Creation of Media Based Learning Material for Audio and Music Technology

Introduction

The degree subject of Audio and Music Technology is a broad multidisciplinary field encompassing aspects of electronics, mathematics, computing, acoustics, music and psychology. This brings a considerable challenge for delivery of deep and effective course content and engagement with all students. Furthermore, the professional fields of music technology and music production are dominated by a need for experience above raw academic ability, so novel and diverse teaching and learning strategies are required. Audio and Music Technology courses have become well subscribed in UK Higher Education, but, being a rather modern academic field, these courses have not benefited from substantial research, analysis and development of learning and teaching strategies.

In particular, professional level case study material is required to cover practical areas of the field that are challenging to teach within a classroom environment. For example, the practice of recording a 70 piece classical orchestra cannot easily be taught in classroom alone. Practical skills of project management, pre-production, project budgeting, engineering techniques and post production all need transferring to the student, which is a considerable challenge in a purely academic environment and with large class sizes. Furthermore, there is a need for experience to be gained in a professional and industrial manner similar to that in which the music and recording industry operates. The author has developed professional level case study material to aid learning in this challenging field. The case study material, in the form of interactive DVD with multiple film and audio options, allows students to effectively be at the recording session, in the meeting, making the decisions. This article, therefore, tackles a unique area of pedagogy with respect to Audio and Music Technology by evaluating existing and well known teaching strategies and applying those to the specific field. Furthermore, as the applied learning and teaching strategies are captured within media based material, future analysis and reflection on the effectiveness of these techniques can be evaluated with student and course tutor feedback.

The particular case of Audio and Music Technology shares common challenges for teaching and learning with other new media fields, for example, video production and digital media production. The examples and outcomes of this research will therefore also benefit educators from wider fields in their approach to delivering diverse, deep and effective course content.

Simple teaching methods

A number of music recording and production skills can be taught as individual knowledge areas that make up the skills necessary for managing a larger project. For example, if it is desired to teach students how to record a multitrack studio project, than this can be done by discussing aspects of music production as discrete skill sets. In this case it is possible to discuss industry recognised (and referenced) techniques for recording, for example, a popular drum kit and perform a simple practical exercise to implement these skills. Similar skills and knowledge can be transferred to the student for all instruments which may be recorded.

In popular music production, it is indeed possible to record each instrument individually and layer the audio to create an illusion of a unified performance. Here producers may only need to work with one musician at a time, and in a relatively small (and inexpensive) space. Furthermore the skills of mixing recorded audio into a finished artifact can be taught by example, with respect to published cases and by reflective review with the student.

These types of ‘discrete’ music recording projects allow a number of simple knowledge areas and skills to be transferred to the student who can then develop and critique their own ideas and preferences through reflective practice. However, these types of projects do not expose the student to the wider aspects and skills of music production which are essential for building a successful career in the field.

Challenges with live recording and education

Live recording projects bring a unique set of challenges which allow students to experience relevant industry demands. Here the specific challenges revolve around teamwork, project planning and dealing with unpredictable events. In many cases of music technology education, the opportunities to experience live recording projects are limited, because they are reliant on events being accessible for students to become involved in. At Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), a number of opportunities do exist given the diverse nature of local musicianship and, in particular, the excellent Lunchtime Concerts series organised by the ARU Music Department.

During this research and wherever possible, students have been encouraged to participate in live recording events. In all cases students are observed to develop enhanced skills which have in turn improved their studio recording skills. Furthermore, the opportunity has been taken to ‘teach by example’ where the author sets coursework for students to record a live event and then in the first week of teaching performs the coursework assignment as an example of good practice, to engage with students at an early stage of the module. This method of teaching by example reduces the fear-factor involved in such exercises, as students have observed first-hand the assignment in action before having to take responsibility for their own assignment.

As discussed, larger scale projects rely heavily on skills which are both subject specific and personal skills. A good example here is an assignment to record a 70 piece concert orchestra on location and within an allocated time constraint. Students therefore need to understand the technical aspects of the project, but they also need to be able to practically deliver the project. The key skills required can be broken down into technical, project management and personal (communication) skills as follows:

Technical skills:

  • Recording skills
  • Mixing skills
  • Technical knowledge

Project management skills

  • Planning
  • Financial management
  • Time management
  • Resource management

Communication skills

  • Team working
  • Artist management and an understanding of the creative process
  • Studio and venue contacts
  • Record label contacts
  • Entrepreneurialism

It can be seen, as discussed above, that the technical skills can be taught and developed through standard classroom and practical session learning. However, the project management and communication skills cannot be so easily taught, as these must be developed through exposure and experience and enhanced through continuous reflective practice. It is therefore no surprise that practitioners in the music industry regularly report “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and that “experience is more important than knowledge”.

Bloom’s cognitive domain

It is apparent that the quest to develop experience and skills above raw knowledge in the field of Audio and Music Technology aligns with Bloom’s cognitive domain for learning (Bloom et al, 1956), as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Bloom’s Cognitive domain (Bloom, 1956).

Bloom et al describe that knowledge transfer alone only leads to shallow learning, and that deep learning is only developed by moving up through the cognitive domain. As discussed it is indeed possible for a number of students to acquire knowledge and comprehension in the field of Audio and Music Technology. However, effective application of this knowledge is essential for ensuring a successful career. Furthermore, reflective analysis is essential for practitioners to learn from their mistakes and handling unpredictable issues.

The key to deep understanding and high level practice however is in the innovation (synthesis) and evaluation of new and bespoke techniques. Here, practitioners can develop their own ideas, put them into practice and evaluate and evolve to perfection.

Effective Learning Strategies

A number of well known learning strategies can be employed within Audio and Music Technology courses to assist practitioners in climbing Bloom’s Cognitive Domain.

Learning from mistakes

Learning from mistakes is a well known method of learning, however, mistakes can only be used in learning if the mistake is first identified and evaluated. Therefore there is a deep requirement for feedback to be provided by educators and for the move towards autonomous learning which enables students to self evaluate and generate their won critical analysis and feedback. Hattie (2002) states: “Feedback has been shown to be the single-most contributing factor for influencing the level of students’ achievement”.

It is possible also for practitioners to learn from the mistakes of others, facilitating accelerated learning. Accelerated learning can be achieved if peer review and case study analysis is incorporated into teaching. It should also be noted that case studies of good practice can be presented along with case studies of bad practice in order for students to identify potential hazards and common mistakes made in professional practice. Failure should also be considered as an essential aspect of learning, however it is the educators responsibility to ensure that failure and mistakes encountered during learning is of a low risk nature. The fear of failure can cause students to disengage, as discussed by Covington (1985) who states: “Fear of failure can be a barrier, students need to learn to handle failure in safe environments”.

Music and audio recording environments can be stressful, hectic and finance-critical places, and so in the professional scenario failure can be with a high cost. Educators therefore need to re-enact and prepare professional scenarios where the results don’t actually matter; for example recording events at no cost, so if the end result is unsuccessful, nothing of great value is lost.

Maintaining student engagement

Student engagement is essential to facilitate deep learning. A diversity of teaching methods can help to keep students engaged and to ensure that each student’s individual learning methods are catered for. For example, some students may engage best with practical hands-on exercises while others respond better to autonomous research tasks:

There are many roads to learning. People bring different talents and styles of learning to college. Brilliant students in the seminar room may be all thumbs in the lab or art studio. Students rich in hands-on experience may not do so well with theory. Students need the opportunity to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them. Then they can be pushed to learn in new ways that do not come so easily. (Chickering and Gamson, 1987)

Furthermore, “the type of teaching aids and learning materials used can heavily influence student interest and participation” (Petty, 2004).

It is therefore the educator’s responsibility to deliver with a diversity of teaching methods, particular given the fact “students’ engagement and attention wanders after 10-15 minutes” (Thomas, 1972). In the field of Audio and Music Technology this can be translated by providing a number of learning strategies including classroom lecture, technical demonstrations, practical recording exercises, case study analysis, guest lecturers etc.

Teacher as mentor and role model

“No printed word, nor spoken plea can teach young minds what they should be.

Not all the books on all the shelves – but what the teachers are themselves.

Rudyard Kipling, discussed by Rose (2004).

It is obvious that students learn from their mentors and role models. It is therefore good practice for Audio and Music Technology educators to be professionally active also. Students need to see that their teachers as successful in their field, not just well educated. Teachers need to be practicing at the top of Bloom’s Domain if they are to help their students up to the highest level too. Here it is valuable to maintain industrial links and partnerships. In particular the connection between academia and industry should be strong, as neither can succeed without the other. Moves to utilise visiting guest lecturers and for academics to engage in industrial sabbatical projects can help enhance this link.

Learning by doing

Learning is an active experience, as discussed by Chickering and Gamson (1987):

Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.

Education in Audio and Music Technology requires practical engagement, perhaps more than most subjects given the unique blend of disciplines it touches. The practical aspects of courses should be designed to engage students in climbing Bloom’s Cognitive Domain. Raw knowledge can be taught and investigated, however students need to be encouraged to attempt self assisted learning by practical methods, particularly with respect to music production which is both technical and subjective and highly reliant on experience and critical listening. Unfortunately, it is challenging to provide opportunities for the most challenging of practical exercises, in which case unique case studies can be developed and discussed to allow deconstruction of a project, even if it cannot be practically prepared.

Cases studies to assist learning

The use of case studies can assist the path of a student up through the levels of Bloom’s cognitive domain. As mentioned above, seeing a practitioner work first hand at the desired level can inspire and engage students to achieve similarly. Unfortunately many projects in the recording industry are regarded as too important or critical to allow external observers, so students may have limited opportunity to observe. A valuable case study in a large scale music production project is that of Elbow’s performance with the BBC Classical Orchestra, recorded at Abbey Road. This performance brought together a rock band with a classical orchestra and choir, requiring in excess of 100 microphones in all. The performance was broadcast live on BBC radio, filmed for BBC TV and released as a commercial music CD. The production methods are documented by Inglis (2009) which give valuable insight into the techniques used and issues encountered and resolved.

The author has similarly developed case study material to document both the technical aspects and project management of large scale recording projects. Firstly, a samba band recording project is presented (Toulson, 2010a) which describes the technical aspects of recording an 11 piece samba band under live conditions. This production served as a pilot study for the later orchestra recording project (Toulson, 2010b). See Figure 2.

Figure 2. Case study footage (available from http://www.robtoulson.com/video.php).

Here, aspects of project management, entrepreneurialism and technical details (as listed in Section 3 above) are discussed and evaluated. The orchestra recording session is used as a case study to encourage interactive reflective practice by allowing the listener to evaluate three different audio recordings, each conducted using a different stereo recording technique. The developed case studies therefore allow students to identify the importance of climbing the levels of Bloom’s cognitive domain and allow firsthand account of such projects. The student is therefore able to learn, somewhat, from other peoples’ experiences and mistakes and thus climb Bloom’s cognitive domain quicker. This is not to take away the importance of students engaging with the practical aspects and skills discussed, moreover to bring visualisation to the anticipated experiences and to reduce the ‘fear-factor’ for students engaging in advanced and large scale projects.

The results of this research and case study development have already encouraged students to engage in more challenging and valuable music production projects, which shows that the route to deep autonomous learning can be accelerated. These results will be evaluated continuously through feedback sessions with current and future students, so that teaching and learning methods can be evolved further and subsequently continue to enhance the student learning experience.

Conclusions

It is evident that specific research into effective teaching and learning strategies for Audio and Music Technology should be conducted. Those topics discussed with respect to Bloom’s Cognitive Domain and the identified strategies for learning from mistakes, learning from a role model, enhancing engagement and learning by doing can be evaluated to identify how students engage and achieve given different methods. It still remains that the challenges with respect to cost, space, cross-disciplinary skills and the need for professional level experience make it difficult to provide education for every scenario. However, development of case studies can help to reduce this issue and, particularly with the sharing of information amongst education peers from parallel institutions, it is possible to enhance and improve the skills and experience for graduating students of Audio and Music Technology courses by effective use of media based material.

Bibliography

Bloom, B., Englehart, M. Furst, E., Hill, W., & Krathwohl, D. 1956. Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York, Toronto: Longmans, Green.

Chickering, A. W. & Gamson, Z. F. 1987. I. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), 3-7.

Covington, M. V. 1985. Strategic thinking and fear of failure. In J. Segal, S. Chipman, & R. Glaser (Eds.), Thinking and learning skills: Relating instruction to research (pp. 389-416). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Hattie, J. 2002. ‘What are the attributes of excellent teachers?’ in B. Webber (Editor), Teachers make a Difference: What is the Research Evidence? Conference Proceedings, New Zealand Council for Educational Research, Wellington (New Zealand).

Inglis, S. 2009. Rupert Flindt: Recording Elbow Live at Abbey Road, Sound on Sound, September 2009.

Petty, G. 2004 . Teaching Today (3rd Edition), Cheltenham, Nelson Thornes.

Rose, D. 2004. ‘The potential of role-model education, The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education, www.infed.org/biblio/role_model_education.htm.

Thomas, J. 1972. The variation of memory with time for information appearing during a lecture. Studies in Adult Education, 4, 57-62.

Toulson. E. R. 2010a. Samba band recording case study, available online at http://www.robtoulson.com/video.php, accessed May 2011.

Toulson . E. R. 2010b. Orchestra recording case study, available online at http://www.robtoulson.com/video.php, accessed May 2011.

http://streaming.inspire.anglia.ac.uk/media/recording_an_orchestra.html, accessed September 2010.

Toulson, E. R. 2008. Managing Widening Participation in Music and Music Production, Proceedings of the Audio Engineering Society UK Conference, Cambridge, April 2008.

Discography

Elbow. 2009. Seldom Seen Kid Live [Bonus DVD: Live at Abbey Road], Polydor.