USF Music Education Takes on Student-centered Learning

Thursday, February 09, 2017

USF iPad band, Touch, with guest singer on stage int he USF Music Concert Hall

Touch, USF's iPad band, performs at the TOUCH: The Love Concert on February 3, 2017 at the USF Music Concert Hall.

A new way of teaching is coming to music classrooms around the country.

It's called student-centered learning, and it has been present in education for some time. Music educators are beginning to take notice.

The approach is applied along with a classroom of both vocalists and instrumentalists in the Modern Band philosophy of music education. Students are given a choice of what to learn, which often involves popular music and digital instruments. Music education degree programs at the School of Music are designed to embrace this student-centered style of learning.

Music education undergraduates take two classes in Progressive Methods, which are taught by Dr. Clint Randles, Associate Professor of Music education, and are designed to give students new approaches to learning and music pedagogy. Students complete a variety of assignments outside of the traditional environments of band, choir, and orchestra. During the spring and fall semesters, they can be heard playing in rock bands in MLK Plaza or sharing their own music compositions in the classroom.

"We're trying to create people who love music, and you have to meet them where they are." said Randles.

Former students James Coyne and Ryan McCorkle are implementing the learner-centered approach in the music department of Sanders Elementary School in Pasco County. An article in the Tampa Bay Times shows how the school's nearly 40-member iPad band, started by Coyne and McCorkle, is spreading the joy of music to the next generation.

This new approach is not limited to the undergraduate level. The Master of Arts in Music Education program has recently been redesigned to incorporate student-centered learning alongside an emphasis on music education research. It is taught almost entirely online. Though the new program just debuted in the summer of 2016, it is already having an impact on classrooms in five states.

"The feedback that we're getting from the students in that first cohort has been very positive," said Dr. David Williams, Associate Director of the School of Music and Associate Professor of Music Education. "I think all of them have implemented some aspects of learner-centered approach in their classrooms."

The learner-centered approach and the integration of new technologies in the classroom allow existing ensembles such as bands, orchestras, and choirs to be strengthened by new learners.

"We say that if we educate the citizenry of tomorrow to love music, then the traditions of the past are more valuable to those people," said Randles, "because they get it — because they're an insider, and they get why that's important."

The School of Music aims not only to get students excited about music but to get audiences excited as well. Touch, the School's very own five-piece iPad band, gives unique performances on the unconventional instrument. Through collaboration with creative minds in theatre, dance, and the visual arts, audience members experience performances like no other.

USF Dancers joining Touch on stage during collaboration

Dancers from the USF School of Theatre and Dance join Touch on stage during the TOUCH: The Love Concert for an exciting and creative collaboration between disciplines.

Founded in 2011 by Williams and Randles, Touch brings music faculty and students together to show the music capabilities of the iPad as a musical instrument. Williams reminds us that it's not simply about the iPad, but rather, about human beings making music, in the same way a human would interact with a "conventional" instrument such as the oboe.

"Both of those instruments only make music when a human being touches it and interacts with it," said Williams. "It's a human being making music."

With the help of passionate faculty members, the music education at USF is committed to embracing change for the next generation. With more tools to connect to students, more people can experience the joy of music-making and listening. Both tradition and innovation can live side-by-side for the betterment of one another, and it's important that music educators do the same.

"We're all on the same team," said Randles, "We ultimately are fighting for team music."