Music Appreciation Course Mixes Media to Deliver Content

Technology innovations that deliver rich content faster and more easily have led to an explosion of Web-based distance learning courses in the past few years. Some disciplines, however, have found it challenging to transfer courses to a digital environment. Those who teach courses such as art history or music appreciation may find that such bandwidth-intensive content is not conducive to Web delivery. The solution seems to be combining media: delivering some content via the Web and providing the rest in a traditional textbook or on a CD-ROM.

That is the solution music professor Stan DeWitt found when he ventured into online teaching last year. DeWitt teaches in Southern California at Coastline College, an institution with a strong distance learning component to its curriculum. Although he'd been thinking about teaching the course through distance learning for a while, he hadn't found the appropriate tools to do it until he was introduced to OnMusic, an online music course created by icubed and distributed by McGraw-Hill. OnMusic packages all of the music samples for the course in three CD-ROMs, moving the large data files from the Web into a friendlier medium. The CDs contain full-color photos, video clips, and more than 20 hours of music spanning 1,000 years of history. The student uses the Web site to take quizzes, do assignments, read the online text, and follow the course syllabus. An electronic grade book and some administrative tools are built into the product. The packaged course has relatively low system requirements: a 32MB hard drive (although 64 is preferable) and a 28K modem to access the Web materials. The music plays off the CD-ROMs using RealPlayer, circumventing the need to download files off the Web.

Students complete three individual assignments online, including a concert critique—which requires them to attend a local event—and one group assignment, in which they collaborate on Internet-based research on one musical instrument. To complete the assignment, they use e-mail and discussion boards built into the product. DeWitt uses the course pretty much as delivered, although he says the product d'es allow instructors to customize the material.

DeWitt had been offering two on-campus sections of his music appreciation course: one during the week and one as an intensive weekend course. Both courses typically enrolled a few dozen students. When he began offering an online section, enrollment increased dramatically. He now has more than 100 students in the distance learning section of the course. Although the class is large, it isn't pulling students out of his on-campus classes. "Most of the distance learning students are completing their degrees at other nearby colleges," DeWitt says. "The online course allows them to add a needed arts credit for graduation."

The current version of the course is thematically arranged with a small historical component. DeWitt is working with icubed to develop two new courses, music history and music fundamentals (reading music).

For more information, contact Stan DeWitt at acustatic@hotmail.com.

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