After two months of mostly having fun and a little bit of panicking that I wasn’t actually ever going to learn how to use it my technology project is done. Below is my final report on the program and how its application could be beneficial to the students of my prac school. In this evaluation I also focus on girls achievement in computer science and draw the conclusion that this program that mixes both coding and music is pretty darn cool.
You can also check out a video introducing EarSketch and its capabilities here or looking below. I have also made the code I wrote for the below video public so that you can code along with the video, or use it as a starting point for your own practice. This demonstration will also be carried out live on the presentation night at Conservatorium of Music this Friday (Friday the 18th).
You can acess a downloadable copy of this report here.
Technology Project Semester 2 2016
What is Ear Sketch?
EarSketch is a free, browser based DAW and curriculum designed to teach you how to code and make music at the same time. It has been designed to be easy for both musicians and non-musicians to use. It will work on Windows, Mac and Linux on Chrome, Safari, Firefox or Edge Browsers. As well as the online curriculum, EarSketch can provide further resources including lecture slides so that it can be taught as part of the nationally funded (in the US) American Computer Science Principles accredited course.
I was introduced to this program by a member of the IT pedagogy team at the NSW girls high school that I did my teacher practical placement at. She asked if I had heard about the program, as she wanted to look into it being included in her Girls Who Code holiday program, but was not confident with the musical side of the program. It was great timing for me as I had been looking for a topic for my self-negotiated technology project. As I explored further into the program I was drawn to it even more. Computer coding always seemed like something that was so far out of my ability, but this program made it seem easy. The incredible success that the Girls Who Code program is having across the world, and the potential impact I could have in my prac school through this colleague made it an opportunity too good to pass up. I promised her that if I looked into it and learnt how to use it I would pass on my thoughts and recommendations on how to use it in the classroom and in the holiday program. This document, along with my blog and an introductory video is part of that evaluation.
A note on browser based learning/BYOB
Browser based learning, or bring your own browser is the idea that instead of the school providing a piece of technology like a laptop or tablet to each student, the student provides their technology and the teacher makes the content accessible via browser based resources. I was introduced to this idea trhough a video lecture of Stephen Heppell’s that I watched in a lecture earlier this semester. This concept of BYOB not BYOD(evice) is another reason why I decided to explore EarSketch as my project.
Making music with DAWs and other sequencing software
A DAW is a digital audio workstation and replaces the analogue recording gear that once was so expensive that only serious producers had access to it in a serious studio. DAWs allow you to record, mix and manipulate music on a digital and often portable platform. The appeal of using DAWs in the classroom is that it is a connection to the real world of music production (Kuzmich, 2014). When we let our students create and compose using DAWs we legitimize popular music and its composition process. We are sending our students the message that their music is sophisticated enough and worthy of our time in the classroom. By legitimizing the relevant cultural aesthetic (Colley, 2009) of our students we have a greater chance at engaging them in a meaningful way. DAWs and other sequencing music apps make composing easier and more accessible by providing instant feedback, meaning the students performance level or understanding of music does not necessarily have to limit their composition ability (Hungate, 2016).
Computer Coding and Girls Achievement
Computer coding or computer programming is the language of computers. It is what games, websites and apps are built out of. By learning to code we can understand what really goes into the digital resources and websites we connect and interact with every day. “Coding is the new literacy!” (Roth-Douquet, 2015) The world we live in today is being shaped by and communicated through coding. By teaching girls to code we give them back the creativity to express themselves in a language that is relevant and current (Cadwalladr, 2014). However women involved in the tech industry has actually decreased since the 90s (Drobnis, 2010).
“In 1984 37% of all computer science graduates were women, compared to just 18% now. By 2020, there will be 1.4 million jobs available in computing related fields. US graduates are on track to fill 29% of those jobs. Women are on track to fill just 3%” (Girls Who Code, 2016, “The Problem’, 2016).
That is where the Girls Who Code movement steps in. By creating free to access ‘girls clubs’ to teach coding in all different contexts to high school students they aim to increase the interest of women in computer science to even out the gender gap. Whilst the free program is based in the USA, it has been implemented over here by many passionate educators.
So why mix coding and music?
Music has long been proven to stimulate the brain. Making music lights up all areas of the brain and strengthens cognitive ability (Collins, 2014). Both music and coding can be considered to be languages. Working and composing through coding with the instant feedback of a DAW allows creativity and trial and error to be explored. As Steve Jobs has been quoted saying “technology alone is not enough – it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields results that make our hearts sing”(as cited by Lehrer, 2011).
Since EarSketch is basically accessible from any tablet or computer I would give it great marks in the accessibility category. Obviously the need to have an internet connection could be an issue in some contexts, but it also doesn’t eat up too much data. I did find occasionally my computer would lag, and not quite keep up with the sound production. I found this same problem when using Ableton Live as well, so is probably more of an indication of the mediocrity of my computer than the RAM use of the website.
In terms of the school this report is focussed at, every student has a Mac laptop that would be more than capable of handling this program.
The layout (see figure 1) of the DAW is fairly similar to many other popular options such as GarageBand, SoundTrap and Logic and I found it fairly intuitive to use.
Figure 1- EarSketch Layout
The curriculum is modular and fairly easy to understand. Many examples are provided in the form of videos and code scripts that can be copy and pasted into the program for you to run, play around with and hear. There are occasional real life examples, such as linking to a Kanye West song, Power, as an example of staggered entry. There is definitely a lot more potential for examples, and if I was teaching this to students myself I would provide many more musical examples both as analysis activities and compositional models. One downside to the interactive curriculum is it does not save the chapter you are up to, so you have to take a note as to how much you have completed. However there is no need to work chronologically through the curriculum and it is easy to jump around the sections as needed.
EarSketch claims to be designed for non-musicians, and I do think you could use the program without knowing about formal music first. One of the best examples of this is the categorisation of the sound clips in the library. The sound clips are separated into “genres” such as new-pop and dubstep and the keys are the same or complimentary within these categories, making it easy to create a coherent piece first try. However I do feel like the amount of musical terminology included is perhaps a little redundant. The curriculum includes quizzes on the definition of pitch and tempo which doesn’t seem all that useful or relevant to the rest of the content. This could also potentially intimidate or stop the prospective non music specialist tutor from wanting to teach this program. However the inclusion of the music terminology, and sections in the curriculum on structure and repetition do open up the program for great potential to be easily integrated into the music classroom curriculum. The dreaded concepts of music could definitely be easily applied, which could be a selling point to get this program into classrooms.
In just a short time I was able to achieve a good outcome, using several different techniques that the program is capable of. It very quickly felt like I was able to produce real and authentic electronic music. The potential to include samples and own recordings make this a viable piece of technology, even if it does include learning an extra skill in comparison to GarageBand style programs.
Going beyond the basic skills is a section of curriculum simply labelled ‘optional’. The skills in this section covered are very wide. There is a whole section on strategies for collaboration and peer feedback, backed up by Liz Lerman’s psychological research as explained in her book, Critical Response Process. The section on copyright and sampling history provides a little more context for the technology and electronic music in general. The section on how to share your work and codes publicly encourages an open resource and open classroom philosophy.
Overall I think this is a great program that is uniquely placed to improve both composition and computer literacy skills in and out of the classroom. Its relevance to the popular music culture of today makes it likely to be an engaging part of any educational program. It is very student lead and its collaborative sharing features make it easy to learn as a group. I do not believe that you would need to be a trained musician to implement a unit using this program, however a greater level of musical research on the background of electronic and dance music would be helpful and enrich the program. Perhaps the support of an assistant teacher/musician would help this program to fully reach its computing and musical teaching potential.
Websites for further information
Computer Science Principles Course: http://apcsprinciples.org/
Girls Who Code: https://girlswhocode.com/
Liz Lerman: http://lizlerman.com/crpLL.html
Cadwalladr, C. (2014, Mar 02). The new review: Discover: CODING: Why we should get with the program… and try coding: The tech industry is championing a new initiative to get us all to try programming for an hour – and live down the stereotypes. but just how hard is coding, and why should we all be doing it? carole cadwalladr speaks to four experts. The Observer Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.usyd.edu.au/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1503486072?accountid=14757
Colley, B. (2009). Educating teachers to transform the trilogy. Journal of Music Teacher Education 19 (1): 56-67.
Collins, A. (2014). How playing an instruments benefits your brain. TedTalk. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0JKCYZ8hng on 13/11/2016
Drobnis, A. W. (2010). Girls in computer science: A female only introduction class in high school (Order No. 3405512). Available from ProQuest Central; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global; Social Science Premium Collection. (193661894). Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.usyd.edu.au/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/193661894?accountid=14757
Girls Who Code. (2016). The Problem. Retrieved November 13, 2016, from https://girlswhocode.com/
Hungate, W. M. (2016). Music technology in high school music education: How music technology can increase musicianship skills in high school students(Order No. 10149358). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1831572777). Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.usyd.edu.au/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1831572777?accountid=14757
Kuzmich, J.,Jr. (2014, 12). DAW workstations. School Band & Orchestra, 17, 46-48. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.usyd.edu.au/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1638890035?accountid=14757
Lehrer, J. (2011, October 7). STEVE JOBS: “TECHNOLOGY ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH”. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/steve-jobs-technology-alone-is-not-enough
Roth-Doquet, S. (2015, December 02). The Five Reasons Girls Should Code. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sophie-rothdouquet/the-five-reasons-girls-sh_1_b_8131660.html