How I extend collaborative learning using digital technologies

Encouraging collaborative learning through technology is an important part of any online or blended teaching approach. In this post I aim to examine the potential for development in this area of my practice. Swann, Garrison & Richardson (2009), identify social, cognitive and teaching presence as the three key elements in their ‘Community of Inquiry framework’. When evaluating how I might foster more collaborative learning through my teaching and environment design I must consider these three areas in relation to the way musicians learn. Green (Chapter 3.2, para.1) explains the ways peer learning can take place between musicians:

“it can arise in casual encounters or organised sessions; it can occur separately from music-making activities or during rehearsals and jam sessions. The different settings in which such learning takes place are liable to flow into each other. For example, a member of one band can show a new lick or chord to a member or several members of another band; a player may learn something by watching or listening to another player, who remains unaware of the fact that any learning is taking place; members of a band are likely to have casual learning encounters outside their rehearsals, the results of which are then consciously or unconsciously brought back into the rehearsals”.

I try to instigate these kinds of transfer in my face-to-face teaching through the curriculum design; my ensemble musicianship class requires all students to provide feedback to their peers following performances, the quality of the feedback they provide is a consideration within the marking criteria (UKPSF A1, A2, A4, K1, K2 & K3). Necessitating peer-peer evaluation in this manner results in all kinds of interesting discussion arising, allowing learners the opportunity for effective expression that will lead to reflection and discourse overseen by the teacher. According to Swann et al. (2009), this type of pedagogy requires a social, cognitive and teaching presence which indicates a Community of Inquiry is established (UKPSF A2, A4, K2 & K3).

Moving forward, I must focus on establishing similar collaborative practices in an online environment. When formulating an action plan in this regard I think it’s important to consider the role technology could play in the three potential types of exchange highlighted in Green’s (2009) description of music related peer learning: demonstration, appropriation through audio/visual sources and verbal or text conversation. In an online environment demonstration could be facilitated by the uploading of videos explaining specific techniques or approaches; the use of forums, webinars and blogs would allow for the appropriation of new influences through sharing media and also facilitates academic appraisal of discipline specific practices. All of these media are contained within, or easily signposted inside, the university’s Blackboard VLE. I intend to utilise all of them to complement my classroom teaching with the aim of encouraging entire cohorts to adapt the available technologies for their own learning styles, in similar way to members of an ‘Old Time’ folk music online community of practice that were the subject of Waldrens (2009) study (UKPSF A1, A2, A4, A5, K1, K2, K3, K4 & V1).

Although peer learning is at the heart of an online CoP or CoI there is sill an important role I need play as teacher in such environments. Ritchie’s (n.d., pp.8-9) approach to fostering collaborative learning through the online content of a HE music module demonstrates how learning can be guided around a particular subject matter:

“satellite topics are presented which allow people to investigate the components and processes involved in musical learning…each week’s online content gives a mix of a theoretical base or historical background, cites and discusses some key references that have been chosen to make students question and give them a different insight into the topic, and has accompanying tasks that allow for experiential learning and a practical demonstration of the underlying skills”.

I feel it’s necessary that I have a presence within any online community related to my teaching to ensure interactions are directed towards achieving the learning outcomes of the module. I think the discipline specific methods used by Ritchie (n.d.) will also be effective within my area of music specialism and will form the basis of my pedagogic approach within online environments (UKPSF A5, A4, K1, K2 & K3). Establishing online communities is particularly important within large music departments where one is likely to encounter diversity in terms of stylistic preferences, which is also closely linked with cultural and social diversity. Given the size of the Salford University Music Department (400+students) I think it is important to be aware that “Failure to provide learning opportunities that address the extramusical aspects of stylistic diversity, and embed the normative behaviors and expectations of those communities within degree programmes, risks failing to engage students in the learning process. It risks failing to produce employable graduates who are accepted and competent members of professional communities of practice” (Hewitt, 2009, p.8). Considering this point highlights how my plans for developing CoPs will help students with similar interests and backgrounds find each other amongst large cohorts, the intended result being increased participation in collaborative practice amongst a diverse learning community  (UKPSF A4, A5, K2,V1, & V2).


Green, L. (2002). How Popular Musicians Learn: A Way Ahead for Music Education. Aldershot: Ashgate (Kindle reader version 4.15.1) Retrieved from

Hewitt, A. (2009). Musical styles as communities of practice: challenges for learning, teaching and assessment of music in higher education. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 8 (3), pp. 329-337. doi: 10.1177/1474022209339956

Higher Education Academy. (2011). The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supported learning in higher education. Retrieved from

Ritchie, L. (n.d.). Embracing open learning in Music. Higher Education Academy. Retrieved from

Swan, K., Garrison, D. R. & Richardson, J. C. (2009). A constructivist approach to online learning: the Community of Inquiry framework. In C. R. Payne (Ed.) Information Technology and Constructivism in Higher Education: Progressive Learning Frameworks. (pp. 43-57). doi: 10.4018/978-1-60566-654-9.ch004

Waldron, J. (20o9). Exploring a virtual music community of practice: Informal music learning on the Internet. Journal of Music Technology and Education, 2(2-3), 97-112. doi: 10.1386/jmte.2.2-3.97_1


Opportunities and benefits of FDOL

For our 1st PBL task my group decided to formulate an online version of the level 4 performance module ‘Critical and Contextual Studies’ that aims to address ‘the ways in which we analyse and discuss the performances we make and see’. We decided the module could be delivered in conjunction with ‘The Lowry Theatre’, an existing industry partner of the performance department. The module would be offered to all their staff and associate artists as a career development opportunity in exchange for discounted tickets being offered to our students, an arrangement of mutual benefit. This led me to reflect upon how I could work with existing or potential industry partners of the music department to deliver an online course and enhance teaching through digital media in a constructive relationship. Embracing the differing priorities and perspectives of industry partners can be very beneficial for music pedagogy as Zeserson (2012, Chapter 14, para. 36) describes:

“Tensions between different and shifting viewpoints (both pedagogical and musical) can be destructive or dynamic. Bringing practitioners into the school environment, whose practice norms are aligned to community contexts or the professional music industry, or even just to a different kind of school, can challenge both the culture of the school community as well as that of the guests. This dynamic tension between perspectives can, however, be enormously productive through stimulating debate, the exploration of new ideas and creative invention.”

With these potential benefits in mind, colleagues and I are currently developing a technology-based module in conjunction with ‘Music Group’ – the 4th largest audio company in the world. As well as introducing some ‘dynamic tension’ into the curriculum, association with their global brand has huge outreach potential (UKPSF A1, K1, K2, K4 & V4). It has been agreed that an online version of the course would maximize the benefits of our partnership and help us to contribute towards the ‘our partners-making connections’ aspect of Salford University’s strategic plan that encourages us to “Expand our network of regional, national and global partners. Work with them to enhance learning outcomes of our students and, through collaboration around research, professional development and community benefit, increase our impact on society and build mutual reputational force for the long term.” (Salford University, 2016) (UKPSF A1, A5, K4 & V4).

The possibility of working in partnership with a MOOC provider such as Coursera, Futurelearn or Edex in delivery was also discussed amongst my PBL group. Although this idea was eventually dismissed, I personally felt that our course was well suited to being delivered in conjunction with a provider. The delivery approach we decided upon of a 1-hour lecture followed up by small group seminar discussion and asynchronous learning activity encompasses the values, skills and literacy dimensions of a ‘cMOOC’ (Downes, 2015, 5:13) – an open access online course that is structured to encourage a ‘connectivist’ approach to learning.

Considering this, I would conclude that our course could be offered as a cMOOC without compromising the pedagogical approach and would raise the reputation of our teaching practices. It is just one of the areas of institutional enhancement gained through offering MOOCs Jenner (2014) highlights alongside Innovation, Delivery, Infrastructure and Student Outcomes. There are many music technology and musicology modules within the programmes I teach that could be offered as online courses through adopting a similar pedagogical approach, with the potential benefits Jenner outlines I feel it’s a worthwhile endeavour that warrants the required resource. I intend to present a proposal to my line manager in the near future based on a very similar rationale outlined for the hypothetical PBL module (UKPSF A1, A5, , K2, K4, V3 & V4).

We decided it was important to include a slide in our presentation that discussed the benefits of online learning for the student in comparison to the face-to-face module; three aspects were focused on – interactivity, passive to active learning and communication. Interactivity and active learning are two areas that I feel are closely related and important to my practice – with all the technologies commonly used by students, the possibility for active learning activities are endless.

To ensure the activities are serving with the learning outcomes I found the five considerations outlined by Brenton (2015) a useful framework – People (Who?), Shared Purpose (Why?), Locating framework/social conditions (Where?), Method (How?) and Activity (What?). Using this thought process I have designed an activity my LV6 students will undertake to help them frame their final recital project. It involves answering a series of questions that aim to help them understand their strengths as performers; they will discuss their answers in groups and consider how each others’ strengths could be highlighted through repertoire choice before feeding back to the class. This method helps them work collaboratively towards the learning outcome of devising a programme that allows them to address all aspects of the criteria (UKPSF A1, A2, A4, A5, V3, K1, K2 & K3). An online version of this task could be completed using wikis, discussions boards and breakout rooms in collaborate ultra. In a blended version of this module I could ask students to complete this prior to the face-to-face session to allow more time for discussion and individual focus. I intend to experiment with an online version of this task next academic year, I will gauge its effectiveness by monitoring the communications that take place thorough the previously mentioned technologies and judging the level of engagement and quality of discussion (UKPSF A1, A2, A4, A5, K1, K4 & K5).

My PBL group conversation around the issue of communication in online education triggered my curiosity and instigated reflection upon how I transmit information to my students in online environments, I found that Betts (2009, para.44) raises some interesting points in this regard:

“It is clear that nonverbal communication in a face-to-face classroom, including visual cues and vocal cues, can affect how a message is conveyed by the sender/receiver and interpreted by the receiver/sender. Even when words are not being used, communication is still taking place in a face-to-face classroom. However, in an online classroom, there is a shift and increased emphasis on words, particularly with written communication. Lexicon, semantics, and syntax can greatly affect how a written message is conveyed and interpreted.”

I have never really given much thought into how writing style and grammar might affect the way my communications are interpreted. Upon reviewing my recent Blackboard announcements I was surprised by the stern the tone of my writing when considered from a student’s perspective. Betts (2009) also suggests developing a more nuanced approach to communication with students through introspective examination of email communication style and diversifying communication strategies. I intend to consider both these points in my future practice through firstly giving more thought to appropriately articulating emails and undertaking some professional development to improve my ability to do this. I will also endeavor to use a wider range of media such as video and audio, especially when delivering online courses as hearing and seeing an instructor will feel more personal (UKPSF A4, A5 & K4).

When deciding how we were going to utilise technology to deliver the course there was a lot of focus on how we could support students during the second stage of Salmon’s (n.d.) five-stage model where the focus is on socialisation. During this phase of their learning students must become familiar with technologies that establish channels of communication and facilitate collaborative activity. We felt that social media could play an important part in enabling the students to engage in active learning as “the focus is on ensuring that anything created can be added to, shared, followed, and more. Mobile tools can support all these capabilities and can allow a virtuous cycle of learning, creating, and providing feedback” (Quinn, 2012, p.82). These attributes can be used to effectively enhance peer learning within the Music discipline as Albert (2015, para.8) describes: “Music educators can use social networks to create online communities of practice that support student learning within their classes and ensembles. Social networks such Facebook Groups, Edmodo, and Google Classroom can host videos and audio files recorded by a member of an online community – a music class or ensemble –with the purpose of soliciting supportive and constructive feedback.” These two viewpoints provide a strong rationale for using social networks to support the collaborative ensemble projects I oversee. I would probably opt for using Google Classroom over the other platforms as its features allow more control over student interactions, an important consideration to prevent issues arising from cyberbullying, ethics and privacy (UKPSF K4 & V1). I would use the network to encourage discussion and sharing of relevant audio/video recordings for critical listening and also to ensure that all students are responding to communications relating to rehearsal times – a common issue with the module (UKPSF A4, K3 & K4).


Albert, D. J. (2015) Social Media in Music Education: Extending to where students live. Music Educators Journal, 102(2), 31-38. doi: 10.1177/0027432115606976

Betts, K. (2009). Lost in translation: Importance of effective communication in online education. Online Journal of Distance Education Administrators, 12(2). Retrieved from

Brenton, S. (2015). Effecive online teaching and learning. In H. Fry, S. Ketteridge & S. Marshall (Eds), A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Oxon: Routledge

Downes, S. (2015, 15 September). MOOC: Stephen Downes and George Siemens Connectivism [Video file]. Retrieved from

Jenner, M. (2014, 25 March). What’s the benefit of MOOCs. [Weblog] UCL Home Digital Education Team Blog. Retrieved from [Accessed 10 Apr. 2016].

Higher Education Academy. (2011). The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supported learning in higher education. Retrieved from

Quinn, C.N. (2012). The Mobile Academy: mLearning for Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Salford University. (n.d.). Our Salford-Strategic Plan 2014-2018. Retrieved 12 April, 2016, from

Salmon, G. (n.d). Gilly Salmon- The Five stage Model. Retrieved 12 April, 2016, from

Zeserson, K. (2012). Partnerships in music education. In C. Philpott & G. Spruce (Eds), Debates in Music Teaching. Oxon:Routledge. [Kindle reader version 4.15.1] (Chapter 14) Retrieved from




My digital teaching practice and opportunities for change

In this post I aim to discuss how I will use digital technologies to enhance learning within a flexible curriculum that encourages students to learn through relevant practical experiences and assignments. In my last post I explored the importance of encouraging creativity and the scope to focus on personal interests within the curriculum in terms of developing digital literacies; these factors are also important when considering the ‘constructively aligned’ (Biggs & Tang , 2011) tasks students undertake when working towards learning outcomes. I feel it’s important to first consider the design of my curriculum before contemplating how technology can be used to enhance what should already be a pedagogically-sound approach, prioritising in this manner is important as Casey and Wilson (2005, p.14) point out :

“people often turn to technology for solutions to problems that are not really technical, but rather managerial and educational. We introduce the notion of the need to develop ‘educational expertise’ which should lead to the correct use of technology. At present, many people seem to hope that the reverse arrangement will work, despite ample evidence otherwise”.

The module ‘Session Musicianship’ is good place to start when evaluating my practice in this regard; it’s an ensemble class that involves 5 learners working under my direction to produce a finished recording of a song within a 2-hour time frame. I provide guidance throughout the session whilst the students work collaboratively and interact during the rehearsal process; they are also encouraged to make creative inputs as specified in the assignment brief (UKPSF A1, A2, A3, A4, K1, K2 & K3). After considering this lesson design in relation to the learning outcomes, I conclude that the social and informal learning activities within this class meet many of the Enhancement Themes’ (2016) indicators of a highly flexible model such as active learner participation, problem-solving, collaboration and creative dialogue (UKPSF A1, A5, V1, V2, K2 & K3). Although I feel confident about the overall effectiveness of the pedagogy employed in the module I still see some students with fundamental flaws in their instrumental skills drawn into an insular focus whilst trying to rectify them in the classes, hence preventing them from fully participating in active learning. I feel technology can help address this problem and cater for diversity in terms of pre-existing skill by using video to adopt a ‘flipped classroom approach’. Bridgstock (2012, cited in Grant, 2013, p.6) discusses the benefits of incorporating this method into tertiary music education:

“With contact lecture hours directed to activities that consolidate and apply knowledge, the flipped music classroom holds far greater potential than traditional lecture formats to foster authentic and creative student learning activities, for example by incorporating practice- and performance-based learning tasks. More than the traditional lecture format, it can engage students engaging in real-life problem-solving in areas relevant to their future careers as musicians, and develop the entrepreneurial skills that are increasingly needed to build a successful and sustainable career in the arts.”

The videos I would post prior to the start of the session will demonstrate instrument-specific techniques that will be used in the following weeks session. This will allow students with technical limitations to focus their practice on very precise points, resulting in their being more prepared for interacting creatively with other students (UKPSF A1, A2, A4, A5, K1, K2, K4, V1 & V2).

When I reflect upon the activities students undertake in this class, I realise the fast visual processing required for sight reading sheet music could potentially disadvantage some students, particularly those with the disability of Dyslexia, a protected characteristic under the Equality Act (2010). To ensure that no student’s learning is hindered I will make sure the music is available for download through the VLE a week in advance of the class, allowing students time to process the information at their own pace. The British Dyslexic Association Music Committee (2016) highlights some other issues Dyslexic music students face that I need to be more aware of. I intend to further support students encountering the following difficulties using appropriate technologies as described:

  • Work in music theory: understanding/de-coding information and organisation of examination answers: Use interactive websites such as for revision tasks, colour-coded digital flashcards in lessons and quizzes using Socrative or Kahoot.
  • Organisation of personal practice and rehearsals: The VLE will be used to set up personal practice diaries using wikis that I can use to monitor the effectiveness of practice routines. Reminders about lessons and rehearsal can also be sent straight to their phone apps via blackboard announcements.
  • Music analysis and understanding of written material: I can record any aural explanations that take place in the lessons on my phone then email recordings to the students, video feedback will also be offered as an alternative to written. Notation software such as ‘Sibelius’ can be used to change colours and highlight patterns.

By using these technologies to introduce different methods outlined in Fleming’s and Mill’s VARK modalities (“Vark-Learn”, n.d.), I aim to create a more inclusive environment. As well as the ethical reasons for doing this, the changes made to DSA funding as of September 2016 will require all academics to develop more inclusive pedagogies as the government “will look to HEIs to play their role in supporting students with mild difficulties, as part of their duties to provide reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act” (Willets, HC Deb 7 April 2014, c 1WS) (UKPSF A1, A2, A3, A4, V4, V2, K1 & K4).


Biggs, J.B., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for Quality Learning at University (4th ed.). Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Education

British Dyslexia Association Music Committee. (n.d.). Music and inclusive teaching: information from the British Dyslexia Association Music Committee. Retrieved 27 March, 2016, from

Casey, J., & Wilson, P. (2005). A practical guide to providing flexible learning in further and higher education. Enhancement themes. Retrieved from

Enhancement Themes. (n.d.). Design curricula with a significant focus on technology-enhanced learning (TEL). Retrieved 20 March, 2016, from

Grant, C. (2013). First inversion: A rationale for implementing the ‘flipped classroom approach’ in tertiary music courses. Australian Journal of Music Education. 2013 Edition (1), 3-12. Retrieved from;dn=194668467340281;res=IELHSS

Higher Education Academy. (2011). The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supported learning in higher education. Retrieved from

The Equality Act 2010. (c.1). London, The Stationery Office.

Vark-Learn. (n.d.). The VARK Modalities. Retrieved 27 March, 2016 from

Willets, D. (2014). Higher Education: Student Support. House of Commons Library Written Statement. HC Deb, vol 597, col. 1WS, 7 April 2014.