Kimberly Barber, a professor in the Faculty of Music at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario uses the learning management system (LMS) to provide course information for music students studying as Voice majors, including first-year to post-graduate students whether they are specializing in performance, music therapy, or education. Among the materials available in the LMS for the Studio course, for example, are the syllabus, outline of course requirements, class schedules, required and suggested readings on topics like Alexander and other movement techniques in Voice, information on the core areas of vocal technique, guides for warming up the voice, and links to videos of favourite singers.
Central to student activity during the course is the integration of an e-portfolio.
The e-portfolio provides the form and structure for not only student assignments and the professor’s comments, but also student reflections on progress, challenges, successful techniques, practice sessions, critical thinking and writing – all habits and skills that support reflective and independent learning. The information collected in the e-portfolio, and the skills developed by using this online tool for record-keeping and reflection, will both be important to the students throughout their careers as they continue to track their abilities, repertoire, and challenges.
The student projects using the e-portfolio present a wide range of opportunities for self-reflection and interaction with the professor.
Practice Logs: Each week, students submit a practice log, using a form in the e-portfolio. One component of the project focuses on work in duos. Students check off the exercises that they have practiced and those that need additional attention; list the repertoire they rehearsed; record the days and times they practiced; record the practice sessions with their duo partner (if any); include challenges, successes, and discoveries in both solo and partner practice; and submit a reflection for the week. These are submitted on Thursday night and Professor Barber responds on Friday afternoon, with comments and suggestions. In this interactive process, she is able to provide specific recommendations for extra work or a particular focus for their Voice practice. Through the reporting on their activities and progress, students take responsibility for their learning.
Goals and Strategies: In the first week of first term, students complete the goals and strategies form in the e-portfolio, stating three technical goals (stressing realistic and manageable goals), one academic goal, and one personal goal, such as time management. They also provide information on their expectations for improvement, how the professor can help them, and their commitment in and intentions for investing in their own development.
At the end of the term, they use the e-portfolio to submit a presentation which includes:
- Their practice logs as outlined above;
- Programs from six concerts they attended, annotated with their reactions to aid in the development of their critical listening skills;
- A longer review of one of the concerts focusing on what they notice about the performers and their interaction with the audience;
- A report on a Master Class given by another professor and what they saw and heard, with reflections on the difference in ways of teaching and forms of expression;
- A full list of the entire repertoire they performed that term. This can form the basis of a record of achievement throughout their careers;
- A self-assessment based on the goals they outlined at the beginning of the term and the dedication with which they pursued them.
- Any extra information on their experience in studio, such as web or YouTube links that illuminate their creative and educational process
Deep Practice: Students have to learn how to practice, and the best techniques for improving their voice skills. Professor Barber has recently been considering how to encourage her students to develop Deep Practice routines – stressing that this is not the same as repetition. Instead with Deep Practice, the focus is slow and deliberate on what has been defined by theorist Daniel Coyle as the “smallest achievable perfection” – whether of one note or even one vowel. Students completed a deep practice questionnaire at the beginning of the academic year with questions on their own practice times, approaches to learning and practicing a piece of music, their ideas of deep practice, and how much time they think it is necessary to dedicate to practice in order to succeed as a musician.
The use of this tool revealed that few students had well established practice routines and that many were resistant to the idea of Deep Practice, highlighting areas where student improvement in understanding of and techniques for practice needed to be pursued throughout the year.
Singer Role Model: Working with their duo partners, students prepare a presentation using PowerPoint slides and YouTube videos on a pair of singers they admire. The presentations cover the chosen singers’ musical education, career development, repertoire, famed roles, and videos or audio recordings of performances if available. Students also discuss the reasons for their choice. These assignments were presented in class and also form a component of their e-portfolio presentation
Term-End Self-Assessment: This tool is used to guide the term-end discussions with the professor and to see where the students and professor assessments correspond and differ. The students fill in information on their level of satisfaction with their performance and progress in lessons, Master Class, and duo work and where they would like to improve. They work through the list of assignments, indicating which ones they completed on time, and also look at the other tools listed above to track progress towards their stated goals. The student input to this assessment is quite candid concerning their own limitations – providing a strong basis for discussion and improvement.
Uploading of Audio Files: Whenever possible, students are encouraged to upload files of themselves in either rehearsal or performance. This serves as not only a “snapshot” of where they are in their development at any given time (in itself a valuable archive), but also provides opportunity for the professor to make comments and suggestions for improvement when the student is not in the classroom setting.
Professor on Tour: While performing on tour, Professor Barber blogs on a daily basis, including rehearsal photos, reviews, press coverage, and reflections on her work and performances. Students have commented on how hard she is on herself and the parallels they see between her work and theirs. The blog is important for keeping in touch, but also illustrates the similarities of the struggles despite the stage of career development.
Outcomes and Benefits
The integration of the e-portfolio supports student reflection on their work, progress, challenges, practices, and level of commitment – making them more independent learners and providing them with skills that can be applied throughout their careers in music. The same difficulties are often encountered during a musical career and information on previous approaches and solutions can be invaluable. Many highly-successful performers have used reflective journals as essential development tools.
The online e-portfolio tools track on-going progress, challenges, and interaction with and feedback from the professor. It provides a comprehensive overview of the student’s experience in the Voice studio over their four years of university study.
Challenges and Enhancements
The conceptualization and development of the assignments and the accompanying forms for inclusion in the e-portfolio format were very time-consuming, but now that they are available, more time can be dedicated to reviewing the materials submitted by the students and providing feedback in ways that were not previously possible.
It is challenging to maintain a balance between requiring students to use the computer, and e-portfolios, when they are helpful for learning – and diverting time from practice by demanding too much attention to computer usage.
The upload times for audio files can create problems and so use of this application has been limited. Improvements to the platform have been made recently, so use of this functionality will likely increase with time.
Professor Barber would like to see all music students have access to e-portfolios, not just her Voice majors. A core first-year course in performance and practice techniques using this model would include reflections and demonstrations of progress and learning outcomes for all music students and could also engage the students in the master’s programs in music therapy and community music in working with her to assess and comment on the student input. This would also provide helpful training for the graduate students for their future careers.
For Further Information
Associate Professor, Voice
Administrative Coordinator, Opera
Faculty of Music
Wilfrid Laurier University