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


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