skills and conceptual understandings, and the selection of those skills that teachers deem necessarily connected to their work, be a topic of examination. 

Some recent scholarship has attempted to shift the lens of technology integration from one of skills and procedures to one of thoughtful, reflective pedagogy of a particular content area that happens to use technology as a delivery mechanism (Angeli & Valanides, 2013; Gurung, 2013; Porras-Hernandez & Salinas-Amescua, 2013). Much of this work is based on the theoretical model known as TPACK (Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge). The model’s originators assert, as an extension of Shulman’s theory of pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, 1986, 1987), that the addition of a technological layer further complicates pedagogy and may change or obscure content (Koehler & Mishra, 2008; Mishra & Koehler, 2006). Full descriptions of TPACK in music teaching and learning are available elsewhere (Bauer, 2010, 2013; Dorfman, 2013; Welch, 2013), and recent work has delineated the typical activities of music instruction along the domains of TPACK-based instruction (Bauer, 2014; Bauer, Harris, & Hofer, 2012). In short, the developers of the TPACK model and the researchers who have conducted studies using it as the theoretical foundation, have asserted that teachers in all disciplines need to have technology skills and conceptual understanding in addition to the content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge related to their fields.

Because the TPACK model depicts technology content knowledge on an equal level as the other types of knowledge it contains, the model suggests that teachers must know how to use technology in order to effectively integrate it into their teaching. This notion was expressed in the early decades of advanced technology integration into general education (e.g. Ellis, 1992; Knupfer, 1988), and research into the effectiveness of technology professional development in music education (Bauer, 2007) and in general education (Lawless & Pellegrino, 2007) shows a continued interest in the skill- and concept-based aspects of technology. The ability to use technology for music teaching remains an obstacle to integration (Dorfman, 2008; Dorfman & Dammers, 2014, in press), and is therefore worthy of investigation. Moreover, the TPACK framework suggests that balanced proficiency with content, pedagogy, and technological skill will ultimately help music teachers to conduct technology-based teaching more effectively.

In the current study, the research focused on the Technological Knowledge component of the TPACK model. It is assumed that music education students, the population from which the sample for this study was drawn, engage in development of Content Knowledge through their musical experiences (coursework, ensemble participation, etc.) and in the development of Pedagogical Knowledge through their preparatory education experiences (coursework, student teaching, pre-practicum observations, etc.). Technological Knowledge is the component of the TPACK framework that receives the least attention in traditional music teacher preparation programs, which justifies the need to study the importance of particular skills and understandings related to technology for music education students. While it was not the researcher’s intention in this study to quantify or evaluate music teachers’ TPACK, or any component of that construct, examining the relative importance of particular skills and understandings can help music teacher educators to create music teacher preparatory curricula according to appropriate and valid definitions of TPACK (Cavanagh & Koehler, 2013) and in ways that will be beneficial for future classroom teachers.

Studies regarding the importance and appropriateness of technological skills for classroom use have shown that general teacher preparation programs offer preparation in diverse technologies, but teachers often feel underprepared to integrate them into their practice (Albee, 2003). Brush, Glazewski and Hew (2008) found that “technology use required in university classes adequately prepares pre-service teachers with lower-level technology skills but…this preparation does not provide these individuals with sufficient knowledge to support technology-based instruction” (p. 122). These researchers have shown that the disconnection between preparation and practice extends beyond music teaching into the general classroom, and have suggested that preparation may influence teachers’ perceptions of technology and the skills required to use it.

In addition to studying teachers’ technology skills as an obstacle to deep integration, it is possible that teachers in various professional situations, including the phase of their career, view some technology skills and understandings as more important or relevant than others. Music education researchers have provided evidence that teachers’ opinions about a variety of educational ideals may change throughout their careers. Russell (2008) showed that music teachers’ career plans change based on factors such as their socioeconomic backgrounds and the characteristics of their students. Additional factors that may shape music teachers’ views of their own roles and their longevity in their positions include administrative support (Baker, 2007), self-confidence (Eros, 2013), and professional development opportunities (Conway, 2008). It stands to reason that availability, training, support, skill levels, and other technology-related factors may be related to teachers’ perceptions of their practice.

There is evidence from the general education literature to support the notion that teachers who adopt technology early in their careers are more likely to continue this practice later in their careers (Aldunate & Nussbaum, 2013). Teo (2011) constructed a model of adoption that points to technology’s usefulness, ease of use, and attitudes regarding technology as important predictors of integration, notions supported by Shiue (2007). Important for the present study, it is also possible that competence with technology is a factor in teachers’ decisions to use it in their classrooms and in promoting positive attitudes toward technology (Benson, Farnsworth, Bahr, Lewis, & Shaha, 2004; Brinkerhoff, 2006; Lee, Cerreto, & Lee, 2010). No researchers in music education have addressed music teachers’ perceptions of the importance of technology in terms of their pedagogical practice, or how those perceptions may differ based on career stage.

Purpose and Research Questions

The purpose of this study was to explore the perceived importance that pre-service, early-career, and experienced music teachers place on an established set of technology skills and concepts as it relates to usefulness in their jobs.

Specific questions that guided this study and the analysis were:

1. What are the perceptions of pre-service and practicing teachers regarding the importance or usefulness of technology skills in their future or present jobs?

2. Are there significant differences in perceptions based on the career stages of the respondents?

3. How do the music teachers’ perceptions of the importance of technology skills compare to the perceptions of those from previous research samples?

Sample & Methods

Respondents for this study were music education undergraduate and graduate students. The former represented the “pre-service” segment of the sample while the graduate students were expected to bring varying levels of teaching experience. The respondents came from two general populations. First, students in the music education programs at the researcher’s university were invited to participate. Second, a “crowd sourcing” (Behrend, Sharek, & Meade, 2011) model was employed wherein the researcher emailed music education faculty members from 15 universities around the United States and asked them to forward the survey link to their students. Although not identical to crowd sourcing models that have been previously employed, Behrend et al showed that similar methods may produce equal or better reliability than might be obtained through a targeted audience, and may reach a broader sample. This technique led to a geographically diverse sample that included music educators affiliated with universities that ranged from small to large, and were both public and private. Requests for participation were sent to faculty at universities in Florida, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Arizona, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and Colorado due to convenient access to faculty in those states. The faculty members all responded that they would forward the invitations to their students and alumni.

The total sample for this study was 237. It is impossible to know the total number of people to whom the invitation to participate was sent because this invitation was forwarded to them. While this should not be considered strictly a convenience sample because the respondents were not directly accessible to the researcher, there were no efforts toward randomization, not toward targeting specific members for each group. Based on the study by Eros (2013), the sample was divided into four “experience” groups: pre-service (0 years experience; n = 74), early-career (1-3 years experience; n = 16), mid-career (4-10 years experience; n = 56), and veteran (11 or more years experience; n = 91).

The sample was divided relatively evenly in terms of gender; respondents were 51.1% male (n = 121) and 48.5% female (n = 115) with one respondent electing not to provide this information. Respondents’ ages ranged from 18 to 73 years with a mean age of 33.71 years (SD = 13.16). Of the sample, 26.4% (n = 43) of the 163 practicing teachers responded that they were currently teaching a technology-based music class. This finding is slightly higher than the 14% that Dammers (2012) reported, which may represent growth in the number of classes simply due to the passage of time between the two surveys.

Two recent presentations (Webster & Williams, 2011, 2012) have included evidence of an emerging set of skills and conceptual understandings that university music professors and students view as important for undergraduate music students to obtain during their time as students. Webster and Williams determined that several of these skills and understandings are viewed as important regardless of the field within the respondents’ music division, but that some of the skills or conceptual understandings are viewed as more important depending on the subject of study. For example, respondents in performance, music theory, music history, composition, and music education all rated the use of notation software as very important, while rankings of the ability to use audio software were less consistent across subject areas. The list of competencies that Webster and Williams used in their work was drawn upon for this study because it has been shown to be comprehensive; that is, the list contains nearly all technological skills that faculty or teachers might expect to learn about during their undergraduate programs. The wording of some items was modified slightly to fit the tense and purposes of this study. While the researcher acknowledges that the methodology used in obtaining the list of skills and competencies may not have been intended for replication, the list is the most complete of its kind.

A questionnaire (Appendix A) was designed and distributed electronically using the Qualtrics survey software system. Part I of the questionnaire requested demographic information. Part II of the questionnaire listed, in a randomly selected order, skills and concepts from the Williams and Webster studies. Respondents ranked these items on a five-point scale from “Most Important” (1) to “Least Important” (5) (see Appendix A).


On a 10-point scale (with 10 representing most appropriate), respondents rated their access to technologies appropriate for music teaching and learning as 6.17 (SD = 2.69) out of 10. Respondents were asked to rate their abilities in three general practical and pedagogical skill areas (Table 1). The respondents indicated that their skills were most highly developed for using technology to plan and organize their teaching, followed closely by their uses of technology for creative projects and their abilities to help students create their own creative projects.

Table 1

Respondents’ Skill Levels

table 1







The results shown in Table 1 are similar to findings of previous studies within music education, which have indicated that teachers tend to use technology more for their own administrative and planning purposes than they do for creating activities in which students interact with the technology directly (Dorfman, 2008; Reese, 1999). Recent scholarship has shown that these teacher tendencies might be shifting toward the direction of greater student engagement (Dorfman & Dammers, 2014, in press), and the perceptions analyzed in this study tend to support that trend.

Respondents ranked a series of technology skills, extracted from the Williams and Webster (2011, 2012) studies, according to their perceptions of their importance for music teaching (Table 2). Note that, in this set of responses, lower scores indicated greater perceived importance; the skills are listed here in order of perceived importance. The far right column in Table 2 indicates the rank for each item in the original Webster and Williams (2011) study. In response to research question 1, the pre-service and practicing teachers who participated in this study ranked uses of music notation software, and digital audio capture and editing as the most important skills and understandings in the provided list. In response to research question three, while several of the rankings from the 2011 study were similar to those from the present study, the top-ranked skill (“Use notation software to create worksheets and other teaching materials…”) was not similarly ranked.

Table 2

Perceived Importance of Skills and Conceptual Understandings

table 2

























































Webster and Williams deemed the top 30% of the responses to be the most important skills and conceptual understandings that their participants identified. The range between the lowest and highest mean responses for this study was 2.02; 30% of this range corresponds to the nine top-ranked skills. A chi-square test for independence revealed that the distribution of the experience groups could not be considered normal (x2 = 52.44, df = 3, sig. < .005); therefore, inferential tests were conducted with non-parametric statistics. To address the second research question, a separate Kruskal-Wallis test was conducted for each of the nine highest-ranked skills. The Bonferroni correction was applied to account for multiple tests, resulting in an alpha value of .006. Table 3 displays the results of the Kruskal-Wallis tests for the nine highest-ranked skills. Significance levels indicate that, for these nine skills, none of the experience groups differed from each other.

Table 3

Kruskal-Wallis Results for Nine Highest Ranked Skills (df = 3)

table 3













Key Findings

The first research question sought an understanding of the participants’ perceptions of the importance of a list of technology-related skills in terms of the relevance to their teaching. Visual inspection of Table 2 reveals that three of the nine skills that the respondents in the present study considered most important were also ranked in the top ten in the earlier study of college faculty members and music students (Webster & Williams, 2011). Thus, in response to the third research question, both similarities and differences were found between the present sample and the previous sample.

Of the nine highest-ranked skills and understandings in the present study, four involve the use of software designed for notating music and creating printed musical scores. This suggests that the pre-service and in-service teachers in this sample consider notation software to be very important. If indeed the uses of notation software that the respondents are addressing fall within the realm of creating music, as opposed to pedagogical tasks such as making worksheets, then this finding may contrast some recent scholarship that indicates that engaging students in creative work may be more effective when students are not forced to use traditional notation, and instead rely on alternate forms of music representation such as graphic notation or recorded “regions” of sound and data (Hickey, 2012; Kaschub & Smith, 2009; Kuehne, Lundstrom, & Walls, 2013).

The skills ranked sixth and seventh in the present study (“Use a computer or other device to control a video projector or ‘SmartBoard’ projection system,” and “Use presentation software to support a presentation about music that uses text, animation, digital audio, video, and graphics”) may indicate a difference between the sample researched for the present study and those used in the Webster & Williams studies. These two skills are likely associated with the kinds of work that teachers do; they may be less linked to the typical activities of performers, as indicated by their ranks in the previous studies (20th and 12th respectively). Given recent expressions of the value of entrepreneurial career building (Beeching, 2010; Higgins, 2012) through classroom teaching, community music leadership, and other music-making endeavors, however, presentation of one’s work by engaging varied audiences with multimedia displays may become a more valuable skill for all types of musicians in the future.

The second research question sought differences in importance of the listed skills according to the levels of the respondents’ teaching experience. The Kruskal-Wallis analysis revealed that, for the nine skills ranked highest by the whole group of respondents, the experience groups did not differ significantly. There is previous evidence suggesting that early adoption of technology may lead to sustained technology use throughout teachers’ careers (Aldunate & Nussbaum, 2013). The findings of the present study seem to similarly suggest that the participants’ perceptions of importance of particular technology skills do not vary regardless of career stage.


While the list of skills and understandings used in this study is broad, the respondents for the survey were limited to a sample of music students. No suggestion is made, nor should any be inferred, that the results of this study or the ones it is based on should be generalized to populations other than music students. In addition, the participants in this study were all music education students, so the results of the present survey are applicable only to that particular subset of the music student population. Despite the limited scope of this particular study, it is possible that other education disciplines might also consider examining the importance of the technologies that are generally viewed as important for teachers. Similar to the music education sample in this study, other fields may uncover alignments or mismatches between technologies they focus on in teacher education programs, and those that are actually most relevant in the classroom.

A limiting factor in this study may have been the list of technology skills and conceptual understandings itself. While the list is the most comprehensive of its kind, not all of the items on the list are applicable to diverse musician respondents. Webster and Williams did not report efforts to validate the list or check its reliability, though it has been used in both of their investigations. Perhaps, as a result of this study, the list can be refined to produce a more focused set of skills and competencies relevant for music teachers at various stages of their careers. Since the items on the questionnaire for this study were nearly identical to that on which it was modeled, suggestions of internal consistency of the questionnaire are not appropriate, due in large part to the varied constructs that underlie the items. In addition, while comparisons of the results from this study to the previous findings are appropriate for the purpose of determining differences in samples, it should be noted that samples from the previous studies were not collected systematically.


From a large-scale perspective, this study showed results similar to the Webster and Williams (2011) study that it extends. An extreme difference, however, between that study and the present results is that the faculty members originally surveyed indicated that the most important technology-related skill was the ability to describe an overtone series—a depiction of the harmonic tones that make up a note sounded by an instrument—and its relationship to instrument timbre. This knowledge, a long-time staple in music theory curriculum materials, was viewed as very unimportant to the present sample. This skill, and others like it that were ranked much lower by the present sample than they were in the previous studies, should be reviewed for their relevance to the music teacher preparation curriculum. Similar implications could be claimed for the 25th ranked item (“Edit a sound file…”) and the 42nd ranked item (“Describe what a compressed audio file is…”). These findings imply that some of the skills and understandings are indeed perceived as differently important to music education students as opposed to the general music students in the prior studies.

The results of this study and others can help guide the choices that music teacher educators make regarding the content of technology preparation. Based on the responses, music teachers of varying experience levels consider skills related to computer-based music notation to be highly important and relevant to their professional responsibilities. Given this perception, teacher education programs and in-service education providers should continue to offer opportunities for teachers to gain skills with music notation software. If the activities related to notation software are valued, then teacher education should help teachers to use the software efficiently and in ways that help them achieve educational goals and learning objectives.

While learning to use notation software effectively is viewed as important, it is possible that the respondents were more familiar with that particular technology than they were with others, or with the types of experiences that non-notation technologies can help them facilitate. So, even as we recognize and validate the usefulness of notation software through pre- and in-service education, teacher educators should continue to expose teachers to non-notation technologies and promote understanding of their relevance to music teaching. It is possible that if exposures to non-notation technologies increase, teachers will feel more comfortable using them, and will therefore indicate a greater sense of connection between other technologies and their teaching.

Recommendations for Future Research

The studies on which the current investigation was based (Webster & Williams, 2011, 2012) were broad in the sense that the respondents were from all fields of music study including music performance, music composition, music theory, musicology, and music education. This study serves to focus the examination of technology skill perceptions to a sample of music education students and in-service teachers. The general alignment of perceived importance of several of the skills provides evidence that, at least in terms of their perceptions, music educators (pre-service and in-service) are not entirely different from the wider population of musicians. Focusing on particular skills, however, reveals that music educators do, in fact, place greater weight on notation-based skills. Future researchers might examine the emphasized importance of notation-based skills to music educators, and explore the relevance of those activities to teachers’ activities in the classroom.

Future researchers might consider the extent to which each of the skills and understandings eventually finds its way into classrooms; that is, we should continue to research the validity of this list and how the technologies are operationalized in real education settings. In addition, researchers might consider the appropriateness of general technology skills, such as those suggested in the National Educational Technology Standards, might align with music- or discipline-specific needs. The NETS-T are intended as catch-all standards to address technology integration by teachers across all disciplines; given the strong suggestions of important music-specific skills from the respondents in this study, researchers should investigate the need for similar studies in other disciplines, and perhaps expansion of the NETS framework to account for discipline-specific technologies.

As the landscape of music education technology shifts toward a pedagogical focus, additional research is needed to examine the alignment between teachers’ perceptions of important skills, the concentrations of preparation, and sound implementation of those skills into music classrooms.


The concerns over technology in the context of music education reflect quite accurately those of our counterparts in other educational disciplines. The emergence of the TPACK model as a way of thinking about technology integration means that, regardless of the content area, teachers must develop sophisticated skills and conceptual understandings related to the technologies of their field in order to base teaching and learning on technology effectively. This study shows that there is an emerging set of skills and conceptual understandings within the music content area that, when developed successfully, may help to enhance music teachers’ pedagogical thinking and instructional practice. As Bauer (2014) and Brantley-Dias and Ertmer (2013) have suggested, a music-specific TPACK (or M-TPACK) may bring greater clarity to the usefulness of the TPACK model. Refining that set of skills and understandings within music would certainly bring focus to teacher preparation and in-service learning, and may therefore improve technology-based instruction and help to establish a clearer music-specific definition of TPACK.


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Appendix A – Survey Instrument

You are invited to participate in a research study about your perceptions of the importance of music technology skills and concepts in music teaching. The purpose of this first item is to provide you with information about taking part in this study. Taking part in this study is up to you. If you decide to participate, you can indicate that at the end of this section. The person in charge of this study is XXX from XXX University.  Dr. XXX ("the researcher") can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. If you have additional questions about the study, you can contact the researcher or the XXX University IRB at (XXX) XXX-XXXX.

The purpose of this study is to find out about the perceptions of people at various stages of their music teaching careers regarding the importance of technology skills and concepts. You are being asked to participate because you are either a pre-service teacher or someone with teaching experience. About 300 people will be taking part in this survey. The survey is not sponsored by any funding agency, and you will not receive anything for participating. This survey should take about 10 minutes to complete. You are not required to answer any of the items, and you may skip any question you do not feel comfortable answering. You will not be asked for your name or other identifying information, so your responses will be kept anonymous. Only the researcher or his designee will have access to the data. Your individual answers will only be presented in possible publications as a part of analysis of all the data.

There are no particular risks associated with this study, and you will not receive any direct benefits from participating. The data you provide will be kept in Dr. XXX’s password-protected computer, and will be seen only by me and the administrators of the XXS IRB if necessary. Your answers may contribute to important discoveries about the topic. If you choose not to participate, you may exit the survey at any time. Choosing to participate or not has absolutely no connection to your job or to your grades in any coursework. If you choose not to participate, you may simply close this window. Please indicate your willingness to participate and have the data you provide by choosing the appropriate response below.

* I agree to participate and have the information I provide used as part of the study.

* I do not agree to participate. Please discard any information I provide.

These first items will collect some information about you. Please complete as many as possible.

How many years of classroom music teaching experience do you have? (If you are a pre-service teacher, student teacher, or have never taught music full-time in a classroom, please enter "0").

What is your age?

Are you male or female?

* Male

* Female

Do you currently teach one or more technology-based music classes (in which the majority of each week is dedicated to students using technology to make/learn music)?

* Yes

* No

Please respond to the following:

______ Please rate your access to technologies appropriate for music teaching.

Indicate your ability to do the following things.

______ Use technology for planning and organizing that might be related to teaching.
______ Use technology to complete your own creative/musical projects.
______ Help students use technology to complete their own creative/musical projects.

In the matrix below, indicate how important you think each technology task or concept is as they relate to your music teaching. 

table 4 2 







































In the matrix below, indicate how important you think each technology task or concept is as they relate to your music teaching. 

table 5

6466 Last modified on March 7, 2019