Professional Experience & WebCT at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Page created by Darrell Greene
Professional Experience
             & WebCT at the Sydney
             Conservatorium of Music
             Dr Jennifer Rowley & Dr Sharon Tindall-Ford
             Sydney Conservatorium of Music

             Introduction                                                      other issues, behaviour management, lesson planning and
             There is a continuing need to discover ways to better             curriculum design (Barry & King, 1998; Groundwater-
             support pre-service teachers on Professional Experience           Smith, Ewing and Le Cornu, 2007; Whitton et al., 2004).
             (PE) as teacher education programs are faced with financial       Providing additional support for pre-service teachers on PE
             constraints while struggling with large enrolments and            is a challenge for all teacher educators, and online technology
             students who are geographically isolated from the university,     has become increasingly popular in addressing some of
             their peers and university supervising lecturers. As PE           the challenges in the preparation and support of both pre
             (practice teaching/practicum/placement) is a mandatory            service and in-service teachers (Ferfolja, 2008; Holstrom,
             component of pre-service teacher education programs               Ruiz & Weller, 2007; Schuck 2003a). Teacher training
             (Whitton, Sinclair, Barker, Nanlohy & Nosworthy, 2004),           programs are utilising internet based technologies (such as
             and acknowledged as a critical component of pre-service           WebCT) to enhance pre-service teacher learning when on
             teachers’ professional training, it is one that presents unique   PE to enhance students’ learning experiences. No longer is
             challenges and stresses (Ferfolja, 2008; Murray-Harvey,           the pre-service teacher isolated from university lecturers and
             1999) and therefore, requires better support for pre-service      peers as the technology enables learning and communication
             teachers on PE. It is well documented that                        to occur asynchronously, enabling the pre-service teachers
             pre-service teachers have                                                             to interact and collaborate with peers
             concerns with,                                                                                    and academics anywhere and
             amongst                                                                                                      at anytime (Garrison
                                                                                                                                & Anderson,

14   Institute for Teaching and Learning
Dr Jennifer Rowley & Dr Sharon Tindall-Ford

This article reports on three WebCT sites that were             using WebCT. As students were asked about anxiety and
developed at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music                 stress in using WebCT these changes are also noted in the
(SCM) to support and enhance music students’ PE Units           post-questionnaire. The intention was to measure students’
of Study (UoS). At SCM pre-service music education              adaptability and acceptance of the introduction of WebCT
students enrolled in a four year Bachelor of Music (Music       into the UoS and whether the online support was enhancing
Education) degree are required to complete for their three      their learning environment and impacting its significance.
PE UoS; 10 single days and a two week block in second year      As most of the PE is spent without face-to-face lecturer
at a primary school and seven weeks of PE in both third         involvement it was also necessary to measure the students’
and fourth year at a secondary high school. Within this PE      past experience with WebCT and whether the WebCT
program, pre-service music teachers are expected to develop     support alleviated stress and anxiety during the placement.
effective lesson plans; implement a continuous program of       WebCT sites were developed based on the data collected
lessons; apply classroom management skills; evaluate the        from the re-questionnaire and the sites were monitored

       “No longer is the pre-service teacher isolated from university
        lecturers and peers as the technology enables learning and
    communication to occur asynchronously, enabling the pre-service
      teachers to interact and collaborate with peers and academics
        anywhere and at anytime (Garrison & Anderson, 2003).”
success of classroom learning experiences and to understand     and further developed during PE. Data collected served to
the role and responsibility of music teachers within school     inform SCM academics of the needs of SCM pre-service
and the wider community. In Semester 2, 2006, all Music         music teachers, the usefulness of PE UoS and WebCT sites
Education students enrolled in the PE UoS (MUED 2005,           and an understanding of how to better prepare pre-service
3002 and 4003) were asked to complete a pre-questionnaire       music teachers for their future careers.
as part of the UoS evaluation before placement and a post-
questionnaire at the conclusion of their PE placement. The      Using WebCT within existing Units of Study to create a
pre and post-questionnaire examined previous experiences        collaborative learning environment
of students using technology, the Internet and WebCT.           The initial rationale for introducing e-learning (in the
It explored students’ perceptions of how WebCT might            form of WebCT) into the music education degree at
influence their learning and asked students for inclusions on   SCM was to enhance students’ tertiary education learning
what they would like to see on the WebCT site for the PE        experiences whilst engaging in technology. The goal for
UoS. The comparisons between pre and post-questionnaire         e-learning, therefore, was to encourage active learning for
are presented as changes in students’ perceptions towards       students as well as introducing students to technology

                                                                                              synergy     ISSUE 28, November 2008   15
through meaningful collaborative learning environments.
                                           The collaborative learning environment for the three PE
                                           WebCT sites involved SCM pre-service music teachers,
                                           SCM lecturers, PE supervisors and in school supervising
                                           teachers. It was envisaged that as pre-service music teachers
                                           develop skills as teachers during PE that it would be
                                           essential that they assimilate their teaching and learning
                                           theory into practice (Barry and King, 1998; Groundwater-
                                           Smith et al., 2007). With pre-service music teachers, SCM
                                           academics and PE supervisors being actively involved in
                                           WebCT discussion boards it was hoped that there would
                                           be opportunities for the potential “gap” between theory
                                           and practice to be integrated through online discussions.
                                           As a part of the development of an online collaborative
                                           community it was important to recognize the commitment
                                           that SCM has to the ongoing improvement of graduate
                                           attributes through the students’ interaction with and use
                                           of technology through e-learning. The blended learning
                                           environment was, as stated previously, a mechanism to
                                           further develop university lecturers’ understanding of the
                                           concerns of music education students on PE and to evaluate
                                           WebCT as a medium of instruction and contact. To develop
                                           competence in students as e-learners it was vital to create
                                           opportunities for e-learning to be integrated into existing
                                           UoS and it was thought that WebCT sites would be useful in
                                           addressing the development of graduate attributes through
                                           the pre-service music teachers’ interaction with and use
                                           of technology. The graduate attributes identified by SCM
                                           and supported through this project were a commitment to
                                           independent learning, critical thinking and analysis skills
                                           and appreciation of computer based activities as a part of
                                           the learning environment.

                                           Development of WebCT Sites
                                           The three WebCT sites were developed initially according
                                           to the following structure: Professional Experience
                                           Handbook; contact information for all SCM supervisors;
                                           information for the secondary music teacher (for
                                           example, the New South Wales Creative Arts Syllabus);
                                           Music Teachers Resource Site (including links to internet
                                           sites such as The Pure Drop: An Exploration & Celebration of
                                           World Music; lesson plan information including template
                                           for lesson plans and a Year 7 music lesson plan exemplar
                                           on Aboriginal Music; three online discussion forums for
                                           students to communicate with their peers and lecturers.
                                           One discussion forum was dedicated solely to behaviour
                                           management issues, while another was dedicated to
                                           general discussion, and the remaining discussion forum
                                           was titled ‘Problems to Discuss with Lecturer’. The online
                                           asynchronistic discussion provision involved pre-service
                                           music teachers accessing an online noticeboard where they
                                           could ask questions, voice concerns, write about an incident
                                           or issue and register ongoing responses to other students,
                                           academics or supervisor postings throughout the PE.
                                           SCM academics and supervisors monitored the postings
                                           and provided ongoing advice, support and feedback when
                                           required. These ‘virtual’ discussions did not take place
                                           in real time, but were developed through students and
                                           academics contributions to the noticeboard at a time that
                                           was convenient for them.

16   Institute for Teaching and Learning
Summary of Pre and Post-questionnaire Evaluation                 behaviour management, resources and ideas for lessons.
The pre-questionnaire investigated students’ experiences         Included in the identified needs was also links to other sites
with computers, including both use and ability levels,           that would give them ’hints and tips’ for lessons. Comments
the internet, online learning environments (WebCT) and           also included: links to useful websites, music and readings;
their perceived needs for e-learning when on Professional        discussion boards for trouble shooting and problem solving;
Experience. The questionnaire was administered to 2nd,           announcements and news of happenings back on campus;
3rd and 4th year music education students (n=43) as part         assignment results; and photos and video of PE students
of the course evaluation of the three PE UoS prior to            teaching real classes. There was also an identified need for
placement. Secondly, students were asked to engage in the        lecture notes (although four of the seven education units of
online learning component (WebCT) for the duration of            study already had WebCT sites with lecture notes available
the placement as part of their assessment. Finally, a post-      to students). This identified the need for the Music
questionnaire examined students’ (n=77) self-rating of           Education UoS in the degree program to have lecture notes

    “The blended learning environment was, as stated previously, a
    mechanism to further develop university lecturers’ understanding
       of the concerns of music education students on PE and to
      evaluate WebCT as a medium of instruction and contact.”
experiences with computers, including both use and ability       available to students on WebCT. Rudimentary information
levels, the internet, online learning environments (WebCT)       such as contact details for University PE supervisors and
and the benefits and problems associated with WebCT. It          handouts regarding the mechanics of PE were also noted.
should be noted that the difference in pre and post student
samples was administrative rather than reflective of student     Critical to the results were the data extracted from these
interest. The UoS evaluations were based on the following        open-ended questions and comments by the students.
five questions:                                                  When asked, “how you think WebCT can ENHANCE
1. What are the students’ perceptions of skill, confidence       your professional experience”, comments from pre and post
    and experience in using computers, the Internet and          WebCT use included:
    WebCT? (pre and post-questionnaire)                          1. help navigating the technology;
2. What are students’ current experiences with WebCT?            2. some counselling on dealing with children and
    (pre-questionnaire)                                             adolescents;
3. How do students see WebCT enhancing their learning            3. more supervising teacher and university supervisor input
    needs? (pre and post-questionnaire)                             into discussions;
4. How did these variables change after using WebCT?             4. better methods to share resources – songs, sound files;
    (post-questionnaire)                                         5. more reassurance from supervising teacher, university
5. How did students use and evaluate the usefulness of              supervisor and fellow students.
    WebCT? (post-questionnaire)
                                                                 The rating of students’ feelings and concerns about perceived
The findings revealed moderate to very good levels of            issues in PE identified students’ feelings of isolation, lack
experience, use and confidence of using computers and the        of professional and personal support and concerns with
Internet. The pre-questionnaire, however, showed little or       classroom management. The post-questionnaire (n=77)
limited experience with WebCT in the third and fourth            indicated that students, who had the necessary technology
year groups, and the second year group was evenly matched        skills to access the WebCT sites or were willing to engage in
for experience and no experience with WebCT. When                new technology, found that WebCT helped in alleviating
asked about the usefulness of WebCT whilst on PE most of         anxiety, was useful for developing lesson plan ideas and
the students rated this as possibly, very or extremely useful.   provided critical support in dealing with discipline issues.
Very few students were unsure about its usefulness, which
matches the group who were not familiar with WebCT.              Discussions sites and their use during PE
                                                                 The two designers of the PE WebCT sites, who were also
Results from the pre and post-questionnaire indicated that       SCM lecturers and PE supervisors, monitored the discussion
the students were in need of a range of support mechanisms       sites over the period of PE. The supervisors provided
and content to assist them in undertaking the PE. Two            advice to the pre-service teachers throughout the period of
open ended questions asked students “what do you want            placement and updated the three WebCT sites with new
to SEE on the professional experience WebCT site” and            materials when required, by including links to additional
“what do you want to DO on the professional experience           music websites and supplementary advice on creating
WebCT site”. Students across all cohorts indicated that          interesting and innovative music lessons. The discussion
they wanted some basic assistance with the identified            board was used for two distinct purposes. Firstly, to seek
‘most common concerns’ of beginning teachers – that is           advice from peers and SCM supervisors and, secondly, as

                                                                                                synergy    ISSUE 28, November 2008   17
a mechanism to gain support, encouragement and express           many interruptions!
             emotions in what appeared to be viewed by students as a
             supportive and safe environment. The advice sought by            3. CATEGORY: Technical Support
             pre-service teachers was in the categories of classroom          EXAMPLE: Tuesday August 22nd, 2006
             discipline, technical support, music content for lessons and     Student Response to ipod question. “At my school they
             issues with school music teachers supervision and support.       have a cable where they can plug the ipod into the speakers,
             Examples of the postings demonstrating a selection of the        this means the kids can listen to ‘their’ music and it can be
             categories are provided in Table 4 below.                        incorporated into the lesson.”

             Examples from the WebCT discussion board:                        4. CATEGORY: Music Content
                                                                              EXAMPLE: Monday August 21st, 2006
             1. CATEGORY: School Music Teacher’s Supervision                  Anyone out there knows a way to teach guitar chords to
             EXAMPLE: Saturday August 26th, 2006.                             year 7. I have no idea!
             Does anyone else have a teacher supervising them, that
             after looking at your lesson plans which you know are            A Student Response:
             not complete just says “good” and does not tell you what’s       “ ….. I reckon I can help. To teach guitar chords, be
             needed.”                                                         prepared to take heaps of time on certain aspects of reading
                                                                              guitar tabs and what everything means – you may have to
             2. CATEGORY: Classroom Discipline                                spend 2 lessons. The easiest way is to start of with either a
             EXAMPLE: Wednesday, August 23, 2006. 1:49pm                      riff or a drone note for them to play in groups, and then
             My lesson went pretty good, but I found it difficult to curb     build the notes up until they get the chord. Alternatively
             their excitement after singing “Ah-de-doodah”. The school        you can draw a basic guitar chord diagram (provided by
             didn’t really have a policy and I’m still experimenting what     student) and then you put the finger numbers on the
             works best for me. Any ideas crazy cats? By the way watch        specific frets. If you do use this make sure you play it for
             out for seven-year-old girls squeezing your legs.                them first and then explain/ show the fingering slowly!”

                     “Students’ indicated that the PE WebCT sites enhanced their
                experiences in schools by primarily providing a supportive network to
                 share ideas, knowledge and problems and to seek advice from peers
                and SCM Supervisors. For most, it was an invaluable tool to receive
                  feedback from their peers and supervisors when it was not readily
                                  available at their placement school.”
             EXAMPLE: Monday August 17th, 2006.                               Return response by first student:
             Just a quick heads up to everyone and hope all is going          “I should have thought to ask the guitar pro. Thanks heaps
             well. On the issue of discipline and general behaviour in        for that. Now I understand what they mean by fret … need
             classrooms, I’ve been amazed at the power of humour. Just a      any keyboard advice”.
             small comment here and there both makes the whole room
             positive and also gets everyone’s attention back to you. I’ve    These discussions provided the opportunity for pre-service
             found it especially works with the junior years when the         music teachers who were dispersed over the greater Sydney
             ‘problem’ students start to disrupt the class.                   metropolitan area, SCM academics and PE Supervisors to
                                                                              participate in a dynamic music teaching community. It can
             EXAMPLE: Friday, September 29, 2006. 1:27pm                      be seen by these comments that the students felt comfortable
             I think you did the right thing. I had the exact same            discussing problems and thoughts about teaching in an
             problem on Monday where my usual class teacher was away          open and honest way without fear of consequence. Much of
             and we had a casual teacher, so the class was misbehaving.       the discussion was about the concerns and issues identified
             Come my lesson, the class was being silly and I didn’t get       in the pre and post-questionnaire responses. Students often
             through all my lesson because I had to keep disciplining the     made comments that sites enhanced learning through an
             children. But at the end of my lesson I gave them a talk and     opportunity to discuss issues with each other and university
             told them the exact same thing you told your class. If they      teaching staff, particularly the opportunity to read other
             can’t be well behaved and participate in a sensible manner       student’s experiences whilst they were on PE (either past or
             then I will stop giving them fun music activities. I think our   present experiences). This, as reported by students, made
             little “talk” will have shown the class we mean business and     them feel less isolated and, through both their responses to
             next lesson will hopefully run more smoothly with not so         the questionnaire and their contribution to the discussion

18   Institute for Teaching and Learning
board, demonstrated that they found the discussions to be          sense of isolation they felt from being away from SCM and
a very useful tool. Comments made by all three cohorts             peers. Students from all three cohorts found it reassuring to
included that the discussion board helped to keep in touch         know that many of their peers were experiencing the same
with other students, to discuss issues during professional         problems as they were and found it interesting to hear about
experience and seek advice from lecturers during professional      other schools, students and situations that were very different
experience regarding a specific classroom issue/situation.         from their own experiences. The ability to communicate
It was a hoped that the fourth year students would act as          easily with others and the flexibility in terms of being able
mentors for the third years and that third years would act         to log on at home at night to seek help and support was
as mentors for the second year students, but the students          also seen as a benefit. Suggestions for further improvement
seemed to remain in the discussion with their own cohort.          included more online presence from music educators from
                                                                   the SCM, more musical material provided on line and a
Summary                                                            virtual space to upload and share lesson plans with colleagues.
After using WebCT the results indicate a general trend of          Some fourth years indicated the need for pre-training in this
improvement in students’ rating of skill, confidence and           technology. In order for students to obtain the most support
usefulness of WebCT. The students also indicated that the          and information from online delivery it is essential that the
WebCT sites met needs reasonably or very well. The results         students have an understanding of the technology and access
showed that two-thirds of students rated the PE WebCT sites        to the facility; this appeared to be the main drawback to the
as reasonable, very or extremely useful. It was apparent from      success of the WebCT sites, in particular for the fourth year
the responses that the students felt isolated on their PE and      pre-service teachers.
the results may indicate a need to introduce more scaffolding
into the music education and teacher preparation UoS so as         Recommendations
to allow students to feel more prepared for the solo flight that   This UoS evaluation suggests that providing online support
is a component of PE.                                              through WebCT is an important tool to enhance pre-service
                                                                   music teachers experience on PE. While WebCT provided a
Students indicated that the PE WebCT sites enhanced their          valuable support for pre-service music teachers, discussion
experiences in schools by primarily providing a supportive         boards supplied an important insight to SCM lecturers on
network to share ideas, knowledge and problems and to              the concerns and issues faced by pre-service music teachers
seek advice from peers and SCM Supervisors. For most, it           on PE. Success of the WebCT sites relied on academic and
was an invaluable tool to receive feedback from their peers        pre-service teacher involvement, students’ willingness to
and supervisors when it was not readily available at their         go online, learn about the WebCT sites and read postings
placement school. For some, particularly the third year            by peers and post messages. This was essential to student
students on their first secondary placement, it reduced the        learning, integrating theory with practice, and developing

                                                                                                   synergy    ISSUE 28, November 2008   19
the graduate attributes stated previously and the relevance       to enable students to share their experiences with their fellow
             of the sites. Academics needed to monitor and regulate the        music education students. The online community, therefore,
             asynchronisitc discussion forums and continually update           was thought of as ‘the activities people perform together
             information e.g. posting websites, lesson plans, and support      in their group and not physically where they perform such
             materials. Research suggests that supervisors’ presence on line   activities’ (Graff, 2006:127). This design of the blended
             is critical for the success of asynchronisitc discussion forums   learning environment was also viewed as a mechanism to
             (Sing & Stollof, 2007).                                           further develop university lecturers’ understanding of the
                                                                               concerns of music education students when on PE and
             These new understandings were used to re-model education          evaluating WebCT as a medium of instruction and contact.
             and PE UOS for 2007 and 2008. An important initiative             Research supports the importance of building a community
             that was incorporated for 2007 PE WebCT sites was a lecture       and Wang (2001, as cited in Graff, 2006) argues that the
             and tutorial devoted to student orientation and training in       ‘community can also result from shared knowledge among
             WebCT. Other initiatives for 2007 PE WebCT sites included:        learners in an online environment’ (p127). Therefore, active
             providing a PowerPoint and supplementary information on           independent learning is a vital contribution to a collaborative
             how to successfully prepare for placement; providing narrated     learning community, which this evaluation sought to measure
             PowerPoints of education subjects summarising how theory          through WebCT discussion boards. It was important to
             learnt in these UoS should inform music teaching practice;        develop competence in students as e-learners in this process
             streamlining discussion forums so there were not multiple         with the rationale being to provide relatively immediate
             areas for student interaction and organising threads within       support for students during their PE. Therefore, assessing
             the one discussion board to support student navigation;           their computing, Internet and WebCT skills, experiences and
             providing information on ownership of material posted             anxiety prior to embarking on placement opened a window
             online and confidentiality for all users of discussion forums     to the climate and potential of the online community of
             and; providing all part-time PE Supervisors with access and       student teachers.
             training to the sites.
             The development of the online community as a culture              There are definite challenges with providing relevant online
             change for SCM pre-service pre-service music teachers and         delivery to pre-service teachers when on PE. The three sites
             SCM academics was a desired outcome of this evaluation. To        were created rapidly with limited instruction and support to
             achieve this, academics needed to respond to any teaching         site designers. It was, therefore, imperative that an evaluation
             and learning concerns of the pre-service music teachers and       of these three UoS be undertaken so that the needs and

20   Institute for Teaching and Learning
concerns of pre-service teachers were better understood             century: a Framework for research and practice. London:
and addressed in 2007 and 2008. This evaluation provided            Routledge-Falmer.
important insights in understanding pre-service music           Graff, M. (2006). The Importance of online community in
teachers’ technical competence, fears and anxieties about           student academic performance. The Electronic Journal of
technology, WebCT and PE. Developing mentoring between              e-Learning, 4 (2), 127-132.
year groups needs to be carefully considered and nurtured,      Groundwater-Smith, S., Ewing, R. & Le Cornu, R. (2007).
as it does not simply occur by providing the vehicle for            Teaching Challenges and Dilemmas (3rd Ed.). Southbank,
student interaction. This evaluation showed that success of         Vic: Thomson.
PE WebCT sites relies on commitment by academics and PE         Holstrom, L.; Ruiz, D. & Weller, G. (2007). A New View:
supervisors, pre placement WebCT training of pre-service            reflection and student teacher growth through an
teachers and continual up dating of information on WebCT            epracticum model. E-Learning 4 (1), 5 -14.
sites.                                                          Murray- Harvey, R. (1999). Paper presented at the Colloquium
                                                                    in Field Based Education, Flinders University, Adelaide,
The site designers were successful in applying for a Sydney         Australia, 24-26 November, 1999.
e-learning grant in 2007 and 2008 and sites were re-designed    Seagrave, S. & Holt, D. (2003). Contemporary Learning
in line with students’ evaluation of the UoS and WebCT              Environments: Designing e-learning for education in the
feedback. The re-design of the sites included results of this       professions. Distance Education, 24 (1), 7-24.
evaluation so that the students experience an authenticity      Schuck, S. (2003a). Getting help from the outside:
of e-learning. The authors would like to thank the Sydney           Developing a support network for beginning teachers.
eLearning team who have provided invaluable support and             Journal of Educational Enquiry, 4 (1), 49 -67.
advice.                                                         Singh, D.K. & Stoloff, D.L. (2007). Effectiveness of online
                                                                    Instruction. International Journal of Technology, Knowledge
References                                                          and Society, 2 (6), 120 -123.
Barry, K. & King, L. (1998). Beginning Teaching (3rd Ed.).      Whitton, D., Sinclair, C., Barker, K., Nanlohy, P. &
    Australia: Social Sciences Press.                               Nosworthy, M. (2004). Learning for teaching: teaching
Ferfolja, T. (2008). Building Teacher Capital in Pre-Service        for learning. Southbank, Vic.: Thomson.
    Teachers: Reflections on a New Teacher Education
    Initiative. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 33     Authors Note: The authors wish to acknowledge A/Prof
    (2), 68-84.                                                 Jennifer O’Dea for the original concepts surrounding
Garrison, D.R. & Anderson, T. (2003). E-Learning in the 21st    this evaluation.

                                                                                                synergy    ISSUE 28, November 2008   21
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