Suncoast Music Education Research Symposium: A Conference of Creativity
Every other year, the Suncoast Music Education Research Symposium is hosted through the USF School of Music where music educators meet to discuss and share information, projects, and research that they are working on with other colleagues and professionals to help further their field. This year, because the symposium was held virtually, people from all over the world were able to attend more freely and participate on a more global level. There were 70 presenters from 14 different countries, spanning across 6 continents, creating a more cultural and communicative conference than ever before.
The conference was held synchronously on Zoom from 8 am to 5 pm EST for four days during the week which provided an interesting challenge for many attendees as for some, that ended up starting extremely early, lasting into the middle of the night, or even being a completely different day entirely based on where they were located in the world. Clint Randles, Associate Professor of Music Education at USF and host of this year’s symposium said “it became a regular occurrence for us to watch the sun set in some places and rise in another.” He noted that that showed a great commitment by many participants to attend at such odd hours just to be a part of it.
The theme this year was aptly “creativity” as even the conference was creatively designed and hosted in a way that fostered conversation, connectivity, and collegiality. Randles discussed the many benefits of the virtual platform of this conference beyond the international aspect which included the ability to get to know each other more personally, more time for questions and discussions, and additional chat functions so that the conversation moved seamlessly throughout instead of just during breaks and downtime. This allowed for a stronger community built through discussion whereas normally the format of the symposium is largely lecture based, which in turn allowed everyone to make stronger educational, professional, and lasting connections. By using a digital platform exclusively, that also gave the ability to easily screen share, record, and share digital media which also assisted many presenters and educators to be able to share and save content for portfolios, future presentations, and classroom use.
Some USF undergrads and alumni also benefit as Randles invited some of his students to attend as an educational experience in lieu of their regularly scheduled class that week. While some sat in and got a glimpse into higher education, others entered the spotlight for a brief moment and obtained significant feedback including an undergraduate songwriter and music education majors Carson Sutton and Evan Heuermann showcasing the first songs they ever wrote and alumni Forrest Hartmann (music educator) showcasing his songwriting class at Day Spring Academy Secondary School in Port Richey, FL. This all fit nicely into the theme of “examining music education as a creative student outlet.” Randles also expressed how valuable “being able to share USF with prestigious universities around the world that we aspire to be like” was throughout this conference. “The world was really able to get a picture of this place,” he said.
While meeting in person again two years from now seems likely, Randles expressed how much more positive, intimate, and cross-cultural this conference was compared to years past and that they hope to continue some of these virtual components in the future. “No name tags, no coffee tables, just generating knowledge that actually helps people,” he said.