Participatory research in netcasting a music technology seminar

This is the manuscript of a paper given at the conference Innovations in Higher Education 2000, at Helsinki University 30-08 — 02-09-2000. The title derives from a comic strip created by Robert Crumb in the Zap Magazine of the early 70's. Ability to catch the flying meatball is a metaphor of a heuristic technique of learning emphasized in the seminar. Being able to discern essentials from the background, taking initiative to catch and act upon the idea: these are prerequisites for innovation and active modeling of the learning environment.

The paper analyses learning processes, which evolved in a seminar held during the spring term 2000 at the Centre for Music & Technology, Sibelius Academy. The study is based on methods, which derive from the Participatory Research tradition. The group builds up a joint base of experience. This helps in producing collective problem-oriented action. The method emphasizes the importance of raising the actors' confidence in their ability of solving their own problems. Analysis focuses on recorded seminar sessions, email discussion, manuscripts and a series of interviews produced with the participants.

I am going to speak about pedagogical experiences, which evolved in a seminar held during the academic year of 1999-2000 at the Centre for Music & Technology of the Sibelius Academy, Finland's music university.

I will have to warn that the presentation will be a bit sketchy. Having to condense my thoughts to 15 minutes means that I will not be able to put my views into their proper context, although they are based on a thoroughly documented empirical study.

While working as a researcher at the center, one of my tasks was to train the music technology students to become analytical thinkers, active academic and real life debaters. This training takes place in a weekly seminar, which runs for the full duration of the degree studies.

These are the goals, the way they are spelled out in the study program:

TP1 Music technology seminar
The aim of the seminar is to develop students' ability to participate in scholarly and artistic discourse in many different areas of music technology, develop skills in communication, documentation and report writing and increase readiness for an independent role in the field.

There are certainly many ways of organizing such a seminar and as many preferred by the students.

As I said, I was working as a researcher, but unfortunately I could not find enough time to carry out my own independent research. One way of tackling this dilemma of conflicting pedagogical and research tasks is to give the pedagogical work a research dimension. This is at least possible within the framework of so called project studies, a study method developed by Yrjö-Paavo Häyrynen & Co during the early 70s in response to the demands of an approaching academic study reform:

A study project is a learning activity, which focuses on a particular area of phenomena ... Administrationally it refers to an independent group, formed by researchers, teachers and students, who are active within the relevant area of phenomena. A certain social problem, a geographical area, a research method — /these/ are examples of what could form the topic for such a project.

The project group builds up a joint base of experience. This helps in producing collective problem-oriented action. The common area of phenomena of this seminar was the development of methods of using netcasting as a way of presenting issues related to music technology. In other words, the seminar made its own methods of work the topic of the project studies.

Pedagogical netcasting started after a day of exploratory Internet activity called MuTe INTERViews. The computer center of the Sibelius Academy offered the seminar group it's netcast encoder, which was used as a tool for self-expression and interviewing. This gave an opportunity to start regular transmissions — something, which had been planned almost a year earlier.

The activity started as a technological exercise, with some added journalistic ambition. The teacher became a program leader and a net columnist, while students took up the roles of sound engineers, camera personnel, featuring editors and studio audience.

Students of music technology might be one of the most skilled target groups for an experiment in netcasting pedagogy: Being trained in sound engineering, information technology, writing and presentation skills, everyone has a high level of know-how comprising most aspects of the underlying technology as well as the actual content.

As the implications of the new setting could be apprehended, it became evident that a project concentrating explicitly on music and netcasting problems was needed to turn the pains of the new technology into an asset.

The MuTe Netcast service was born.

So what is netcasting all about? Netcasting is certainly not a web-based learning environment, but one among a number of streaming technologies, which are being used in networked settings: in the local area network, in the intranet and the Internet.

Various forms of multimedia content are being encoded in real time at one location and broadcasted to the networked audience. Our research and development undertaking focused on the currently dominant streaming platform produced by the company RealNetworks.

By studying our archives you should get a basic understanding of how to author

The students also presented methods of setting up and configuring the netcasting equipment and of synchronizing streamed content. Resources were also built to improve the work situation:

My research work focused upon pedagogical aspects and dynamics of the learning group. The primary goal was to find out methods of fostering student learning in information technology — to use the wording of the theme of this session.

The study was based on methods, which derive from the Participatory Research tradition. The participatory approach emphasizes the importance of raising the actors' confidence in their ability of solving their own problems. Instead of doing research upon a group of people, the researcher is doing his work with the research objects.

In this setting the teacher becomes an advisor for the members of the learning group. The students aim at becoming experts in a matter that primarily concerns them. Motivation is being built upon a common understanding of the usefulness of the undertaking: The study process is aimed at turning information technology into a factor which can shape the student's own study and work situation.

Having the necessary motivation the research objects — in this case the students — also become producers of the documentation of this process. This was in our case achieved by

This collectively produced material was complemented with a series of structured interviews carried out with the students.

Our conference exposes innovations in higher education systems and we are turning our attention to new learning technologies and ways of fostering student learning. This is a rather new trend. Pedagogical excellence has seldom been considered an asset in the Finnish academic tradition. Jobs are being offered according to academic degrees and written output, while pedagogical skill is hardly an issue. Maybe art universities, like the Sibelius Academy, where pedagogy is of primary importance can reverse this trend? Let's see what can be distilled from our experience. This is a short summary of the findings.

Learning how to use new technology as a pedagogical aid is a rather straightforward task. One can still ask: Is there a real bonus being offered, when the overhead transparency is being replaced by the PowerPoint show or when the seminar group widens to include a distantly connected audience? Obviously, after overcoming the stumbling blocks of new tools, some extra power offered by the teaching aid, is being produced.

One extra value produced by the netcasted seminar is apparently the ability to share information regardless of issues related to distance or academic admission. Less obvious is the fact that the netcasted seminar offers variety to the teaching situation. Speaking at the seminar is a public act where the speaker is addressing an anonymous audience. A negative side effect is that the real participants also have to filter their input with considerations on presentation style, politeness, but also to their own intellectual property.

One should still ask: To what extent we are actually being innovative here? It seems to me that unless we understand the essence of computer-aids as abstract tools, capable of changing our daily environment of communication and interaction we are maybe only establishing a new pedagogical paradigm.

Here follows a quick list of pedagogical points exercised at the seminar, with various degrees of following. They are in my view prerequisites for innovation and active modeling of the learning environment:

I will have to conclude here.

My paper became — in the format forced by the conditions of this session — more of a report on a research in progress, rather than a full analysis with concrete examples and conclusive proof. In due time you can find the full article and references on my home page: <>

I hope to be able to develop the paper into a full book, CD-ROM or a web publication during this autumn. There you will find a lot of useful advice on mastering this new learning technology: ways of setting up a pedagogical netcasting environment, but also a detailed analysis of the process of learning.

I said earlier that the music technology students of the Sibelius Academy are a highly skilled target group for experimentation in netcast pedagogy. Since last May I have been turning my attention to something, which could in some ways be considered a worst-case scenario for netcasting.

You can now contact me at Virtuosi — the International Center for Chamber Music located in Kuhmo. This town is situated in an area, which shows one of the highest figures of unemployment and biggest rates of migration in Finland. This should produce an excellent test case for a developer of new information technology skills.

Thank you for your attention.

— Philip Donner, 31.08.2000