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SoundCool: new technologies for mobile and ubiquitous learning in music education.

Introducing SoundCool

The presence of enhanced, mobile and adaptive electronic devices in the early part of the 21st century has heralded a new phase of growth and development for technology. For the first time in our history, consumers have access to increasingly advanced and powerful computing devices that are faster, more powerful, have greater memory, and are connected to the internet at all times. Mobile technology has evolved to become an increasingly indispensable part of our daily interactions with individuals and communities around us. The effects of mobile and ubiquitous computing are quickly being felt within almost every subject offered in educational curricula. The focus of this article is the relationship that such mobile learning (1) has with music education. The following will provide an analysis of issues raised in the design, implementation and constructive gains of the mobile application technology called "SoundCool" described by Sastre et al. (2013) in their report "New Technologies for Music Education."

SoundCool is the product of a research initiative titled "New Technologies and Interfaces for Music Education and Production" and co-developed through a joint initiative by Carnegie Mellon University and Universidad Politecnica de Valencia. The project utilized MAX (Modular Graphical Development Environment for Music) to develop an audio application for smart devices allowing students to record, process and produce music in a variety of mobile environments.

Design and Planning

In order to understand the implementation and trials of this application, it is important to first characterize the educational milieu in which this application was developed. The designers convey the great "paradox" (Sastre et al. 2013, p. 150) that currently exists within music education, where the present curriculum is reconciling tensions between the advent of digital experiences and a reverence for tradition. It is within this context that music education is challenged to survive the shortcomings of budgetary constraints, as well as concerns over the value and role of arts and creativity in the current primary/secondary education system. As Bolden (2014) has noted, the vast majority of music education systems currently in place have the capacity to foster creativity, but in and of themselves, are not inherently creative by virtue of the nature of the experiences that are offered to the learner (p. 2). Creativity and discourse can be seen in new ways through effective use of mobile technology.

The focus on encouraging creativity, divergence and design is one of the defining features of one-to-one learning, facilitated through mobile applications. Chan et al. (2006) maintain that this new form of learning places a higher focus on activity, productivity, and collaboration (p. 10) facilitated through one-to-one learning. In a similar way, Sastre et al. (2013) question the very paradigm that music education in much of the world currently adheres to as a subject that favours reproduction and hierarchy instead of learner creativity. The place of primacy that Sastre et al. (2013) give to the act and process of creating, composing and sharing through use of SoundCool is shared by Chan et al. (2006) as promoting "knowledge building" (quoting Bereiter, p. 10) through constant development and questioning of the environment where learning takes place. Through this mobile sound-to-sound application, students have the ability to engage in the creative process at any time, in any environment through the use of this technology and connection to a wireless source. This application is designed to encourage students and teachers to move beyond the reproduction of sounds and images that are traditionally offered as instruction in music classes. Furthermore, it gives a mobile and connected way by which the instructor can design particular learning engagements to make most effective use of this technology to encourage creative discourse to occur both in and outside of the formal learning environment.

Within a learning environment that is built upon knowledge building and creative discourse, there is a new type of discussion emerging about the connectivity that the learner has with his or her work. Bereiter & Scardamalia (1993) encourage a view of progressive discourse where learners have the opportunity to share and connect their own experiences and questions to a larger community to elicit new responses (p. 39). The understanding of progressive discourse that Bereiter & Scardamalia express demonstrates the need to create a community of practice where individuals are able to share ideas and have enough security and support to take those ideas in new directions. SoundCool is an attempt to create a new paradigm where knowledge building is encouraged through the use of m-learning within the classroom. SoundCool allows for the sharing of musical ideas at wireless meeting places where students and teachers can promote creative discourses at any point in the learning process.

Sastre et al. (2013) promote a re-imagining of the music classroom that is centred on student-initiated learning and directed through the teacher as'facilitator' (p. 150-151). The role of collaboration is seen by Hunter (2006) as encouraging creativity, unity and a richer understanding of the environment where learning might take place (p. 78). Security and safety are key concerns in allowing both teacher and student to foster the space where they can break the boundaries that have traditionally distanced pupil from instructor, creating a collaborative classroom where students, teachers and mobile devices work together. Collaboration in this proposed environment by Sastre et al. (2013), is designed to change the way in which teachers have functioned as the only sources of information to the music class.

Encouraging collaboration within SoundCool's users and students has implications for the role of governance within the classroom environment. There are new models of governance and direction to provide structure with the space between the physical and digital worlds. Petrides, Jimes, & Hedgspeth (2012) describe the move away from learning being structured under a "command and control" (p. 42) model, instead focusing on bringing learners together within socialized interactions that are determined by the participants themselves. Creating self-governance and de-centralized control is imbedded within the design and planning for Sastre et al. (2013). Learners can utilize their own mobile devices to actively share and collect information regarding the progress of their musical projects at any time. Learners can collect and share information within their own established learning and social communities, helping to erase the boundaries that have existed between school and work, and now exist between colleagues and digital friendships.

Implementation and Learner Use

The design of SoundCool was premised upon creating a learning environment that promoted creativity, individuality and interdependence in musical learning. Establishing a mobile-learning environment requires an analysis of the model of interaction that is shared by its users. In the design of their application, Sastre et al. (2013) were deliberate in their choice of a peer-to-peer (P2P) model of interaction (p. 152) to frame their application. Angkananon, Wald & Gilbert (2013) argue that the use of a P2P model of interaction is best utilized to facilitate human interactions through the mediation of technology. In this scenario, technology through the use of mobile devices (tablets, SMS, etc.) is intended to aid in the process of communication in real-time for fast response between people. Sastre et al. (2013) have designed their application to effectively utilize mobile devices to better allow for communication between individuals within the classroom community to share ideas and to dialogue, but they have also utilized this model in order to better make use of crowd sourcing and crowd funding (p. 152). The use of social communication is embedded within the program and application design to allow students to communicate and share their musical projects with those outside their communities as well as facilitate collaboration across classrooms. The goal is to allow students and instructors to take advantage of mobile technology to share musical ideas, review and critique musical works, and to correspond with those outside the immediate classroom setting to promote creative discourse. Ball (2014) supports this use of crowd sourcing as a way of incorporating the expertise of others to solve problems and find solutions in an engaged, social manner. Utilizing this interaction model to extend the discussion beyond the classroom walls and into the general community does raise some ethical concerns, yet is a new and promising way to promote classroom creativity and interaction with a future potential market for musical works.

A collaboration model aids in connecting individuals and ideas together through a digital environment. For Sastre et al. (2013), the success of SoundCool in practice has to be understood as making effective use of Web 2.0 technology and its place in shaping the conversations about creativity and connectivity. Semingson (2013) supports the direct and explicit exposure by instructors of the potential that Web 2.0 offers and directly modeling it to students in order for them to become proficient in its application (p. 282). The use of Web 2.0 by Sastre et al. (2013) is designed to provide students with an open forum by which they can design a project and share their work by virtualizing it on the internet. This not only provides the student with the technology and tools to create musical projects but also is designed to situate musical learning within a social context that links music, producer/composer and listener/community to prospective musical markets. This is a great use of mobile technology and connectivity by way of allowing students to create and collaborate on musical projects, and offers a direct link to allow students to publish their material for public consumption. This will provide students with valuable experience in understanding music production in the 21st century by utilizing a similar process of interaction that is seen in successful business models.

Understanding the way in which interactions occur in real-time is a fundamental component of mobile learning. Defining the interactions between people is as important as the mode of interaction that occurs between the joining technologies that facilitate the mobile engagement. Motiwalla (2007) outlines a framework which facilitates understanding of the factors that impact the mobile learning interactions. The chart of interactions suggests that mobile learning applications make effective use of SMS, discussion boards, forums and instant messages as a way to organize and structure the mobile interactions that occur between participants. This set of tools encourages a collaborative environment of connectivity and universal access of information. The model used by Sastre et al. (2013) in their application has followed a similar proposed model for the types of tools that will shape their interaction framework. The types of interaction mechanisms that are built into SoundCool and how they impact the use of communication within the pedagogical model should be noted. The use of MAX in this application utilizes "send" and "receive" ports on every module to enable wireless connectivity allowing mobile devices to interact with a central information hub (desktop computer) facilitating the simultaneous sharing of musical information through different modules with unique capabilities to manipulate sound as well as personal messages between users on various platforms. Using messaging services and wireless connections to a central communication hub allows students to use SoundCool to link with a centralized computer for greater access of function and features. This opens up the possibility for a teacher to have access to projects in real-time and allows students to link-up wirelessly and collaborate through using different devices.

The implementation of mobile learning is dependent on the move towards collaborative learning engagements aimed to foster creative discourse. Alvarez, Alarcon, & Nussbaum (2011) maintain that in order to have meaningful and sustained conversations, adequate scaffolds must be implemented to ensure that the most productive scenarios can be exploited for their fullest potential (p. 1962). Creating the appropriate scaffolds allows conversations to cover specified topics of interest that can be introduced, but must also allow for a conversation to dynamically respond to the needs of the learners at hand. The pedagogical conditions for which Alvarez, Alarcon, & Nussbaum (2011) designed their model (p. 1964) bear a resemblance to the thoughts and constrains that were established by Sastre et al. (2013) for success in their own model. Sastre et al. (2013) highlight criteria in their usability-assessment of this model in the field including learnability, efficiency, memorability, errors, satisfaction and utility (p. 153-154). These criteria provide the means to understand the scaffolding process and the success that it has on the overall program. The criteria that are outlined give the students and teacher the criteria by which they can directly monitor the success of the program's design and provide feedback to make necessary changes for future use. Alvarez, Alarcon, & Nussbaum (2011) stress the "evolutionary nature" (p. 1964) of mobile architecture where feedback is directly incorporated into improving the operation of that application. The use of MAX as an application for the music classroom that can be fashioned into a variety of user-generated applications opens new possibilities for users to alter an application in use to best fit learning needs.

Implications for Music Education

The presence of m-learning within the music classroom is a new and emerging trend within music education. The fundamental design issues and applicability of m-learning is indeed challenging the very construct of the music classroom as there are emerging questions regarding size, materials and expenditure that play into the situation. The following section highlights just a few of the implications that SoundCool and its application have on broader issues in music education. The use of technology in music education and music making is no surprise to the onlooker. Western music making has been shaped by the quest to produce new sounds and experiences, all spurred through the development of increasingly complex technological milestones. Sastre et al. (2013) have entered into the fray by introducing a mobile module that allows students to record and manipulate sound as part of their music learning. The researcher and developers have set out to create "new spaces" (p. 150) where music making and learning might occur.

Mobile learning in the digital age has a plethora of implications for the music teacher and the environment that they function within. Elliott (1995) has presented the argument that music is most accepted when its meaning is derived from its 'doing' in the world. This understanding that music is seen as an equally physical and psychological art is not lost on a great number of music teachers. The presence of mobile learning in the music class is undoubtedly having a major impact on the music paradigm. Sharples, Taylor & Vavoula (2007) introduce a variation of Engestrom's model of dialectic relationships (p. 12) to explain the interconnection between control, context and communication with the m-learning paradigm. It should be noted that within the music classroom of the past 100 years all three factors have been appropriated and controlled by the teacher/director. Mobile learning applications are fundamentally changing the systems of control, communication and context within the classroom and are allowing for the redefinition of teacher and student. The move towards the 'teacher-as-facilitator' is central to mobile-learning models but also has implications for the role of the teacher in traditional music making. Through employing the model outlined by Sastre et al., the fundamental role of the teacher in the music making process moves from being the 'conductor' who designates, controls and appropriates the class's music making activities, to the teacher as the 'impresario' who organizes and helps create an environment where artists (the students) are able to create to their fullest potential. Such a model is not too common within music education, especially considering that the vast majority of music educators are products of formalist, Western art music environments (Sastre et al. 2013, p. 150). As a music teacher who has been trained within this environment, I can relate to the concerns over the philosophical roots of our training regime. Moving forward, I can appreciate the changes that m-learning offers to me as a music educator by allowing me to focus on guiding an environment where students are the seekers of knowledge and artistic creativity.

The application model that SoundCool is designed for offers the user a series of modules that can be applied to the music classroom in order to facilitate sound creation. Using pre-designed modules that can be accessed through mobile, smart-devices offers a new landscape for the music teacher to construct learning. The goal for Sastre et al. (2013) was to allow the design of their SoundCool recording-interface modules to work as independent or connected activity units that connect to a central, wireless data base which can be accessed through a computer to allow for greater power and processing. The cloud-based system architecture proposed by Tam et al. (2013) can help in explaining some of the interactions that Sastre et al. (2013) are attempting to achieve in their application. The application model introduced by Tam et al. (2013 p. 472) outlines a central, cloud database where students access information from that source in a client-server manner via smart devices and tablets. If necessary, desktop computers are utilized and most importantly, the teacher has a role in monitoring the interactions that occur throughout the space. This model proposed by Tam et al. (2013) is seen in SoundCool by way of utilizing mobile devices, desktops and controllers that are all linked together via wireless connections to a central data base. The use of this model allows learners in the music classroom to work independently on music projects and offers them the necessary support and connection to their communities of practice to share ideas as Tam et al. outline with the noted addition of connection to MIDI instruments for writing and composing. Utilizing cloud technology to access centralized communications allows the classroom to remain in 'conversation' and removes the barriers between in-class and out-of class learning by providing learners with a medium where they can continually share musical ideas like never before. It should be noted that the goal of Sastre et al. (2013) is to produce a centralized database for all users of this application to share, critique and propose new creative methods of utilizing this application within a musical context. Nevertheless, the use of cloud-based connectivity allows for a reliable and integrated experience within the music classroom, while allowing remote access and control of work/data-collection as well as possibilities of evaluation and summative decision-making.

Developing a mobile application to permit the ubiquitous recording of sound through smart-devices, connectivity to cloud-servers and organized learning experiences represent the newest manifestation of technology with music. The development of Western art music is characterized by the development of increasingly complex systems of 'recording' sounds beginning with Medieval neumes, moving on to the adoption of modern cipher notation by the early 17th century and finally today with the advent of sound recording. The search to create new music and capture these sounds is at the heart of the compositional process that has been the essence of music. In this regard, technology has always been at the forefront of trying to 'capture' those sounds that composers have heard. Beery agrees that new technology in music education has a role to "allow students to create more freely without the fear of having to notate later" (Beckstead, 2001 quoting Beery, p. 46). The role of technology in future music education and composition training is to make possible more ubiquitous and precise ways of capturing their creative output in any instance, under any set of circumstances. Sastre et al. (2013) have put forth an application that addresses many of the 21st century concerns that have plagued composers and limited creativity in the past. Adopting SoundCool gives music students the power to record and manipulate music at any time through their mobile devices and dramatically re-shape the conventional paradigm of where recording, composing and audio production occurs.


Technology in our lives will continue to impact us more so than ever as we move into the age of mobile and ubiquitous technology. Unlike previous generations, we are now learning to grow up in a new technology age where communication is faster than ever and information can be shared in such great quantities, with unbridled levels of fidelity. Use of mobile technology has given rise to new forms of conversation, interaction and the place that education has within the classroom of the near future. Music education has just begun to adopt and adapt many of the concepts and lessons learned in mobile and ubiquitous learning in order to suit the needs of music students and teachers in the future. The goal of Sastre et al. (2013) through SoundCool was to develop a new tool for music teachers to offer their students in order to spark creativity, capture sound in new ways and promote a new discourse in the learning environment. Through the use of MAX technology, they have been able to develop a series of customizable and user-friendly mobile applications that have allowed the integration of recording software into an environment alongside acoustic instruments, screen-media and other tools. What makes this application valuable to the music educator is the integrated use of Web 2.0 communication that supports wireless connectivity of ideas and work inside a digital sphere. Utilizing both mobile technology and integrated communications gives this application a new and valuable space within music education that amalgamates tools, communications and a design method of instruction for students like never before.

The proven design and methodology that Sastre et al. (2013) have proposed is part of the potential that mobile learning has in music education. The program's focus on providing a new tool to shape the types of conversations that teachers/facilitators and students have is paramount in moving music education into the 21st century. Meeting the creative needs of students by shifting the paradigm from reproduction to creation allows participants to redefine their role within music making and the creative process that this technology affords. Wise, Greenwood & Davis (2011) comment on the reflective capabilities that e-learning offers the teacher to better understand their own practice in relationship to the community that surrounds them (p. 132). This is not to elevate composition, recording and analysis over performance practice, but it fills in gaps that have inhibited composition, etc. from occurring in classrooms. The future of music education is promising as mobile technology reshapes the classroom and provides new space for music making to occur.


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(1) Mobile learning centres on the interrelationship between technology, activities and context. The Mobility of this learning is in reference to physical space, technology, conceptual and social space, as well as learning occurring over an extended period of time (Sharples et al., 2009, p. 235). It is especially important to note that mobile learning is not exclusively limited to classroom time and the learning that occurs within that 'stable' environment. Instead, m-learning draws upon contexts, meanings and spaces outside of the classroom to inform the dynamic needs of the learner.

Matthew Moreno is a graduate of York University's concurrent music education program where he studied with Michael Marcuzzi and William Thomas. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Toronto/OISE in the department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning. His research interests include curriculum design systems, aesthetic culture and arts education. He remains an active performer and studio teacher in the GTA.
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Title Annotation:principal themes
Author:Moreno, Matthew
Publication:Canadian Music Educator
Date:Jun 22, 2014
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