Just like a musical instrument, the only way to get better at using technology is to practice. Start small, but use it often and try things out with the classroom software and hardware before doing it in front of students.
Try using a simple interactive website to introduce or reinforce a musical concept (start with some of my favourites – Incredibox, iNudge or Hook Theory). Use it with the class as a group, or try it as a hands-on activity if you have access to multiple computers.
2. Have a contingency plan
It will come as no surprise that things don’t always go smoothly in the world of technology (!). Having some kind of contingency plan will give you the confidence to include technology in the first place. After all, plenty of things go wrong with non-tech related classroom activities – the drum teacher is there on the day you wanted to show the parts of the drum kit to your year 7 class, or you simply don’t have time to tune the ukeleles that you thought were already in tune, or a last-minute room change leaves you without access to the piano – and you probably come up with alternative options without really think about it.
I usually think of a couple of non-technology activities in case the internet goes down, the software program won’t open or the mysterious audio settings won’t work. I also take the “safe” option with things like online videos: if the video you want to show your class is a crucial part of your lesson, download it to your laptop hard drive ahead of time so you are not reliant on your internet connection.
Think of your contingency-plan option/s before you enter the class and write them down!
3. Create your own support network
Ever since I began working for myself, I’ve had no IT support person to call on when things go wrong (a scary thought isn’t it??). I learnt very quickly that Google was my best friend. If I receive an error message in a program I type it into Google, word-for-word to find out what other people have done in the same situation. If I don’t know how to do something in a software program, I Google the name of the software plus a few key words relating to the thing I want to do. Youtube is also a fantastic source of video tutorials and advice.
In addition, I’ve built my own support network of real live people which include ex-colleagues, friends, and family. Lastly, “experts” in music technology (like me!) are more than happy to answer “silly” and “dumb” questions and it’s likely that we’ve heard them before anyway. So, take a look at the people around you and don’t be afraid to approach your teaching colleagues, family, the IT support staff or the teenager next door.
Surprise your IT support staff member (or other favourite techy go-to person) with some chocolate or wine! They will remember your kindness when you are truly in need of help.
4. Take a learning shortcut
If you’re not a fan of reading software manuals (like I am!), attend a technology training session, take an online course or look for local PD. In the training sessions I run, I find most teachers prefer to have someone show them how to do something, rather than wade through a text-heavy manual. In addition, you have the option to ask as many questions as you like. Professional development workshops are often run by local music teacher associations, membership groups or network groups. You might also like to consider an online course, especially if you’re located outside a metropolitan area. Online courses often take place after-hours and you don’t necessarily need to be online at a specific time – sessions are usually recorded so you can catch up afterwards at a time that suits you.
Conferences are also a fantastic place to learn new skills, check out unfamiliar software and make contact with music technology experts. In Australia, you can join in with a DAYTiME one-day music tech conference in your state, attend the Music Technology in Education Conference (MTEC – 2014 conference details here) or attend a music tech session at one of the other music education conferences. If you’re located in the USA, TI:ME is the best source of music tech-related courses and events and you might also like to look at the online courses run by Barbara Freedman of MusicEdTech.
Sign up to free music teacher and music association email lists to stay in touch with courses, workshops and events. To stay in touch with my courses and events (and receive a free ebook) you can visit my newsletter sign-up page.
5. Ask your students
Most students are unafraid of technology. They’re not necessarily more knowledgeable about technology, they’re just comfortable trying things out and having a go. If they know something you don’t, have them show you and ask them to teach their peers as well. Even better, ask them to video-record themselves demonstrating the feature or explaining the solution to a problem so you can view and/or use the video in your other classes and it can be watched over and over again.
You might like to consider assigning one student the role of “tech expert” or “tech genius” so that other students can approach them for help instead of approaching you all the time. It will free up your time a little, help lighten the load and give the student a great sense of responsibility.
6. Don’t do things the hard way
If you’re doing something boring and repetitive in a software program there is almost certainly a better way. Take the time to find out what it is and you’ll save hours of time. This is where the manual comes in handy, or you can consult the two oracles: Google and Youtube. Often the solution is to see if there is a shortcut for the thing you are doing over and over again. Going to a menu within and menu, within a menu, clicking a button and then click OK can be slow and tedious. If there is a keyboard shortcut for that action, you will shave hours off your computing life!
Learn just one new shortcut in a program of your choice and make yourself use it! If you’re stuck for ideas, learn a couple of the “universal” shortcuts – those shortcuts that work in almost every software program – like the ones in this list of Ninja Tips Every (Music) Teacher Should Know.
7. “Steal” some ideas
There are lots of teachers who share their lesson plans, project outlines, class experiences and more online. Look for music teacher blogs or websites and if you like what they share, subscribe to their site. I’ve started a collection of music education blogs on Pinterest that include technology in some way that you can find here. If you know of a blog that you think should be included, please let me know in the comments below.
Explore two new music education blogs and read about how other teachers are using technology in the classroom.