Monthly Archives: March 2009

iPhone Ocarinas and Orchestras

Here’s a lovely piece of video from Stanford University. It shows how the iPhone can be used as an ensemble instrument. I particularly liked the Ocarina instrument which utilises the microphone input as a wind controller. The best bit, for me, was when Ge Wang showed us how users could access music created by others using the instrument from around the world. Great stuff:


Thanks to my MMU colleague -  Clive McGoun, I’ve been exploring the Commentariat theme for WordPress. This is a theme designed to allow collaborative reading and commenting on a document. I’ve put up a sub-portal of this site where you can see it in action with a short paper I wrote for NAME last year about teaching talented music students. I’d welcome your feedback or comments about the theme and its potential as a learning tool. I’m thinking of using it with students on the courses I teach next year. I think it has a lot of potential.

Content of the new primary curriculum leaked

The contents of the new primary curriculum have been leaked to a UK national newspaper. Reports in The Guardian today outline the shape of the new curriculum and a series of quite radical proposals which amount to the biggest shake up of education in this sector for over a decade. Given the recent changes at KS3, it was no surprise to read that schools will be given a much greater degree of flexibility over curriculum content than they currently have.

Working Together

It was interesting to read Mike Blamires’ report on the new Government reform of public services – Working Together. He comments that ‘the new policy is underpinned by a model of public involvement in the evaluation of services that the report likens to the feedback on websites such as Amazon and eBay. Choice and Personalisation for users of services are also emphasised whilst proposing greater professional autonomy for some service providers in shaping provision to meet local needs’.

Mike explores some of the implications of this for schools, before turning his attention to the world of intial teacher education. Here, he summarises some of the main proposals:

  • Increase, on a yearly basis, the number and proportion of students taking places with top rated (Category A) universities and other training providers;
  • TDA will “design a diagnostic tool to systematically screen applicants for skills including empathy, communication and resilience, and pilot it with a range of Initial Teacher Training providers, for possible national roll-out to all providers”;
  • Roll-out the new Masters in Teaching and Learning (MTL) programme with the target of between 4,000 and 5,000 teachers participating in 2009/10, as the next step to the ambition to make teaching a Masters level profession;
  • Develop a new fast-track route for career switchers and graduates moving into teaching – taking six rather than the current 12 months to complete. This will be developed as an option alongside the one year PGCE and the Graduate Teacher Programmes.

Thanks for this helpful summary Mike. As with all Government policy at the moment, it is helpful to remember that there is a general election looming. Failure at the polls, will mean these that the majority of these proposals will never see the light of day.

Improvising Machines

As part of our research group at MMU, we were asked to think about some interesting reading which could form the basis for a reading group. My thoughts returned to a paper by my friend and colleague John Bowers – Improvising Machines. You can download it from here.

This paper explores issues related to the improvisation of electro-acoustic music from musicological, aesthetic, practical and technical design standpoints. It contains three chapters. Chapter 1 is a survey of what it means to be an improvising musician. John traces back into musical history and gives his own take on how the performance practice of electro-acoustic musicians has evolved.

Chapter 2 contains an lively account of various musical performances John has given in Ipswich, Stockholm, London and Norwich. He reflects of these through his ethnographic account and draws some interesting issues together at the end of the chapter. This would also be good reading to understand John’s own artistic practices and how these have informed his design principles.

In Chapter 3 John writes about the human-computer interface within his work as an improvising musician. He argues that principles of ethographically-informed design should inform the development of new instruments (tools) for improvisatory practice. The middle part of the chapter is fairly technical but persevere here. Some of the audio accompanying this can be found at for those that are interested.

I believe that John is one of the most interesting and provocative thinkers in respect of musical practices with new technologies. But his paper raises issues for many of us engaged in education. It informs questions such as:

How can the design of educational tools (in the widest sense) be informed by, and built on, processes of ethonographically informed design? and:

Within artistic practices (and I’d included teaching within this), how can an ethonographic approach to the documentation of human/computer interaction help us produce examples of effective practice and facilitate the building of these skills in our own work and those of our students?

I’ll leave it with you to see what you make of it! Happy reading.

Is it April 1st?

I couldn’t quite believe what I read on the BBC website this morning. The UK Government is planning to introduce a scheme to halve the amount of time it takes to qualify as a teacher from 1 year to 6 months. According to Liam Bryne, the Cabinet Office Minister, this scheme will be for “good people” with life experience behind them”. He went on to say that:

“We know there are a lot of fantastic mathematicians, for example, who would have once perhaps gone into the City but now actually might be more interested in a career in teaching. What we have to do is make sure the very best people are able to get into a classroom as quickly as possible”.

In other words, in this case the words of ATL’s General Secretary, “It sounds like an employment scheme for unemployed bankers”.

I’m struggling to think of a more ill-informed policy. Even by the Government’s own proposed agenda for teaching it makes no sense. For example, how does it equate to their desire to make teaching a graduate, Masters-level profession? Completing a PGCE (which takes 9 months not a year anyway) is a hard enough process anyway, particularly when it relates to a M-level course like those on offer at MMU. I was also wondering whether the Government had consulted with the universities who provide much of this training. As of today, there was nothing on the UCET website about this. I don’t think that any university would be prepared to compromise their academic award (i.e the PGCE component of ITE, not the QTS bit) in this way.

On a personal note, I have spent countless hours in recent years designing new courses to help students achieve QTS. What has been the one unmovable statute from the TDA‘s perspective in these course design? 120 days school experience throughout the year. On reflection, perhaps this isn’t a bad think. It takes time to develop the skills required to be a teacher. It is not just about being a good mathematician or musician. It is about a professional relationship with young people, about an empathy with their learning processes and, fundamentally, about the development of sophisticated teaching skills/techniques, and an accompanying understanding, which supports and facilitates their learning.

I know it’s not April 1st. But this proposal is a worrying development. Unfortunately, sending ex-bankers into the classroom ill-prepared is not just going to be bad for them. It will damage the opportunities of the young people they end up teaching. Our young people deserve a lot better than that.


Here’s a visualisation of this blog curteousy of Wordle. Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.

Introductory guide to Audacity

I know that many of my students use Audacity with their classes. If you want a basic introductory guide, why not have a look at Tim Brook’s workbook that you can download from here. If you want something more interactive, sells Audacity Interactive which is an interactive guide to Audacity containing 20 movies that illustrate the various simple and more advanced things that you can do with this piece of software. You can order it here.