When last I was on faculty at my present teaching assignment, I was able to watch six “seasons” of students progress through a rigorous college-prep environment. It was common to see batches of index cards popping up during study halls, especially as our students were preparing for exams in vocabulary, history, the sciences and, of course, music theory. It didn’t take long fpr me to realize these students had adapted the practice of making their own review materials in a way that was portable and, when possible, could be shared with their peers. When I began my graduate studies, I decided to embrace this learning strategy. I still use it.
Fast forward 21 years and I find myself getting to know a form of technology used to format digital index cards for my students. Quizlet is the 10 year old brainchild developed by Andrew Sutherland when he, himself, was studying for a foreign language vocabulary exam. According to the statistics posted on its website, Quizlet’s mission, to help students (and their teachers) practice and master whatever they are learning and provide engaging, customizable activities with contributions from people everywhere, appears to be highly successful. I’m basing that on the reported creation of 335,784,000 study sets and its usage by over 50 million teachers and students. I think you’ll agree that those are pretty hefty numbers
As a culturally-diverse learning community, a fair portion of our students are English Language Learners; students for whom English is not their native language. Since beginning this semester’s study of Advance Placement Music Theory, I’ve come to realize that my students are best served when I use everything in my teacher’s toolbox to tap into their individual learning modalities. In honesty, I was hesitant to learn Quizlet, despite the fact that my students were asking for it (I’m hanging my head in shame over this). As I’ve dug into this app more deeply, I now understand that it is… (a) no more labor intensive than creating the hard-copy tools that I typically include in my class materials… (b) provides my students with a resource that can be tailored to their individual learning styles (and preferences)… (c) provides me with regular opportunities to collaborate with thousands of my colleagues who wouldn’t normally be in my professional circle. Quizlet provides me with options to either develop my own review materials or tap into what has already been developed by my peers. This app is about more than creating flashcards, as is evidenced by opportunities for my students to work collaboratively in the classroom and online with peers in remote locations. I view this as ways in which they can further develop their critical thinking and response skills.
This would be a good time to say that I really am a fan of technology. I’m not afraid of it (unless it is a robot). I actually enjoy learning how to use it. I am now asking myself why I was so hesitant to incorporate Quizlet into my AP Music Theory class. I also have to be honest and say that I am a purist when it comes to putting pencil to paper. As a musician, it is always pencil…never a pen. My expectations had been for my students to do the same with their work, including their review materials. Our academic discipline is steeped in tradition, and that includes having pencils readily available for marking our scores, jotting down motifs, etc. New discoveries that have piqued my interest and are on my “to be added” list: The Henle Library – a digital repository of urtexts that will permit me to edit and mark them in the same way I would with pencil.
NotateMe – an iOS app that has the same functions as The Henle Library but will also permit me to scan and upload music for the purpose of developing my own library. As I consider the resources that we could incorporate into next year’s AP Music Theory class, these are high on my list of possibilities. Of course, the major determining factor is cost.
While technology upgrades for classroom use have been on an upswing, they have taken teachers and their own learning curves along with it. Most recently, our faculty and staff was notified that we will be able to interface our Google Classrooms with our Rediker Portals. While reviewing a listing of 2019’s top 200 tools for Learning, I was prompted to find additional apps that might suit the needs in my classroom. Kahoot is similar to Quizlet in that it provides an online environment for collaborative learning.
Can/should apps such as Quizlet, NoteMe, The Henle Library, or Kahoot be viewed as panaceas for the various and sundry ailments in education? That is a tough question to answer. As I stated earlier, Quizlet and NotateMe are very useful when trying to overcome language difficulties or differences in learning modalities. While I’m actually excited about incorporating Quizlet into my classroom this year, I worry that having such immediate access to thousands of pre-gathered pieces of information will prevent my students from exercising their own research skills. Would this app give them an excuse not to read an assigned chapter in our textbook? Would it weaken their ability to outline their readings…identify the salient points in each unit of study? Once again, the word balance comes to mine. Offer hard-copies of texts and online resources…model ways in which each can compliment the other for my students. Those are my goals as I weigh options to upgrade technology for my students, as well as for myself.
As I delved more deeply into The Inevitable, I found Kelly’s (2016) descriptions of the way in which technology evolves to be especially resonant. As much as I am been considered to be tech-savvy by those around me, I have come to realize that I am (and will likely always be) a newbie in educational learning environments. Perhaps, this is a good thing…a sign that I should actively pursue ways to continue my development into a lifelong learner. The protopia described by Kelly (2016) reminded me that learning, whether it takes place in in our classrooms or in our students’ study spaces when they’re back at home, is an evolutionary process. As an educator, I recognize that it is my responsibility to be open to what members of the teacher-learner dyad need to make the most of our exchanges while building upon them.
References Kelly, K. (2016). The Inevitable. New York, NY: Penguin Books.