Listen to the Music—and Write about it (Mellon Project Report)

It never seemed like a very big deal to me: the music history courses needed a handier way to work with and report student listening journals. This had traditionally be a pen and paper thing where a student listed the musical composition (composer, work, etc.) and wrote their comments, observations, and questions and keep track of the amount of time they listened—and did so manually.  Students then periodically turned in their journals and grading was a matter of reading through their pages, deciphering the handwriting, and sometimes trying to figure out what composition they had actually listened to. The major frustration, beyond trying to read the writing, was in trying to answer questions—or to even foster questions in the first place, when I didn’t have access to the same recording (or maybe the piece at all).  There wasn’t a way for me to hear what they were hearing at any specific point and be able to help them understand that specific issue.

The grant allowed me to begin looking for a platform that could 1) allow the instructor to hear the exact same performance of a work, 2) allow both student and instructor to annotate the performance in “real” time, and 3) make keeping track of student work easier, or at least more organized. Classroom Salon was chosen because it seemed to do most of what was required.  

In three years of using Classroom Salon for students’ listening journals, I can only say that it does some things well and other things not so well. Each semester (three courses use listening journals, and at least one is taught each semester) students have the learning curve of getting to know the program.  Since Classroom Salon was created for a more general use, the specific needs of the task require a rather lengthy list of rules for use. For example, each time a student makes an annotation in their listening, a heading is required for organization. If that is forgotten, posts are given a generic label and to find a specific comment it is then necessary to read through all of them. Also, since students upload their video from Youtube to their Classroom Salon journal, they can upload any video of any length. There is no way to determine, from the video length, how much was listened to (trust is also necessary for the paper journals, but with them students must list the length of time for each individual piece). Fulfilling a specific amount of time listening is an important aspect of the listening journal. Classroom Salon does not support that.  

The small deficiencies in the application are not, in the end, what is keeping me from fully embracing Classroom Salon. The biggest hurdle for me is the amount of additional time it takes to evaluate the listening journals. It is important that students are listening to music from the composers and periods that we are studying. But with paper journals I can skim through in a very short time, looking for length, a certain amount of engagement (by length of comments), and looking for questions (it isn’t hard to look for question marks!). Doing these tasks in Classroom Salon is very time-consuming. I have to look at every annotation a student makes to determine the sort of engagement (length) and whether there is a question. Using Classroom Salon has changed the listening journal from a few minutes per student task into about 20 minutes per student. Classroom Salon is elevating the task into a more prominent place, even primary, in the course. This was not the goal.  

At the end of this semester I will be reevaluating the use of Classroom Salon. There is a new version that works somewhat differently that I might try. And there might be new applications that have come along in the past two years that may be better fits. Whatever I find, I am looking for a reduced workload and more flexibility!