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Music Resources Home > Articles > Music Resources Home


By Laura B. Whitmore

There's something going on in Farmington, MI. It's breaking down walls and opening minds. Is it a new secret communication device? Yes and no. It's an innovative technology-based learning program that brings non-traditional high school music students in touch with a curriculum to help them build their musical skills and share their passion. It's no secret, and Dr. Sheri Jaffurs is in the center of this exciting, progressive project.

"It's an open world," Dr. Jaffurs, High School Online Music Technology Instructor for the Farmington Public School District explains. "Farmington has been very forward-thinking. This is the first online course that the district has supported. It's a Music Technology course. Any high school student in the Farmington Public Schools can take the course for .5 arts credits. It covers technology, music and, more broadly, fine arts education."

The concept for the course came out of a conversation Dr. Jaffurs had with fellow teacher Marj Haber, from the West Bloomfield school district. "We originally had the idea that it would be great to develop a course that would allow our students from different districts to collaborate together." Dr. Jaffurs continues, "Although that hasn't happened yet, we are still moving toward that goal. In the meantime, students within the district work together and next semester we'll be interacting with students from China!"

Dr. Jaffurs has a PhD in music education. Her passion for the Farmington program and for technology in general has developed over the course of her career, but it started with a simple comment from a former sixth grade student. She reveals, "My interest was peaked by a student in one of my classes who had just been working on a lesson in composition class. He said he made music at home – he played guitar, bass and keyboard. I had no idea that he did anything like that! I thought about it and decided to set up a research study following a group of students for three years. They performed on a local station in Lansing. I looked at this 'garage' band and examined how they learned about music both informally and at school, and how as educators we can encourage that learning to grow and continue. I wrote a dissertation based on that study. For me, this is very rewarding, because I can take forward what I started."

Students in the program are each assigned materials to take home and work with throughout the course. According to Dr. Jaffurs, "The school district purchases the software the students need. They're assigned an M-Audio KeyStudio 49i MIDI controller and the software that came with it. Each student signs a contract and takes these materials home with them for the semester. We consider these items as their textbooks for the class. My hope is that we can get them Sony Sound Forge to work with in the future."

Finding affordable hardware and software has been key in making the program work within budget constraints. "The software programs that a company like Academic Superstore offers and makes affordable are wonderful," Dr. Jaffurs says with a smile. "Let's face it, there is freeware out there, but those programs leave a lot of holes. We want students to have what they need so it just works for them and they can go, so keeping the cost down is greatly appreciated. That's why I like Academic Superstore. They have student versions available. It's the first place I look. I can find great prices so that I can try the programs out before I have students use them. Students are ready and they really want this stuff."

After years of studying technology through seminars, workshops and self-study, Dr. Jaffurs has found it refreshing to realize students can take technology further than just learning how the program works. "We're getting to the point where we can say to the students, 'Take this program home and figure it out.' They don't need tutorials. The course doesn't have to be about teaching them how to use the program. They're good enough to do that on their own. The question now is, how does software like Sound Forge, for example, an audio editing program, align with the curriculum and with what students need to know who are studying music technology. I see that as powerful. We're way beyond where we used to be."

The course is offered through an online course management system called Moodle, one of several platforms that has traditionally offered online college courses. Students have thematic lessons every week, but the site offers a lot more than a way to deliver lessons to these widespread learners. As Dr. Jaffurs explains, "Moodle is a wonderful site. There are discussion boards, blogs and chats. There's the possibility to do wikis and there are glossaries."

Farmington's next step is to develop an online virtual community where students can interact in real time from all over the globe. "We're meeting these digital learners where they are, and we are addressing their strengths," says Dr. Jaffurs. "This is definitely not top down teacher to students. This is collaborative, teaming. What the students have brought already is just amazing. I've even asked the students to help develop the next step, and it has been just incredible."

Dr. Jaffurs concludes, "We've begun to understand how musical learning takes place. It's an aural art and we need to approach it that way. More than anything, this presents the opportunity for these non-traditional student musicians, many who play by ear, to play and share their music and what they can do. They are musicians that school music programs have not supported in the past. This is a way to support them, and that is what I find so exciting. Students have been very enthusiastic. This is just the beginning!"

Here are just a few of the tools that Dr. Jaffurs finds instrumental in her music technology program:

M-Audio KeyStudio 49i

The KeyStudio 49i delivers everything you and your students need to start making andrecording music today. It's the first USB keyboard controller with a built-in audio interface and premium piano sound. Play the on-board piano as a stand-alone instrument then plug the USB cable into your computer to play a total of 128 sounds and listen to them from the keyboard's audio outputs. The built-in interface even lets you record vocals and instruments as well as listen to your sessions and mixes. The included Ableton Live Lite software seals the deal by providing an incredibly easy-to-use music production solution. The KeyStudio 49i instantly transforms your computer into a versatile music studio.
M-Audio KeyStudio 49i $0.00 - Save $299.95

Sony® Sound Forge® 9

This professional-level digital audio production suite includes everything you need to quickly get from raw audio to finished master. Use this suite to create and edit stereo and multichannel audio files with speed and precision, efficiently analyze, record and edit audio, digitize and restore old recordings, model acoustic environments, design sound for multimedia, and master replication-ready CDs.
Sony Sound Forge 9 $0.00 - Save $319.95