Opinion: How BYOD inspires creative music-making

Opinion: How BYOD inspires creative music-making

Nothing excites educators more than students who want to do more work than they have to—when they ask if they can work longer on their assessment tasks or you literally have to herd them out the door because they don’t want to leave—that’s how you know you’re on to something.

With advanced technologies breaking down communication barriers and giving students the freedom to collaborate in real time, these “I want to do more” stu-dent moments are more and more commonplace. As music teachers for Years 7 through 12  (ages 12 through 18) at Northern Beaches Christian School (NBCS), a co-educational K-12 school in Terrey Hills, in the northern suburbs of Sydney, we approach education with a dual focus on learning and opportunity. 

We are musicians and technologists. With a long history of everything music tech, we were looking for a cross-platform that our BYOD classroom could col-laborate in. One of our many catchphrases, “Music with people for people,” in-spires us to push forward and collaborate with one another. 

Engaging Students in New Ways

We’ve been recording our students’ work since 2012, and Soundtrap is the only collaborative, real-time solution we’ve found that works for the modern teenage student. Soundtrap is a cloud-based, audio recording platform that lets students compose, play and edit songs, recordings and podcasts and share them online in a secure environment. It’s like Google Docs for musicians and is the best solution for addressing our needs. Our kids live on the Internet, and the concepts of saving your work or downloading software strikes them as old-fashioned.  They just want to open a browser and get to work. 

An Innovative Tool Across Digital Platforms

In our music class, one student might have an array of Android, Chrome book, Mac and Windows devices, and Soundtrap lets them work with all of them. Soundtrap integrates with Google Classroom, and so the kids go right to our Learning Management System (LMS) and work from anywhere. It’s revolutionary that they don’t have to come to school to work together. Previously, the challenge was sharing computer files or USB sticks, and if a student wasn’t at school, a project was held up.  

The students took to Soundtrap immediately. The platform is colorful and easy to use, and it meets them in the dynamic, online environment they’re so comfortable navigating. It’s common for the students to move freely between their phones, tablets, laptops and desktops, and because Soundtrap is browser-based, it accommodates the different operating systems. 

And, as teachers we’re able to design exercises that allow for simultaneous cre-ating and individual workflows, and also provide feedback in real time that satis-fies the “now factor” that kids today expect.

The Great Classroom Equalizer 

Our students are at an age when they’re self-conscious and peer approval mat-ters, and we’ve seen many of them transform from fearful to fearless. Soundtrap gives them the latitude to go off by themselves, do their thing and press that Record button. The built-in loops give them the courage to create something in-dependently. Having this individualized process is very different from the old context of recording, with the pressure of everyone watching you. It’s a great leveler in the classroom.

It’s thrilling that we're moving beyond a music classroom where the first focus required teaching about equipment and software. In the past, this ate up six months of valuable teaching time. Teachers don't want to be bogged down by technical glitches or thinking about the tool. We just want to think about music. We just want to teach music. Now, we have time to experiment with non-traditional ways of playing music, where it might involve a virtual violin to get a result that wasn’t possible with a traditional violin.

Making Music: Just. That. Simple.
And even though they grew up with devices at their fingertips, students want to interact with each other. Music tools should serve this social side, and we’re at the very beginning of exploring this collaborative space for musicians.
Much of the music we create each year at NBCS is made into a CD and posted online through our YouTube channel or SoundCloud playlist. There are also multiple websites that showcase the students’ work. 

 We’re working beyond the idea that music should be about teaching students scales and chords, music history or learning a particular instrument. We’re using music to connect people and change the world.