Music Bridges: Manhattan School of Music Distance Learning
Christianne Orto, Dean, Distance Learning and Recording Arts, Manhattan School of Music
Gabe Gordon, Distance Learning Program Coordinator, Manhattan School of Music
From Humble Beginnings
Renowned today as an internationally recognized conservatory of music, Manhattan School of Music (MSM) first opened its doors a century ago as a neighborhood music school, providing music instruction to talented young New York City immigrants. From these modest beginnings, community engagement has remained central to the school’s identity and mission. In 1996, MSM extended the scope of its local outreach to a global audience through the development of a groundbreaking distance learning program– the first of its kind at a major conservatory – designed to explore the use of interactive videoconferencing technology in support of global arts education. Hailed as the “gold standard in music distance learning” (Jazz Times Education, 2016) and winner of the CILC Pinnacle award for five consecutive seasons (2011 to 2015), MSM’s Distance Learning Program – the Global Conservatory – now delivers between 550 and 600 programs to 10,000 learners in 39 of the 50 states and in 23 countries on an annual basis.
Global Distance Learning Outreach, Engagement, and Beyond
Beginning in 1999, MSM’s Distance Learning Program launched Music Bridges – a program designed to deliver standards-based content to partner institutions in K-12, as well as to other community organizations, such as libraries, hospitals, and senior centers through videoconferencing technology. Staying true to the institution’s origins of reaching out to local communities, the first Music Bridges programs were developed and offered to underserved students in the outer boroughs of New York City. Cutting-edge videoconferencing technology enabled the program to break down the barrier of cultural inaccessibility to geographically local communities that were well deserving of a world-class arts education. It also provided these communities direct engagement with performing artists. At present, Music Bridges offers a wide variety of content to classrooms around the globe with more than 40 programs in its catalogue in various formats and duration, including thematic programs in music; interdisciplinary programs; applied instruction (ensemble, group, and “personalized” learning); master classes; special topics programs such as “Techniques for fun and efficient practicing;” and professional development/teacher trainings.
In order to provide more diverse educational and experiential learning opportunities through distance learning, interdisciplinary programs, in which music is combined with core subjects, such as language arts, social studies, geography, and math have been developed over time. One of the most popular K-12 interdisciplinary programs entitled, Musical Math, demonstrates how fractions relate to musical note values. Through group-based interactive exercises, the presenter and students create music together in real time by combining fractions together into series of musical note values. Interestingly, this particular program has attracted numerous international classrooms in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Mexico. As Margaret Charlton, a teacher at Johnstonebridge Primary school in Scotland, United Kingdom states, “This is an exciting and stimulating way of learning. There’s no way an ordinary class teacher could have delivered this kind of lesson, particularly when the tutor used the children’s rhythms to create a piece of music, and played it back to us.”
The Keys of Success
According to Christianne Orto, MSM Dean, Distance Learning and Recording Arts, and the founding director of the MSM Distance Learning program, the conceptual design of Music Bridges has been critical to the success and longevity of this program. A “dual learning process” has always been embedded in programmatic design, delivery, and assessment. Music Bridges strives to educate and cultivate a global arts community of learners while simultaneously teaching and empowering MSM graduate and doctoral students to be arts educators. Through the institution’s Digital Scholars Program, MSM students are taught to be “teaching artists” who design, create, and present content, which enables them to deliver interactive videoconference programs to young learners throughout the world.
“In many instances, our graduate students are not that much older than the students to whom they teach, yet, through the dynamic of peer mentorship, young learners are often inspired and motivated to model the accomplishments of their slightly older counterparts,” said Dean Orto, a recipient of the inaugural Internet2 Driving Exemplary Applications Award.
Another hallmark of Music Bridges has been the accessibility of the program’s online digital library to partner classrooms. For nearly 20 years, the program has recorded and captured program delivery and catalogued this content in a searchable, online database called the “Robbins Catalog.” Partner schools that receive content from MSM’s Distance Learning program are given access on-demand to the programs delivered to their schools for continued learning and engagement with the programmatic materials. Often, if students are unable to be in class on a certain day, online 24/7 access to this material can prove an invaluable resource to the classroom teacher. Via the Program’s social media presence (@MSMDistanceLearning on Facebook and @msm_dl on Twitter) educator-approved video excerpts demonstrating key teaching and learning moments are now made available during weekly posts for the benefit of all learners and followers.
Of the many content formats offered to partner schools, MSM Distance Learning’s thematic programs are designed to specifically fit into a K-12 teacher’s classroom curriculum. In fact, many offerings have been developed out of a direct request from a specific educator. MSM’s collaboration with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District in Alaska is an example of such a partnership.
In 2011 Greg Zorbas, Kenai Central High School history teacher, met Dean Orto at the annual Alaska Society for Technology in Education conference and began discussing videoconference content for classes. Several meetings, drafts, and refinements later, a Music and Nationalism: Sounds of Change program was created to enhance Mr. Zorbas’ course section on 19th–century European nationalism through the lens of music history. Since then, MSM has developed a total of eight thematic programs – from music of early African civilizations to post-WWII American protest music – which have been integrated into the annual curriculum for Mr. Zorbas’ classes. Through Mr. Zorbas and his colleagues at Kenai Central High School, MSM has reached six schools and more than 1000 students in the district through multi-point, multi-class sessions.
Click here to listen to MSM teaching artist Rohin Khemani presenting the program Talking Drums: The Music of Early Africa and India to students at Kenai Central High School and Skyview High School.
Mr. Zorbas, a winner of the 2013-14 ASTE Teacher of the Year award, and his colleagues have proven to be admirable leaders in utilizing videoconferencing technology in their classrooms, especially in bringing guest speakers from around the world into their classes. And since MSM boasts an incredibly diverse and international student body, the program has provided unique perspectives through talented teaching artists who have come from more than 53 countries to study in New York City. A fitting example is a program, entitled The Music of Iran, led by an MSM graduate student on the music of his home country, and delivered to students in the Kenai school district.
The programs that MSM developed for learners in Kenai, AK, have since been requested by educators around the world. The Music and Nationalism program, for example, has been delivered to audiences in Minnesota, New York, and North Carolina. MSM has developed new content for other partners as well. One of its most popular elementary programs – Singing Legends, Dancing Lions: An Exploration of Chinese Music Traditions – was born following a request from a teacher in Alberta, Canada. The program’s success has proven a point: educators often look for similar resources to enhance their curricula. By keeping a finger on the pulse of what teachers want, MSM has been able to provide valuable opportunities for K-12 classrooms
Even as MSM creates thematic programs designed for a certain range of grades and school subjects, the program often will modify a program to best fit the needs of other audiences – even delivering a high school history program to lifelong learners at retirement centers or after-school library programs. The priority is to shape and present the content to a targeted audience in the most educationally effective and engaging way.
Looking to the Future
The MSM Distance Learning Program has always been on the forefront of technological and programmatic innovation in distance education. Looking ahead, the program is currently developing a hybrid-learning model, bringing together the best of synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities and engagement for our learners. To that end, in 2016-17, the program will continue to feature its synchronous engagement with learners worldwide but will also expand and improve the learning experience through a powerful new learning management system, designed for creative arts education. In addition to videoconference sessions, wrap-around lessons, curriculum guides, audio-visual resources, further studies, and dynamic interactive learning activities will be available through this new virtual environment for MSM Distance Learning partners. Dean Orto explained, “In this new, enhanced model, the educational engagement will be deeper, more immersive, richer, and indeed great fun for all learners involved.”
To learn more, please follow the MSM Distance Learning Program @MSMDistanceLearning on Facebook and @msm_dl on Twitter.