Music teachers have been assessing their students since people first starting teaching others how to make music. It is a part of our every day existence. Music teachers correct student mistakes, give advice, and instruct their students about all facets of music making, music fundamentals, and music history in performance ensemble, general music class, music theory and ear training exercises, or in individual vocal and instrumental lessons. Due to the ever increasing importance being placed on quantitative assessment and the need to show student progress, it has never been more crucial to music educators to have tools in place that can help them assess their students, and keep an accurate record of their progress throughout the school year. With the number of students music teachers teach per year, this task can be extremely time consuming and difficult. At MusicFirst, we know how crucial assessment is - especially in this age of standardised testing - and we are happy to report to you that the each of the products we sell can help you implement broad-based school-wide assessment for your music students and your music program.
Types of Assessment
There are many different types of assessment: diagnostic, formative, summative, norm-referenced, criterion referenced, and interim/benchmark assessments. Within each type of assessment, there are various ways of collecting assessment dat - different types of questions. These include multiple choice questions, matching questions, constructed responses (fill in the blanks), extended construction responses (essays), and performance tasks. In music education, we utilize all of these types of assessments, but tend to lean on certain ones more than others; specifically performance tasks. When you bring technology to assessment you really have the ability to include all of these types of assessments.
Traditionally, technology-based assessment leans toward multiple choice types questions - perfect for drill and practice. But assessing performance (both instrumental/vocal performances as well as creativity based performance has been somewhat more difficult to achieve with technology, though products like SmartMusic® have made this much easier. At MusicFirst, we believe that our products offer the most affordable and easiest ways to assess music students in K-12 music programs. In short, assessment happens in the cloud.
What is Cloud-based Assessment?
Many people still have a somewhat unclear definition of what the cloud actually is. The easiest way to define it is that you store data (information, files, pictures, videos, etc.) on someone else's computer (called a server) and then access those files through the Internet from any device. Gmail is a great example. You can access your Gmail account from any computer or device that has an internet connection. A very exciting development in cloud technology is the ability to provide software applications in a web browser. By accessing the software through the cloud, all you need is an Internet connection and a browser to use the software. MusicFirst features the very best cloud-based software products available for music educators.
Cloud-based assessment means that when students use these browser-based software applications at home, they can create files and take tests and quizzes that are included in the software, and then those results are accessible to the teacher through the administrative features of the software. Simply put, you can assign your students quizzes, tests, and projects using one of our tools and then assess the student results, all from your browser. What follows is a closer look at each of our tools, and how they can help you implement broad-based assessment of student progress.
Noteflight is a powerful browser-based notation software program that has a number of options for educators to create safe, online classroom spaces for their students to work in. One of the products, Noteflight Classroom (starting @ $195/year for 250 students), affords teachers the opportunity to create a custom, private website where they can assign their students notation-based projects and assignments, and then have those assignments archived to show student progress over time. There is a "versions" feature of Noteflight that allows you to see student work progress over time As the teacher you have the ability to see and hear all of your students work through the easy to navigate administrative section of the site (not available with the free version). While Noteflight doesn't auto-score student work, there are numerous ways to add assessment to student work - specifically with the Notes feature - where a teacher can add a sticky note to a score and write in comments to the student.
Soundation 4 Education (starting @ $199/year for 99 students) is an online music production software product that is very similar to the functionality of programs like GarageBand. The administrative function allows teachers to access their students' accounts, and see the actual files that the students are working on. Because Soundation 4 Education is browser-based and allows users the ability to record themselves (as well as to use loops and virtual instruments to create original music), it is the perfect assessment solution for all facets of your music program. Here are a few examples:
Have your instrumental and vocal students record themselves performing given exercises and repertoire and save those recordings to their own accounts so that you can go and listen to them later. Teachers can create "assessment tracks" and record verbal critiques of those recordings directly on top of the recorded performances. Have your general music students compose their own original non-notation compositions using Soundation 4 Education. This is a great way to get the "non-traditional" music students composing. Post your own recording to Soundation and have your students create their own assessment track so that they can provide critique and reflections on the given recording. While Soundation 4 Education does not provide auto-grading functionality, it does create a ring-fenced private space for student portfolio assessment that can be used by any of the students in your music program.
Auralia & Musition
Of all of the software titles that MusicFirst represents, perhaps none is more focused on the assessment of student work than Auralia & Musition. These cloud-based ear training and theory applications are a little different than the others, as they require users to install a small application on their computers. The cloud aspect simply records all of the work that students do to the teacher administrative account. In short, these industry leading applications include a complete customizable curriculum as well as pre-made and customizable assessments that can be completed anywhere anytime by your students. For example, if you are studying intervals with your students, you can create an assessment for them to complete for homework by using the administrative site to select the class you'd like to assign the assessment to, then assigning either a pre-made test (sorted by difficulty level) or a custom test that focuses on specific intervals. When your students log into their software at home (not iPad compatible) the test pops up and asks them to complete it. After they have taken the test their automatically generated score is sent to you. It is the perfect way to assess large numbers of students.
Exclusive to MusicFirst are the Auralia First and Musition First products, which are less expensive versions of the full Auralia and Musition programs. While there aren't as many tests, and there is limited functionality when it comes to courses and customizability, they do afford teachers the opportunity to assign and collect broad-based assessments to/from their students.
Focus On Sound
Focus On Sound (starting @ $199/year for 250 students) is an incredible browser-based resource that includes a multimedia encyclopedia of 130 musical instruments and over 500 music terms, complete with high quality audio and video examples. In addition to the tremendous amount of content that is included with the product, there is an amazing testing feature that allows teachers to assign their students tests based on various sections of the site. For example, if you are teaching your students about string instruments, you can have them learn about those instruments on their own time using any Internet ready device. You can also assign them a test on those instruments that includes a variety of question types (audio recordings, images, text-based questions). Focus On Sound has auto-generated questions and assessment, so students scores are sent directly to the teacher when the tests are completed. These test results are stored to the administrative section of the site, and teachers can get a quick look at how their students are performing on those tests.
Charanga Music World
Charanga Music World (starting @ $199/year for 250 students) is an innovative browser-based software program that focuses on very beginning instrumental music students. It is a video-game like environment that encourages students to practice their instruments and to explore various aspects of music and music making. Students travel through different worlds and complete assessments along the way. Some assessments have students play along with an auto-generated accompaniment while viewing the music in the browser. What is so amazing about the product is that there is also a RECORD feature that allows the students to record their performances and then submit those recordings to their teachers via email. While the software can be used for self-guided study and reinforcement, teachers can assign students specific examples to complete. All student work is recorded to the administrative section of the site, and teachers can see exactly what the students have completed at any time. Because the software is browser based, this assessment can happen anywhere anytime.
Inside Music (starting @ $259/year for 150 students) is a complete, unique, classroom-tested approach to teaching students how to compose. Similar to the approach that the Khan Academy takes to teaching mathematics, Inside Music includes engaging videos that explain how to compose from the very basics to advanced techniques. Students can access Inside Music at home and watch these videos. After they watch the videos there are notation-based activities and assignments for the students to complete using a version of Noteflight which is included with the subscription. Once the activities and assignments are completed by the students, they are handed in to the teacher who can use the administrative section of the site to access those files. Included in the software is a comprehensive scope and sequence as well as scoring rubrics for the culminating activities for each unit of study. For teachers looking for a complete solution that not only teaches students how to compose, but facilitates the assessment of student work, Inside Music is the perfect solution.
As you can see from all of the examples above, cloud-based music software takes a lot of the pain out of the assessment process for teachers, especially on a school-wide basis. We at MusicFirst know that the cloud is the future, and in terms of assessment, the convenience and the functionality of administering assessments to your students can be very easy to implement. If you would like more information on any of the tools mentioned in this article, please feel free to contact us by email or by calling us toll free at 1 (855) 896-3344.