Professor Dan Miller is a Professor Emeritus of World Music at Vincennes University in Vincennes, Indiana. As an experienced instructor in both online and hybrid courses, he values course materials which enable students to make informed observations about music. He doesn’t merely teach straight out of the textbook; he likes to personalize his syllabus with test and quiz questions that have been modified to reflect his teaching and his students.
Dr. Miller has been using Connect For Education webtexts since 2004, including OnMusic Appreciation (OMA), OnMusic of the World, OnAmerican Popular Music and OnMusic History Survey. In the following conversation, he tells us how C4E courses packages not only facilitate course management, also about how they provide students with a more nuanced understanding of music.
C4E: What is your background, and what courses do you teach?
DM: At Vincennes, what we do is teach! I’m retired now, but I used to teach about 6-7 courses a semester, including online, hybrid, and face-to-face. I teach fewer courses now, but I use C4E products for all of my online and hybrid classes.
C4E: When did you start using C4E webtexts for your courses? What made you choose the OnMusic Appreciation and OnMusic of the World packages?
DM: When I decided to go online in 2004, I looked at everything on the market. C4E simply was the best — it offered the most depth.
C4E: How do you like the C4E approach to content?
DM: Everything in the C4E courses is excellent. The writing is sophisticated and engaging, but also easy for students to relate to. The length of each chapter is ideal. There so many links to videos, photographs, and charts. These visuals not only keep students interested, but also give them context that improves their understanding.
C4E: How does OnMusic Appreciation help with course management?
DM: OnMusic Appreciation is easy to use, and it offers a lot of flexibility. I’ve used the product on its own, and I’ve also used the version that’s integrated with Blackboard. The stand-alone version is so well-organized. You can get from one window to the next with a single click. In other online course management platforms, you are often bombarded with too many options, or have to click through too many windows, before you end up on the screen where you need to be.
The version of OnMusic Appreciation that integrates with Blackboard is great too, because it allows you to personalize. There’s so much great material in the tests that I often can’t use it all. But while using OnMusic Appreciation within Blackboard, I can revise test questions, and eliminate units that don’t fit with my teaching. I really like being able to do this.
C4E: Can you tell us a bit about assignments you use?
DM: The five assignments in OnMusic Appreciation really help to build up musical comprehension, step-by-step, and I use each one of them. The first two assignments ask students to “Identify Musical Ideas” and write a summary of piece, asking students to understand concepts like movement and cadence. The third assignment uses a really interesting jazz piece to teach students perceptive listening skills, like identifying musical ideas in compositions, and picking out solos from the ensemble. Then there’s a research assignment on an individual instrument, which is very historically focused. All of the assignments lead up to the final concert report, which combines all of the ideas from the prior assignments.
What’s great about the assignments is that they refer back to really specific ideas from the webtext. The second assignment, for example, asks students to talk about timbre and dynamics. Students know what the requirements of the assignments are, and I have guidelines that I can refer back to and measure if they neglect to do so.
C4E: How do students respond to having most of their textbook materials online?
DM: I think students like it! A lot of students say the course is the best distance ed course they’ve ever taken. My class is also offered through Purdue University as well, where there are many international students. They’re really hard working and intelligent, and I can tell that they’re excited about the materials when they ask me questions through the On MusicAppreciation interface.
C4E: What are your favorite aspects of teaching about music, how do the features of OnMusic Appreciation enhance this?
DM: I want to be able to have an intelligent conversation with my students. They don’t need to be experts in musicology, but when they can describe what a violin sounds like, we’ve met our goal. OnMusic Appreciation gives them access to great music that they normally would not come across. It also integrates relevant information from other disciplines, like art and theater, and provides historical context that peaks student interests. With OnMusic Appreciation, students really assimilate the language needed to make intelligent observations about music and sound.
C4E: How has the use of OnMusic Appreciation impacted your teaching style and how you manage the course?
DM: For hybrid classes, it really allows me to stay on target with course goals and learning outcomes. I can use the questions from the online tests and quizzes to structure the class flow, set objectives, and reiterate important ideas. Two other instructors at Vincennes do this as well. Presenting these questions helps students learn how to study, and how to stay on target. They also learn study skills, and what is important with critical reading. The really good students read ahead, so they are prepared for the next class and the questions.
C4E: What did you think of the other features of the course, such as the listening guides?
DM: The listening guides are great! They’re interactive. They have these bubble diagrams which are the best interactive charts that have ever been made. You get to hear the exposition, while reading an explanation of how the songs break down, and which concepts fit which parts of the music.
C4E: Any final thoughts?
DM: Everyone at C4E is great to work with, from the technical support to the head management. They’ve always been positive and easy to connect with. In the beginning, even the Co-Founder, Carlos, was helping me out! If I still had to get him on the phone, he’d be there. I love getting to see everyone when we go to the College Music Association Conferences. My wife also uses C4E materials in her courses. We keep threatening to visit everyone!