By Ryan Sargent
Whenever someone asks me for a tip for using technology with their students, I say, “Baby steps.” You don’t have to become a tech wizard or magically quadruple your budget to change the way you and your students use technology. Over the past few years, technology use has become a major part of the way students learn. Teachers who use tech can keep students engaged, try new pedagogy techniques, and run a more efficient classroom.
If you don’t use anything more complicated than a music stand, that’s okay. There are easy places to start. If you take advantage of 1:1 devices in every lesson plan, there’s always another baby step forward.
Either way, you’re not the only director looking to take steps forward with technology this year. The Technology Institute for Music Educators (TI:ME) can help. TI:ME is a non-profit organization that exists specifically to help music teachers use technology. Of course, as a member of the TI:ME executive board, I’m biased—but I think TI:ME has the best resources around.
TI:ME partners with corporations across all parts of the music industry, from publishers to hardware manufacturers to software companies, so that our resources don’t depend on using any one piece of technology. Our “brand-agnostic” approach means that we can really get at the heart of what teachers need to accomplish while also working with leaders in music technology.
Here are some ways to take baby steps with technology—and how TI:ME can help.
Master the Tech You Have
Often, it’s easiest to make progress by taking advantage of the technology you already have in your classroom. That may be as simple as starting every class with a rehearsal slide projected on the board showing the plan for the class. Framing the lesson this way helps students keep the learning objective in mind—and you’ll be using technology right off the bat.
TI:ME’s resources for members include lesson plans and articles on dozens of pieces of technology, so it’s likely there’s something for the technology you already have. There are also lesson plans that don’t depend on using a particular tool—for example, you can use composition lesson plans with any music notation tool.
Try Something New
If you’re a more experienced technology user, you might consider exploring a new app (or two). Many apps have trials or free versions. Try using a digital audio workstation for the first time, use a tool to really dig in with formative assessment, or attempt something more complicated in your notation software.
The key to trying something new is, again, to take things in small chunks. Assign something small and manageable at first rather than leaning on a new app to be a semester-long focus. You’ll quickly find where a particular tool shines.
Trying something new can also be an effective strategy for teachers on a tight budget. In addition to the many apps that have free or trial versions, you can find free options that are entirely web-based, free, and make it easy to jump right in. GroovePizza is one of my favorites. It’s fun, addictive and can help solidify rhythmic patterns for students at every level.
Not sure what you want to try next? TI:ME’s Areas of Skill and Pedagogical Understanding offer some broad categories that all integrate well with technology and classroom curriculum. If you’re already comfortable using music notation software, expand to electronic music production.
Network With Other Teachers
Again, you’re not alone. TI:ME teachers across the country have ideas and experiences to share. I invite you to join us on Facebook in the “I Teach Music Technology!” group. Better yet, come say hi at a conference! We’ll be at the NAfME National In-service next month with clinics, rooms, and exhibits dedicated specifically to technology.
One of the highlights of the NAfME conference this year will be our dedicated exhibit room. TI:ME’s industry partners will be on hand for deep dives into using their products in your classroom. Instead of sales pitches, the goal will be to talk about lesson plans, in-class activities, and integrating tools into the teaching you already do.
Incorporating more technology into your teaching can be a difficult task, but remember: baby steps. Start integrating technology in small ways and you’ll quickly be making technology the centerpiece of your teaching.
Ryan Sargent is the vice president of the non-profit Technology Institute for Music Educators, a member of the music faculty at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, and social media manager for MakeMusic, Inc. A former band director and recovering trombonist, Ryan creates and distributes professional development content for music educators across the country.