Making Distance Learning Engaging For College Music

I like teaching students in ways that open their minds to other cultures, and their ears to how to listen to music that may be unfamiliar to them.

Dr. Lauren Rubin PhD MusicologyLauren Nagaryu Rubin Ph.D. is a professor at Rogue Community College who designs and teaches online music courses. Lauren enjoys teaching distance learning because it allows non-traditional students have a chance to learn in a flexible and effective way. She has a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology, and plays the Japanese shakuhachi flute. Her favorite topics to teach are World Music and History of Rock.

We spoke with Lauren about her experiences using C4E’s digital textbooks in her World Music, History of Rock, Music Fundamentals, Music Appreciation, and History of Jazz courses. Lauren has also contributed a chapter on Japanese Music to C4E’s OnMusic of the World.

C4E: How did you discover Connect For Education? When did you start using C4E course packages for online teaching?

LR: I discovered C4E many years ago, while attending the College Music Association conference. I was really intrigued by the fact that a virtual text could include embedded music and video, and I saw that this would help illuminate ideas from the reading for students. They could read about a concept and then click a link to hear it immediately.

I was really intrigued by the fact that a virtual text could include embedded music and video, and I saw that this would help illuminate ideas from the reading for students.

A little while later, when I was asked to design some online courses at Rogue Community College, I remembered C4E. But before I started, I looked at many texts and thought about what would be the best way to design the course. After looking at my options, I chose C4E for History of Rock, History of Jazz, and Music Appreciation.

C4E: How did the course go, initially?

LR: RCC had never done online music classes, but they quickly became a big hit. My classes fill every semester, even if we offer the same class multiple times per year. In a college, I have found one of the best ways to have a successful and full class is through positive word of mouth among students who like the course and tell their friends.

C4E: How were you able to adapt the materials to suit your individual needs as an instructor?

LR: The flexibility of the courses made a huge impact for me. We have a trimester system at my school, but most texts are written for a semester system. On C4E, I could pick and choose what I wanted to include in my classes.

The ability to customize the course materials is also helpful. I’ve taught for many years, I know what I want, and I know how I want it organized. C4E supports me in this process. Michael Heu has gone out of his way to make sure I have everything I need. He designs the course interface so it looks exactly like I want it to. It’s amazing how instructors can modify the texts so it best suits their needs.

I’ve been able to modify the assignments on a term-to-term basis to reflect the interest of students in my class. There are so many options for assignments, and instructors can pick and choose those which best suit their needs.

There are so many options for assignments, and instructors can pick and choose those which best suit their needs.

C4E: What are the best features of the packages?

LR: It’s integral that the music is embedded in the text. When I’ve used CDs, many students never even open them, even though I give listening tests and make listening a priority in the classroom. That worried me. I wanted something more accessible and easier for students to use. I wanted students to listen to examples of the compositions mentioned in the text. C4E does this beautifully.

In the OnMusic Appreciation package, the guided listening selections are especially helpful. I teach many non-music majors, who don’t really understand how to actively listen to music. The interface is beautifully laid out, the graphics are always great. It’s easy to navigate, it’s visually appealing, and students like it.

C4E: How does C4E help with course management?

LR: With the tests and quizzes, there’s automatic grading. This saves a lot of time for the instructor. It’s also really helpful that all of the music is already embedded in the quizzes. If I were to try and build this myself on Blackboard, it would take a tremendous amount of time. Moreover, the software for the tests and quizzes is unbelievable– it never crashes. This has happened frequently with other learning management systems I have used.

C4E: What are your favorite aspects of teaching about music?

LR: I like teaching students in ways that open their minds to other cultures, and their ears to how to listen to music that may be unfamiliar to them. Some students haven’t had a lot of music classes in their earlier education, and I want to help them learn to listen actively, and grow beyond merely thinking of music as background sound.

[My students] need a flexible school schedule they can do from home. Online courses are really what make learning viable for them.

C4E: What are the challenges of doing distance learning? What are the best parts?

LR: A lot of my students have many other responsibilities in their life while they’re going to school, such as work and family. They need a flexible school schedule they can do from home. Online courses are really what make learning viable for them.

I think the reason why I love teaching C4E courses online is because the texts are so rich and inspiring. With the listening guides, artist profiles, and embedded audio, the distance course can be very engaging. With so many options for engagement, students seem to really connect with the texts.

Some students might feel lonely learning outside a classroom, so I try and create a rich virtual community. Some online teachers are not as responsive to students online as they are in person. Because my primary means of communication with students is email, I make sure I respond to their needs quickly. I also try to offer them resources including a custom designed class website, a C4E or Blackboard discussion forum, and links to YouTube videos.

Perhaps the best part of C4E is the ability to personalize what you teach.

C4E: Any final thoughts?

LR: Some of my favorite elements of the C4E Packages are that the music and the video are integrated into the text. C4E tech support is extraordinarily responsive to both teachers and students. My students have always received a response within 24 hours. I find that C4E is not only available for me during the course design process, but has also allowed me to fix things right away mid-semester, if I see a problem.

Perhaps the best part of C4E is the ability to personalize what you teach. When I was teaching World Music, C4E was enthusiastic about me adding a contribution in my area of expertise, Japanese Music, to the online course. To be able to customize for my own needs and those of my students, especially with a course package, is extraordinary.

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Alisa Gross
Content and Social Media Specialist at Connect For Education
Alisa Gross is the editor and webmaster of the College Teaching and Learning Blog. She holds advanced degrees in the History of Art from the Courtauld Institute, London, and Johns Hopkins University. Alisa has also worked as a math and writing instructor and tutor to high school students in New York, London, and Philadelphia over the course of eleven years.

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