The Eighth International Research in Music Education (RIME) Conference

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9-13 April, 2013
University of Exeter, UK

Symposium: Young people’s transformative music engagement in today’s digital age
Abstract: This symposium examines what it means to be an engaged music learner in today’s digital age. In technology-infused societies, youth are exposed to increasingly complex, dynamic and diverse forms of expression and meaning making through music and digital media. We know that the ways in which music influences young people is related to the ways in which they interpret it, respond to it emotionally, make their own personal connections with it, and construct their own sense of engaged agency or active engagement in relation to their involvement with music activities. With technology and media advances there are fewer barriers to youth musical expression and this means there are emerging forms of affordances for some and constraints for others. Yet, we know little about how youth are constructing their sense of music engagement. This symposium attempts to shed light on the significant challenges that music educators face in engaging young people today in meaningful, purposeful music learning. It considers relational changes in both music learners and music learning environments. It offers a framework for evaluating transformative music engagement as a process that moves beyond traditional hierarchical and linear approaches, such as the transfer of musical expertise from teacher to learner, towards interactive and interconnected active music learning that matters to young people and that makes a contribution to their community. Four papers report on findings from recent studies of youth music engagement across diverse music learners in school and outside school contexts. The studies, whose diverse methodologies include interviews, surveys, and youth-led action research, include over 200 music learners attending elementary, middle and secondary schools in Canada. The findings suggest a pivotal role for music, personal identities, interpersonal relationships, and digital media in creating a lens of interconnectivity that can contribute to transformative music engagement and expansive learning opportunities among diverse young people.

Abstracts of Papers

Below is the listing of the authors presenting at the conference and the abstracts of the papers. Click on the abstract title for more information.

Author: Susan O’Neill

Using affordances and constraints to evaluate young people’s transformative music engagement in today’s digital age
Abstract: It is widely recognized that youth growing up in technology-infused societies are experiencing learning and learning environments differently than even a generation ago (Green & Bigum, 1993). Although the presence of new digital technologies makes learning transformations possible, they do not guarantee it. There are obvious and not so obvious affordances and constraints that enable some learners and limit the potential of others (Gladwell, 2008). The term affordance has its origins in Gibson’s (1977) work on perception in psychology to express the relationship between the perceiver (human) and the perceived (environment). As music education has shifted from a dominant epistemology of transmission to constructivist approaches, a relational focus on affordances and constraints from the perspective of youth themselves offers insights into their construction of transformative music engagement (O’Neill, 2012). According to this approach, learning transformations occur when music learners reflect critically on their values and make conscious efforts to plan and implement actions that bring about new ways of transforming themselves, others, and their community in relation to music activities. This paper provides evidence for using the concepts of affordances and constraints to evaluate young people’s transformative music engagement across diverse music learning contexts including those involving digital technologies. Drawing on data from an interview study with 188 music learners, aged 11 to 18 years from 21 Canadian schools, affordances and constraints were analyzed according to “turning points” to identify change processes (Lofland et al., 2006) and then compared to a 25-item measure of music engagement. Findings indicated that youth and music are connected through an evolving engaged agency or active engagement. Further, boys were more likely to experience transformative music engagement involving digital media technology compared to girls. Discussion will consider the implications of using affordances and constraints to help maximize learning opportunities across diverse music learners.

Authors: Deanna C. C. Peluso and Susan O’Neill

Interconnected music learners: Digital media and shaping identities in an age of music convergence cultures
Abstract: In all modern societies, technology is ubiquitous in young people’s daily lives (e.g., Sefton-Green, 1998, 2006). Easily accessible and multimodal forms of expression in and through digital media provide youth with the ability to construct an expanded sense of self within their personal, social and environmental contexts (Ching and Wang, 2012). There are increasing instances of what Jenkins (2006a, 2006b) calls convergence culture, where old and new media fuse together. As such, music learning and digital media have become inextricably linked in many forms of youth artistic creation, sharing and expression. Our recent research has shown that youth music activities within the contexts of digital media have led to expansive and transformative learning opportunities (O’Neill, 2012a). Taking into account the “blended, blurred and braided” forms of music and digital media engagement that youth are involved in outside of school walls (O’Neill, 2012b), and the diverse socio-cultural and linguistic contexts that emerge from these activities, further investigations into young people’s daily music and media engagement are needed. Drawing on Gee’s (2000) notions of identity, we examined all instances of music and digital media from an interview study with over 160 Canadian youth. A thematic-analysis indicated: the use of technology within their daily lives was not an extraneous accessory, digital media and musical expression and learning had an interdependent relationship, many youth reported involvement in informal and formal music learning activities at the same time, and engagement in complex in-depth musical and digital media activities were related to Jenkins’ (2006) notion of convergence cultures. The findings will be discussed in relation to how music educators can build on the ways that youth are currently engaging with music and technology, as well as the ways that youth are constructing identities through these interactions in their everyday lives, to foster expansive learning opportunities.

Author: Gordon Cobb and Susan O’Neill

Exploring transformative music engagement through songwriting and video production with inner-city youth
Abstract: Today’s youth are employing digital technology that affords new modes of creative expression and new genres of music composition (Gilje, 2010). Affordances of digital media also include expansive music learning opportunities that are autonomous, self-directed and capable of acting as a vehicle or catalyst for change or transformation across a diverse group of music learners. Drawing on a transformative music engagement framework (O’Neill, 2012), this study explores these expansive forms of music learning with inner-city youth during weekly songwriting and music video production classes. Specifically, we were interested in young people’s sense of agency (Benson, 2001) and stance (i.e., their opinion or outlook toward something they value) (Taylor, 1989), and how they related these concepts to their sense of identity within the context of their own songwriting, filmmaking and life-worlds. Participants were nine disadvantaged youth (aged 14-16 years) attending a 32-week community-based music program taught by the first author using collaborative pedagogy. The classes were video recorded and participants were interviewed at various points during and at the end of the program. Drawing on social semiotics (Kress, 2011), multimodal analysis (Gilje, 2010), and interpretative phenomenological analysis (Smith & Eatough, 2006), we examined instances of participants’ meaning making and evolving understanding of the concepts of agency and stance. The findings indicate that the affordances provided by music and video editing software and new media composing practices provide highly engaging opportunities for youth to produce music videos that transform their personal narratives into a form of multimodal literacy. They also create expansive learning opportunities associated with transformative music engagement. We found that a variety of different modes provide semiotic resources for meaning making that resonate with young people who have grown up using digital technologies. Implications for incorporating transformative music engagement pedagogies in different music learning contexts will be discussed.

Authors: Yaroslav Senyshyn and Susan O’Neill

What does transformative music engagement look like in the music classroom? A comparison of two middle schools
Abstract: This paper examines transformative music engagement in practice and compares the processes, outcomes and classroom music experiences of music learners from two Canadian middle schools. Transformative music engagement (O’Neill, 2012) is an approach to music learning that fosters expansive learning opportunities through young people’s critical reflections on their values and conscious efforts to plan and implement actions that bring about new ways of transforming themselves, others, and their community in relation to music activities. With this goal in mind, we developed two curriculum projects that fostered intentionality, reflection, identity development, and transformative learning during regular music classroom activities that took place over several months. The studies at both schools used a collaborative methodology involving youth-led action research (Langhout and Thomas, 2010) with music learners in Grades 7 and 8, their music teachers, and two researchers. In one school, the music learners were encouraged through a process of dialogue, inquiry, and shared meaning making to explore their own ideas about why music matters. Students developed music-related projects in response to questions they had about their own music engagement. In the second school, the music learners were involved in informal music learning (Green, 2001) and the “Musical Futures” project, as well as student-led inquiry and real-world learning experiences. In both schools, the classes were video recorded and the students provided written reflections of their experiences. A detailed analysis of the videos using Larson’s (2011) framework for examining emotional, motivational, and cognitive-ecological processes revealed that the students’ become more engaged in their learning as they experienced a greater sense of empowerment, purpose and contribution to their own music learning. Both learning opportunities led to transformative music engagement experiences according to the students’ self-reports and the teachers’ reflections. The implications and challenges that were experienced in implementing and evaluating the projects will be discussed.