The Ministry of Education of Brazil (MEC) started a program in 2005 called Open University of Brazil (Universidade Aberta do Brasil - UAB). The government started this program with the initial intention of providing formal education to elementary and secondary school teachers that were already teaching but did not have a university degree. In addition, according to MEC, the program intends to promote the “development of distance education in Brazil“ and aims to expand and interiorize the offering of undergraduate distance education degree programs (http://www.uab.capes.gov.br). The UAB program, consequently, has the aim of providing opportunities for students from parts of Brazil in which there are no university campuses and no undergraduate degree programs offered. 105 (one-hundred and five) universities are offering 702 (seven-hundred and two) undergraduate and degree programs through 645 (six-hundred and forty-five) learning centers located in all of the 27 (twenty-seven) Brazilian States with approximately 200.000 students enrolled (see Table 1). The UAB system works in an institutional partnership between CAPES (Ministry of Education Agency), which supports the system financially, the universities that develop, administrate and implement the degree programs, and the counties or states that provide the physical structure of the learning centers.
Participant Universities 105
Undergraduate/ Graduate Degree Programs 702
Learning Centers 645
Students Enrolled Approximately 200.000
Table 1 - The numbers of the UAB system.
Universidade de Brasília (UnB) - the university in which I work as a professor – currently offers online undergraduate degree programs in many areas, including Visual Arts, Biology, Geography, Pedagogy, Portuguese, Drama, Physical Education, and Music. The UnB distance education degree program in music was initiated in 2007 within the scope of the UAB program. Students from 6 (six) Brazilian states (Acre, Bahia, Goiás, Mato Grosso, Tocantins e Roraima) and 12 (twelve) learning centers (see Table 2) have been enrolled in the program. It is important to emphasize that – as aforementioned - due to the fact the UAB program has the intention of interiorizing the offering of degree programs, most of the learning centers are located in small towns.
State - Learning Center
Acre - Acrelândia, Brasileia, Cruzeiro do Sul, Rio Branco, Sena Madureira, Xapuri.
Goiás - Anápolis, Posse.
Mato Grosso - Primavera do Leste.
Minas Gerais - Buritis, Ipatinga.
Roraima - Boa Vista.
Tocantins - Porto Nacional.
Table 2 – States and Learning Centers of the UnB undergraduate degree program in music.
So far, more than 100 (one-hundred) students have graduated from the referred program, which means that new music teachers are now able to work for the first time in areas of the country where there wasn’t any music teacher before. This can be considered a significant accomplishment, since in 2008 the government enacted a law stating that music is as compulsory subject in the curriculum of elementary schools in Brazil (Brasil, 2008).
One may now ask: What does technology have to do with this? Well, the aforementioned degree program - except for the mandatory face-to-face moments , - is taught online, which means that several examples of digital technology content are employed. Firstly, it is important to mention that online music education became possible only recently, due to the advent of the World Wide Web. Moreover, according to Bowman (2014), online education is a multiple field and provides:
Opportunities to develop creative new approaches and challenges to stretch the boundaries of music instruction to harness the power of new technologies and pedagogical models in the service of the art and craft of online music instruction (Bowman, 2014, p. ix)
Therefore, it can be assumed that the impact of the technology in the communities of the aforementioned small towns in Brazil can be considered as positive as they now have new music teachers with a degree in music and this is only possible due to the facilities provided by the online technologies. It is worth mentioning that before that, any teacher working in an elementary school (even with a degree in chemistry) could teach music. Since, as mentioned, now in Brazil music is a compulsory component due to the absence of music degree programs in these areas of the country, anyone could attempt to teach music in the elementary schools of these areas. Not to mention, this could happen in big cities as well. What exactly does it mean to have a music teacher that is a graduate from a degree program in music instead of a music teacher without a degree in music? Well, the answer for this question is beyond the scope of this article. Many authors, such a Bellochio (2003) Penna (2007), and Sobreira (2008) have discussed the importance of a degree in music education for music teachers. Bellochio (2003) for instance, affirms that in order to teach music, it is essential that the music teacher can understand education in the following aspects: philosophical, psychological, sociological and pedagogical. Her or she could only achieve this by undertaking a degree in music education. It is important to mention this in order to emphasize the positive impacts of technology on those communities.
In an online program, when we mean technology it is obvious that we don’t mean only the World Wide Web. A lot of digital technologies are employed in the teaching and learning processes. In the UnB program, for instance, there are the so-called author professors. These professors are the ones who design the courses and are also responsible for elaborating the didactic material and consequently for the employment of the technologies in the teaching processes of the courses. Since the aforementioned program is taught at distance, many digital technologies are used in the teaching and learning process such as: audio, graphics, video, online software, MIDI, and others. The author professors then choose the digital technologies they believe are the most appropriate for a given activity. However – as UnB does no offer a proper training for these professors for the elaboration of the multimedia content of the courses – the authors use the technologies randomly and not according to any research conducted in the music technology education field (Costa & Marins, 2015). This can lead sometimes to a limitation or even to an underestimation, or even a bad use of the technology. Costa & Marins (2015) analyzed how the author professors developed a keyboard course for the UnB degree. They found that the professors tend to use the technology that they are more familiar with. Also, one of the 3 (three) professors interviewed in the study conducted by Costa & Marins (2015) affirmed that her or she used mainly audio because he or she thought that this was the most appropriate technology to teach keyboard at distance. This conflicts with what Moore & Kearsley (2007) state, as these authors suggest that online professors need to be creative and use a variety of media in order to teach in online environments.
Another negative impact of the technology can be related to constraints. Internet 2, for instance, is not available in these communities of Brazil. Therefore, the students have access to slow Internet speeds, and so they have to download video content rather than stream. That is similar to the case reported in the study conducted in Kruse, Harlos, Callahan, & Herring (2013) in which the researchers investigated the viability of piano lessons through the videoconference program Skype. Moreover, Bowman (2014) affirms that good quality videoconference is a recent technology and restricted to limited populations. Nonetheless, many researchers such as Braga (2009), Moore & Kearsley (2007), Kruse, Harlos, Callahan, & Herring (2013) (2013) and Waldron (2013) emphasize the benefits of the use of synchronous technologies such as videoconference in online education. Moreover, technologies constraints are not only related to the lack of Internet 2 or bad Internet connections in schools or communities. Videoconference software like the aforementioned Skype was not developed for broadcasting music but rather to convey speech. Thus the frequency range of the videoconference audio content is between 80 to 80.000 Hz - whereas it is known that the frequency range of the human hearing is approximately 20 to 20.000 Hz. Therefore – in an applied music lesson for instance - it might be difficult for the instructor to give feedback to their students, especially in terms of artistic and aesthetic aspects of music (Shepard, Howe, & Snook, 2008). For this reason this type of software can not be considered as ideal for music lessons, although it can be very useful in terms of oral communication between the instructor and the student. Another common issue in synchronous communication is latency. This occurs due to the fact that there is a lot of data conversion involved in the audio stream process (the analog sound is captured by the microphone, converted to digital and then converted into a format that can be transmitted), and in each conversion step can generate a delay effect or the so-called encoding latency.
In order to mitigate the aforementioned negative aspects related to technology, some measures can be taken: 1) Proper training for the author professors. This type of training would necessarily involve not only the use of existing technologies but also the discussion about the research that has been conducted in terms of the employment of digital technologies for online teaching; 2) More research concerning the use of technology for online music education. According to Bowman (2014), little has been conducted in that subject; 3) the use of proper equipment in video lessons, which would include: software developed for transmitting music content without data compression, high-speed Internet connection, and appropriate microphones and loudspeakers for capturing and reproducing the sounds of the instruments; and 4) and in terms of the specificities of the communities of the learning centers cited here, the governments (federal, and state) should invest more in the structure of the learning centers.
This paper discussed the impacts of use of technologies in music education is some communities of Brazil. The main focus here was the undergraduate distance education degree program in music offered by Universidade de Brasília. It was found that through the possibilities of the online technologies a considerable number of new music teachers could now teach in elementary schools in Brazil. Although the literature points that this is positive, the real impact of this situation still deserves further research. It was also mentioned here that due to lack of proper training some instructors still don’t know how to use digital technologies properly in order to perform their teaching. Moreover, it is known that technology constraints can still be barriers for the online music teaching and learning processes. Nonetheless, it can be inferred that some actions, such as i) proper training for the professors, ii) more governmental investment in terms of structure, iii) use of adequate equipment, and iv) the conducting of more specific research in the field could mitigate the negative aspects of the use of technology in the aforementioned degree program. It is hoped that this manuscript will lead to discussions and further research concerning the use of technology in music education and more specifically about the teaching and learning processes of online music education.
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