Maintaining the Integrity of a Web-Based Music Course

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To receive a Texas elementary teacher certification, all elementary education majors must demonstrate a basic understanding of music and perform minimal musical skills. In addition, students should be able to write and teach music lessons built around the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for Music. These Music TEKS are focused on four main areas: perception, creativity, historical and cultural heritage, and response and evaluation. The course West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) uses to develop and demonstrate this musical proficiency is called "General Music For Children." But, in order to address the needs of additional students who are either unable or unwilling to attend a traditional on-campus course, we had to bring the course online.

The initial question for us was: Is it possible to adapt an existing, traditionally delivered music course to an Internet delivery modality? The course we needed to put on the Internet, "General Music for Children," posed several unique challenges. The skills desired and included in the traditional course go way beyond the acquisition of knowledge to the demonstration of basic musical skills. For example, in the traditional course-delivery mode, each student claps and verbalizes rhythms, as well as prepares and teaches a music lesson all under the watchful eye of the professor. In addition, the actual delivery of musical concepts via the new mode posed a challenge. How could we include the traditional on-campus professor demonstrations over the Internet? Would we be able to include the same or similar activities? Could we maintain the high intellectual integrity of the course and deliver it via the Internet?

The Traditional Course

In order to develop an understanding of the challenges that we confronted, first let us briefly look at the traditional on-campus music course. The course is designed to provide students with a basic understanding of the elements of music. This is accomplished through a basic acquisition of knowledge and a demonstration of certain musical skills. The course covers each of the four basic elements of music: rhythm, melody, harmony and form.

In addition, the course addresses the demonstration of basic musical skills and the development and presentation of music lesson plans. Lesson-plan preparation and lesson delivery are governed by TEKS. Students develop four music lesson plans each, incorporating one of the four main areas covered by TEKS, and teach one of the lessons to fellow classmates.

In the traditional on-campus course, student musical knowledge and skill are evaluated using several formats. The first evaluation format consists of four in-class exams. After a discussion of each musical element, an exam was completed. The exams cover the information discussed during class lectures and presentations.

The second evaluation format involves the music lesson plans developed by the students and the subsequent delivery of a lesson. Students develop four music lesson plans, each incorporating one of the four main areas covered by TEKS. Each completed lesson plan is submitted for evaluation and direct one-on-one feedback. Students teach one music lesson to a group of peers. Each student's lesson demonstration is recorded on video and submitted to the professor for review and critiquing.

The third area of student evaluation consists of specific student performance on selected musical tasks (i.e., performance exams). Students perform each task individually or in small groups under "real time" during class meetings. During each performance, the professor observes every student and provides an immediate response.

The final evaluation is a comprehensive final exam that all students must complete during the university's scheduled final-exam time. The comprehensive exam covers information discussed throughout the semester.

Adapting Course Instruction Delivery

It was our intent to adjust and change the instructional delivery protocol without prostituting the integrity of the original course. While converting our course from a traditional on-campus delivery format to an Internet delivery format, we were cognizant of the elements that make up a good course and/or provide for quality instruction. As well as addressing the four evaluation formats discussed above, we arrived at several other instructional elements that needed to be addressed.

In the sections below, I will try to describe how we adapted course and instructional elements from the traditional delivery mode to the Internet delivery mode. The chart on Page 16 provides a comparison of on-campus and Internet delivery across the course and instructional elements. Other authors (Chickering and Gamson 2001; Ragan 2000) delineate many of our items reflecting a good course or quality instruction. Ragan (2000) outlines five categories of "Guided Principles and Practices":

  1. Learning goals and content presentation
  2. Interactions
  3. Assessment and measurement
  4. Instructional media and tools
  5. Learner support systems and services

Course description. The description was presented to both course modes via a syllabus, which included goals and learning objectives, text, a description of assignments, grading policies and other relevant information. The goals, learning objectives and text remained the same for both the traditional on-campus class and the Internet class. Descriptions of assignments and grading policies varied depending on the structure and expectations of the class's modality. In addition, the syllabus for the online course was available through the course link.

Quality interaction with the professor. The students had several venues to interact with the professor during the semester. Pictures of the professor were incorporated in the opening to the online course along with contact information such as telephone number, e-mail address, office location and real-time office hours. Students used many of these options to interact with the professor, while the professor interacted with students regularly via e-mail.

The ability for students to ask questions and get answers. Students could pose a question to the professor via e-mail, a telephone call or a face-to-face meeting. Students were informed as to the scheduled time e-mail was viewed and addressed. Usually, e-mail replies were sent within 24 hours, with phone calls also returned in a timely manner.


It was our intent to adjust and change the instructional delivery protocol without prostituting the integrity of the original course.

The ability of students to learn from the questions and answers posed by classmates. If an individual student's question was relevant to the entire class, the professor addressed the question in a weekly all-class e-mailing. In addition, there were two questions posed by the professor for each student to answer in a threaded discussion format. Students had the option to pose threaded questions, but none took advantage of this option. Finally, when requested by students, times were scheduled for an on-campus Q & A with the professor during which students could ask course-related questions.

Appropriate interaction with classmates. The professor placed students in small groups of four or five based on their major field of interest (i.e., math, reading, etc.). Then, names of group members were distributed to each student. All students were encouraged to interact with each other for questions and concerns about the course.

Opportunities for collaborative learning. With the same groups, students were encouraged to meet to complete the lesson plan demonstration. They were also encouraged to serve as one another's students. Some student assignments were posted on the Internet for all to access.

Instructional support. Any technical problem with access to the course was addressed through the university's online department. The first unit presented students with the structure and format of the course. Students were instructed as to the functions of different "buttons" and how to proceed through the individual units. For each topic presented, students were referred to certain pages in the text for additional reading. At times throughout the course, questions were posed with possible answers. With the use of JavaScript, pull-down menus were developed, which posed a question to students and provided an immediate response to their selected answer.

Finally, both visual images and audio clips were used to demonstrate certain musical concepts. For example, an image of a particular music excerpt (i.e., a major scale) was presented. An audio clip linked to the image provided the sound of the scale when students clicked on the image. This combination of visual images linked with audio clips was often used through-out the Internet course.

Evaluation Formats

When addressing course integrity, we dealt with several issues. The issues focused on the four evaluation formats presented earlier: exams, lesson plans, performance exams and the comprehensive final exam. In the traditional on-campus class, an exam was completed after a presentation of each of the four elements of music. It was determined that offering four exams over the Internet would not be the most effective or practical manner of assessing student knowledge. Therefore, assignments were designed to provide the students similar experiences and tasks associated with the in-class exams.

Every unit (i.e., online course section) contained three to four learning assignments designed to enhance the students' learning experiences. The unit assignments assessed basic knowledge of musical concepts. Content areas included topics such as writing rhythms (e.g., correct note usage, correct beats per measure, etc.), identifying pitches and writing notation for major and minor scales. Each assignment is built on the knowledge learned in the current and previous units. Students completed each assignment and submitted answers to the professor for grading and critiquing. All of the assignments prepared students for the final comprehensive exam.

The second format used to evaluate students' knowledge and skills involved the development and demonstration of music lesson plans. Similar to the traditional on-campus class, students developed four music lesson plans, each incorporating one of the four main areas covered by TEKS. Each completed lesson plan was submitted electronically for evaluation. Students teach one music lesson to a group of peers, family members or age-appropriate students. Each student's lesson demonstration was recorded on video and submitted to the professor for review and feedback.

The third area of student evaluation consisted of specific student performance on selected musical tasks. There were a total of 10 exams for students to demonstrate minimal proficiency. Students had the option of attending a scheduled on-campus performance exam time with the professor or record themselves performing all 10 tasks on video. An immediate response was given for students attending the on-campus performance exam time, while an assessment for students completing their performance exam on video was given via e-mail, telephone or an individual face-to-face meeting.

The final evaluation was the comprehensive final exam. The same comprehensive exam was given to both the traditional on-campus class and the Internet class. The exam covered information presented during the entire semester. Students in the Internet class attended a scheduled exam time (a variety of days and times were offered) on campus that was proctored by the professor.

Conclusion

It was our intent to provide WTAMU students with an alternative to attending an on-campus course in order to satisfy the teacher certification requirements, while maintaining the intellectual integrity of our course. Although the challenges were substantial, throughout the delivery of the course we collected data and conducted research that provided evidence that we achieved our purpose. The findings indicate no significant performance difference between the on-campus group and the Internet group on overall final grade distribution and scores on the comprehensive final exam.

Clearly, there are advantages and disadvantages to the Internet delivery protocol. We concede to the argument that the best instruction is face-to-face and one-on-one. This format, however, is not the most cost-effective and restricts opportunities for many students. At the same time, the Internet delivery protocols provide additional learning opportunities. The vast array of material on the Internet can be used, through hyperlinks and other devices, to provide enhanced learning opportunities of current technologies long before the same information could be adapted for traditional on-campus delivery.

There is no doubt that delivering instruction via the Internet has its challenges. Naturally, some of the content and courses are more difficult to deliver over the Internet than in the traditional classroom. However, through thoughtful inquiry and with a focus on the integrity of course outcomes, instructional techniques and learning activities can be adapted to ensure quality delivery.

References

Chickering, A. and Z. Gamson. "Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education." Online at www.uncg.edu/tlc/seven.html [accessed Sept. 21, 2001].

Ragan, L. 2000. "Good Teaching is Good Teaching: The Relationship Between Guiding Principles for Distance and General Education." The Journal of General Education 49 (1): 10-22.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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