Creating Content for the 21st Century Music Student: Digital Textbook Development in the Foundational Course and Beyond

  • Issue: Volume 62, No.2
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18177/sym.2022.62.fr.11568

Our students are “digital natives” who relish living in a technology-rich collegiate environment. Yet, they also experience difficulty transitioning from high school to college because they do not understand what is required and expected in the professional study of music. Consequently, the content and context for our music teaching and learning would benefit from new approaches and resources. Music faculty at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln (UNL) have begun to address these challenges by collaborating to develop self-authored, customizable digital textbooks for select courses.

Elizabeth Wells has noted that the foundational course is a widespread curricular tool employed to help high school students transition to the academic and artistic rigors of musical academia (Wells 2016). Such a course has been on the books at UNL since Fall 2006 and has introduced students to the undergraduate music curricula, developed listening skills, and sampled canonical repertoire alongside a concurrent theory curriculum. We organized our approach through lectures, discussions of prominent concert works, and guest presentations by performing faculty, all bolstered by a “music appreciation” textbook (namely, Forney, Dell’Antonio, Machlis).

Yet, students were dissatisfied with the increasingly cost-prohibitive textbook format (print with recordings) as well as the limited interactivity and potential for engagement. In 2010, Dr. Brian Moore, Professor of Music Education and Music Technology at UNL, and I began to revise the course, in part to better engage our music education majors who comprised nearly half the enrollment. Contemporaneously, UNL imposed a 120-credit maximum designed to graduate more students in four years; this policy hampered our B.M.E. curriculum, which often required five years for completion and included more than 120 credits. Thus, pairing faculty in music history and music education to team-teach the foundational course was initially intended to preserve content lost in the 120-credit mandate and satisfy State Board of Education standards. Since that time, our course has become a model of cross-disciplinary collaboration in our school.

However, because this course was the landing spot for all music majors, we were mindful of accommodating all degree concentrations (B.A., B.M., B.M.E.) as well as the diversity of learning styles amongst contemporary students. Accordingly, Universal Design in Education/Instruction principles offered a suitable framework to begin our content revision. For instance, our initial Library “Shelfie” Project11. Students 1) visit the music library and take a “shelfie” with a score on their mobile devices and 2) compile a basic bibliography (e.g., score, composer biographical information, instrument-specific periodicals) using prior research knowledge and new databases/search tools. Thus, student familiarity with creating selfies and basic bibliographic formatting initiates them into research methods essential to musical academia draws upon Wiggins’s and McTighe’s notion of “understanding” (2005, 35-55) as the ability for students to draw upon preexisting knowledge to comprehend new content. Such “understanding” also informs a chief class tenet: the musician as teacher. Each student is accepted as a major because of demonstrated performance expertise. Yet, how can students draw upon that knowledge to teach others? We assessed this step from student to teacher, as well as critical listening and analytical skills, through a semester-culminating “performance project” wherein students formed chamber ensembles and presented lecture recitals on a given piece. We also renamed the course: “Introduction to Music” became “Music as Art, Discipline, and Profession.” Since 2010, we have developed additional intermediary assignments that build teaching and research skills towards the final “performance project” (Bushard and Moore 2020).

In 1998, Ronald Mace noted, “nothing can be truly universal; there will always be people who cannot use an item no matter how thoughtfully it is designed. However, we can almost always improve on the things we design to make them more universally usable” (quoted in McGuire, Scott, and Shaw 2006, 172). As we developed new course projects, we realized that conventional music appreciation textbooks no longer supported our goals for the revised course. Students’ pervasive use of personal technologies, especially smart devices, convinced us that a new, self-authored course e-text accessible via student-centered technology, might be a way to address the need for greater engagement and accommodate different learning styles.

We were already deploying media-rich content via Apple’s Keynote presentational software and providing students with PDF files of Keynote lecture slides for study purposes. Yet, an initial concern in creating this new text was how to merge the various bits of content into a comprehensive whole. As we investigated platforms and formats, a PDF text seemed the easiest to author because it did not require extensive computer programming skills. Yet, the flat, two-dimensional PDF lacked the potential for interactivity, and incorporating audio and video content was difficult. We also considered the ePub format, but this option required web programming expertise (e.g., html, CSS, or JavaScript). The announcement in January 2012 of Apple’s iBooks Author provided a robust platform that offered the most feasible way for music faculty—those possessing basic computing skills to expert coders—to produce quality, customized, media-rich textbooks. For optimal interactivity—audio, visual, and haptic—the iPad is favored as the reading/listening/consumption platform via the app, but the text can also be read via Books for Mac laptop.

Creation and editing multi-touch content is accomplished through a Mac laptop development environment using iBooks Author. Once the book is completed, one exports it from iBooks Author to the app for consumption. This seamless workflow model is important for quickly editing course content in successive textbook editions. Those accustomed to other products in Apple’s iWorks suite (e.g., Keynote, Pages, Numbers) will find a similar interface for iBooks Author as far as book/chapter/page themes and tools like the “Inspector,” where one can customize all aspects of the book. Beyond the ability to format the book’s layout, perhaps the most useful function of iBooks Author is the “Widgets” tool through which audiovisual media is added and configured based on desired interactivity. Images can be placed into a “Gallery” for quick perusal by the students; this function also works well for introducing a style period and sampling contemporaneous art and/or architecture.

The “Media” widget is where one would put the actual audio or video files and determine through the “Interaction” tab whether to allow the reader to listen/view the material with a play/pause button (which works well with clips under thirty seconds) or with a scroll bar that optimizes control over longer audiovisual clips. The “Scroll Over” tool gives the author the ability to embed “text-in-text” that minimizes space and maximizes content. Lastly, one can even insert media created through third party apps through the “HTML” widget. Many of our score excerpts were first created in Finale and then imported through this widget. Elsewhere, Dr. Moore used an app called Hype, a “keyframe-based animation system,” (tumult.com) to visually record a score that “moved” along with the accompanying audio file. As a result, when students experience a Gabrieli canzona in the “Interactive Music” section of the Baroque chapter, they can listen to it (a) with an image of the CD cover art, (b) accompanied by a timestamped listening guide, or (c) synched to an “animated” score. Repeating the same piece but varying the modality invites students to move from passive to active listening, appeals to visual and non-visual learners as well as those with varying familiarity with notation, and echoes one of the chief principles of Universal Design in Instruction: flexibility in use (McGuire, Scott, and Shaw 2006, 170).

To date, students have appreciated the time given to customize the text for them and their specific matriculating class.22. Since we began requiring a device capable of running the Mac/iOs Books app in 2016, comments have been increasingly positive: “This course has great material and you can learn so much if you just read the textbook.”; “The textbook is formatted really well … [and it] provided [a] good way of learning, seeing as the book itself was interactive, making it more engaging.” Further, when asked whether text materials support learning, most students responded “agree” or “strongly agree.” Moreover, we have expanded this model of textbook authorship to first- and second-year theory courses (https://arts.unl.edu/music/red2go). Our “red2go” initiative went through a rigorous approval process at the higher administrative level that ultimately allowed us to require incoming students to purchase hardware (i.e., Mac laptop or iPad) capable of running the Books app (free for Mac users). The initial cost of the laptop and/or tablet for the matriculating student is appreciable, but the digital textbooks for our school’s five current “red2go” courses are free. Thus, the required hardware cost is balanced by the hundreds of dollars saved by eliminating print textbooks.

Adopting e-textbook technology even has health and wellness benefits—students no longer around heavy textbooks or anthologies. But there are challenges: faculty need time to develop such texts, while promotion and tenure committees may not consider textbook creation as “creative activity.” Nevertheless, we believe that our text, and the larger “red2go” initiative, is at the forefront of contemporary textbook creation and represents a useful tool as scholars rethink the ways we engage students in the contemporary music classroom.

 

Notes

1. Students 1) visit the music library and take a “shelfie” with a score on their mobile devices and 2) compile a basic bibliography (e.g., score, composer biographical information, instrument-specific periodicals) using prior research knowledge and new databases/search tools. Thus, student familiarity with creating selfies and basic bibliographic formatting initiates them into research methods essential to musical academia.

2. Since we began requiring a device capable of running the Mac/iOs Books app in 2016, comments have been increasingly positive: “This course has great material and you can learn so much if you just read the textbook.”; “The textbook is formatted really well … [and it] provided [a] good way of learning, seeing as the book itself was interactive, making it more engaging.” Further, when asked whether text materials support learning, most students responded “agree” or “strongly agree.”

 

References

Bergstahler, Sheryl, ed. 2015. Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice, 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bushard, Anthony and Brian Moore. “Music as Art, Discipline, and Profession: A Case Study for Collaborative Research, Teaching, and Performance.” Presentation at American Musicological Society Pedagogy Study Group Teaching Music History Conference (Virtual), June 2020.

Forney, Kristine, Andrew Dell’Antonio, and Joseph Machlis. 2018. The Enjoyment of Music, 13th ed. New York: W.W. Norton.

McGuire, Joan M., Sally S. Scott, and Stan F. Shaw. 2006. “Universal Design and Its Applications in Educational Environments.” Remedial and Special Education 27, no. 3 (May/June): 166-75. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F07419325060270030501.

—————. 2001. Principles of Universal Design for Instruction. Storrs, CT: University of Connecticut, Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability,

Wells, Elizabeth. 2016. “Foundation Courses in Music History: A Case Study.” Journal of Music History Pedagogy 6: 41-56.

Wiggins, Grant and Jay McTighe. 2005. Understanding By Design, 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development ASCD.

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Last modified on Friday, 13/01/2023

Anthony J. Bushard

Anthony Bushard is Professor of Music History and Chair of the Theory-History-Composition Area in the Glenn Korff School of Music at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. His work on jazz and film music has been exhibited and published in numerous regional, national, and international venues. At UNL he teaches courses in Jazz History, Film Music, World Music, American Music, and a course for the Glenn Korff School of Music’s newest undergraduate students entitled Music as Art, Discipline, and Profession.

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