Reflections On Music Therapy Training Within E-learning Education Contexts
By Imogen Nicola Clark & Grace Anne Thompson
The rapid expansion of e-learning technology is transforming the availability and delivery of university education. In Australia, e-learning offers opportunities for students to study music therapy while living in remote locations across a vast country. Students enrolled in the Masters of Music Therapy at the University of Melbourne may choose traditional on-campus learning or blended learning, which involves a combination of face-to-face intensives and e-learning. This article focuses on blended learning with reflections from music therapy students and teachers at the University of Melbourne. A description of the music therapy program is provided with a detailed explanation of one subject to illustrate how e-learning is managed. Our experiences of teaching blended learning students are discussed, and we identify key challenges including teacher-student rapport, regular communication, student-to-student engagement, and user friendly on line learning tools. We then reflect on student feedback from an informal evaluation, and explain students’ experiences of collaborative learning, interaction with teaching staff, and staying on track with learning. In conclusion, we discuss the future of music therapy education over an online forum, taking into consideration challenges and advantages for students, teaching academics and learning institutions, and offer ideas from which future research projects might be developed.
Keywords: e-learning; blended learning; student feedback; music therapy training; curriculum; flexible delivery.
Information technology is rapidly transforming university teaching (Ramsden, 2003). The University of Melbourne’s (2014) Growing Esteem Green Paper articulates the direction of University learning, stating that “the future is a combination of wholly online and blended learning, linked to personal access to great teachers and shared learning experiences” (p. 19). While some might consider the promotion of online learning as a tactic aimed at increasing profit margins in an increasingly corporate model of education (Lewis, 2010), there are a variety of advantages and opportunities created by e-learning initiatives. For example, online and blended learning (a combination of online and intensive face-to-face teaching) provides education options for people who are geographically isolated, or whose social circumstances make living close to a university campus financially challenging (Dutton, Dutton, & Perry, 2001; Partridge, Ponting, & McCay, 2011). In particular, access to education for women and mature age students is improved through online and blended learning, as these platforms offer greater flexibility
In the past, distance learning models have left learners isolated and working on their own. Online learning technologies provide new opportunities for collaborative learning relevant to the development of professional skills in courses with a vocational focus (Francescato, Mebane, Porcelli, Attanasio, & Pulino, 2007). While few large studies exist exploring the learning outcomes of face-to-face compared to online learners in terms of professional skills, there is evidence to suggest that online learners perform equal to or better than those studying face-to-face (Francescato et al., 2007). However, the workshop-style learning approach typically adopted in music therapy training courses to develop therapeutic music skills (Murphy, 2007) may still not be adequately accommodated in a fully online learning course. Blended learning offers the flexibility to combine workshop-style face-to-face teaching delivered intensively on-campus with online learning. For courses that are vocationally focused and require students to demonstrate the acquisition of both knowledge and skill-based competencies, such as music therapy degrees, blended learning seems like a potential good fit.
As of 2015 in Australia, there are only two institutions offering music therapy training (master’s degrees only since 2006) across a vast country spanning some 4,000 km from east to west and 3,200 km from north to south (Australian Government, 2012). The options for studying music therapy are limited to the University of Melbourne and the University of Western Sydney, and students living outside of those cities and states would incur significant costs relocating. The cost of relocation for study has been a significant barrier for music therapy students over many years (Clark & Kranz, 1996), and blended learning offers a practical solution to current geographically dispersed learners. Drawing on our experiences as educators, and on feedback provided by some of our music therapy students from the blended learning cohort at The University of Melbourne, we reflect on our current blended learning pedagogy and our hopes for the future of music therapy education in Australia.
Music Therapy Course Structure at the University of Melbourne
The Masters of Music Therapy at The University of Melbourne is a 2-year full time course (four 12-week semesters). Students have the option of enrolling in either a traditional on-campus stream involving weekly classes, or the blended learning stream. Both streams follow a curriculum encompassing four areas, namely music therapy theory, skills, clinical practice, and research methods. Students in the blended learning stream complete theoretical subjects wholly online via asynchronous lecture capture and live webinars, and skills based and practical subjects through intensive face-to-face teaching supplemented by online learning tasks. Blended learning students therefore attend eight weeklong face-to-face intensives interspersed over the 2-year course.
In compliance with Australian registration requirements, all students complete 640 clinical hours over the 4 semesters. Both blended learning and on campus students receive direct supervision from qualified music therapists over the first three clinical placements. In the final placement, students are encouraged to create a new position for music therapy, with supervision provided by university teaching staff and an on site support person. Where possible, both blended learning and on campus students complete clinical placements close to their homes, but in remote locations where no supervisor is available, students must relocate for up to six weeks.
The blended learning option currently attracts students living across our vast Australian continent, which allows students the option of remaining in their hometowns rather than relocating. Our on campus students generally fit into two categories, those who live locally in Melbourne, and international students who relocate for study. Table 1 provides a snapshot of the student cohort at the University of Melbourne in 2014, which comprised 51 enrolled students, including 30 first-year students (17 on campus, 13 blended learning) and 21 second-year students (16 on campus, five blended learning). Figure 1 shows the distribution of blended learning students across Australia.
|Student cohort 2014||Total enrolment (n)||On-campus (n)||Blended learning (n)*|
|First-year||30 (FT = 23; PT = 7)||17 (Int = 4)#||13|
|Second-year||21 (FT = 18; PT = 3)||16 (Int = 3)##||5|
|Notes. FT = full time; PT = part time; Int = international.
*Blended learning students from New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, Northern Territory, and rural areas of Victoria;
#International students from Singapore, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Austria;
##International students from Singapore, China and Indonesia.
Blended learning is available to international students during their final semester (and therefore their final placement). To be eligible, international students must demonstrate high academic performance under close clinical supervision over the first 3 semesters as on campus students to ensure readiness for an independent clinical placement in their home country. Blended learning in the final semester offers international students an opportunity to adapt their Australian training experience to the cultural expectations of their local context. In 2014, two of the three international students took up this opportunity. Providing opportunities for international students to study as blended learning students in their final semester may assist them to focus on job creation and developing professional networks in their home country.
Music Therapy Training Challenges
Regardless of which study path students choose, the process of becoming a music therapist is challenging (Miller, 2012; Smyth & Edwards, 2009; Wheeler, 2002). Students entering music therapy have reported feeling overwhelmed and intimidated, and feared that their skills and competencies were inadequate (Smyth & Edwards, 2009; Wheeler, 2002). In particular, music therapy students face additional challenges associated with clinical placements including lack of familiarity with the clients and facilities, concern for clients, and apprehension that they may not be able to meet their clients needs (Wheeler, 2002).
The question of whether blended learning courses can provide an engaging cohort experience that supports music therapy students through these challenges is important for educators, and was one of our key concerns when offering music therapy training in this mode. Student engagement is regarded as a marker for quality teaching and learning that maximises learning potential, builds a sense of belonging, enriches inter-cultural experiences, and helps students to develop greater awareness and understanding of alternative perspectives (Arkoudis et al., 2010; Beer, Clark, & Jones, 2010). Fostering engagement amongst on-campus students and teachers is relatively straightforward with weekly face-to-face contact where students can discuss issues of concern, debrief about placement, and give and receive support. However, careful consideration was needed to foster similar student engagement with cohort experiences for blended learning students.
Fostering an Online Cohort Experience
When designing the blended learning mode of the music therapy degree, we considered that theoretically focused subjects could be delivered completely online, while skills-based and discussion focused subjects could be delivered during the intensive face-to-face study weeks, supplemented with online tasks. Table 2 provides a breakdown of the four subject streams delivered in each of the 4 semesters.
|Theoretical subjects||Music therapy skills subjects||Clinical placement subjects*||Research subjects|
|Delivery mode||Online delivery||Blended learning delivery (4 days intensive face-to-face teaching, plus online tasks)||Blended learning delivery (4 days intensive face-to-face teaching, plus online tasks)||Online delivery|
|* Students also complete clinical placements in addition to class time|
Applications of Music in Therapy A (Apps A), the first subject offered in the theoretical stream, is described here as an example of a fully online subject. This subject focuses on working with child clients, and students are introduced to four theoretical frameworks that may inform music therapy programs: humanistic, psychodynamic, behavioural, and ecological. Each week students are introduced to various clinical contexts (for example, special education, early intervention, acute hospital), and are set tasks that ask them to consider client needs, theoretical frameworks, goals and objectives, and designing music therapy programs.
Apps A learning tools and activities are designed so that they can be delivered via the University’s online platform, the “Learning Management System” (LMS). The learning materials created for the blended learning students on the LMS mirror the weekly 3-hour face-to-face seminars attended by the on campus students. In order to provide equivalent learning opportunities, the learning tools for both blended learning and on-campus student cohorts include the same 3 elements: (a) set readings, (b) a theoretical narrative involving a fictional scenario that aims to stimulate discussion about theoretical possibilities within a music therapy session, and (c) a case study presentation using video footage from real music therapy sessions and an accompanying learning task. For on-campus students, the learning tasks involve whole class discussions, small group tasks asking students to respond to a problem or anaylse an aspect of the case study or literature, and reflective activities where students consider their response to a given situation. These same weekly learning activities are presented over the LMS for the blended learning students. The subject teacher then replies to the students’ postings, highlighting important points made by the students, offering suggestions and probing questions for guidance, and to stimulate deeper thinking. These tasks focus on engagement and learning, and are not assessed. However, they are hurdle requirements in a similar way to class attendance expectations for on-campus students, and aim to prepare blended learning students for two assessed assignments in each semester. Figure 2 shows how the learning tasks are translated from on-campus to online.
Translating face-to-face engagement with online personal interaction is clearly challenging for blended learning students. Requiring students to work in pairs on the weekly learning tasks encourages personal contact between peers via Skype or other teleconferencing platforms. Teleconferencing appointments with the subject teacher are encouraged, and the intensive study weeks held twice each semester provide opportunities for face-to-face contact. Therefore, intensives combined with online interaction on the LMS offer different forums for interaction and cater for a variety of learning styles and social interaction preferences (Partridge et al., 2011).
Given the cultural diversity amongst our blended learning students in the final semester when international students may switch to this stream, there is potential to prepare our students for work in multicultural contexts. With this in mind, we offer frequent learning tasks that focus on multicultural agendas and promote the development of diverse perspectives and critical thinking. These learning tasks have the potential to benefit both international and Australian students alike (Arkoudis, 2006; Leask & Wallace, 2011). Where possible, students are encouraged to work with a peer from a different nationality or cultural background and to examine issues from multiple cultural perspectives.
Teaching Experiences and Strategies
As described by Biggs and Tang (2011), we find that teaching students online, while rewarding, can be more complex and requires greater time resources than traditional face-to-face teaching. Certainly, the growing range of educational technology allows us to engage students in more diverse ways. However, online teaching requires carefully considered planning, preparation and interaction with students. Since the blended learning stream commenced in 2010, we have identified some key challenges and reflected on the current strategies we use to deal with them.
Teacher-student rapport is important. Given the limited opportunities for incidental contact with blended learning students, we strive to prioritise actively developing rapport between teachers and students. Rapport is important so that students feel comfortable to contact teachers throughout the semester when the need arises. For this reason, the blended learning students commence the course with an intensive study week. This intensive includes daylong face-to-face seminars with subject coordinators, and informal music making activities at the end of the day allowing opportunities to build rapport. After meeting together face-to-face and getting to know each other, future online contact seems to flow more smoothly and comfortably.
Maintaining regular contact with students. Once students have returned to their various homes, we are aware of remaining strategic in our efforts to maintain online communication. Issues affecting day-to-day lives such as family and work can easily distract students who are learning online, and timely communication helps to keep study at the forefront. Consequently, we are in touch with students once or twice a week via the LMS and emails, often reiterating information over both forums. Inevitably, individual students require more personalised assistance and support from time to time, and in a sense, each student is encapsulated in their own learning environment. Rather than responding to a group of students in a scheduled class, we often need to address the learning and personal concerns of each student individually on a case-by-case basis as issues arise. As with any teaching plan, specified times need to be built into the weekly schedule. In this way, students become accustomed to the flow of the week and our availability as teachers. However, students are invariably confronted with issues that require prompt support, particularly when they are isolated by distance, and we recognise the need for flexibility and human connection.
Promoting student-to-student engagement online. While the LMS is a central and valuable tool for blended learning, it can be very confusing for new students. For this reason, the first intensive also includes seminars to help students navigate and make the most of the LMS. It is also important that students feel comfortable about engaging with one another online. The intensives aim to create a sense of community amongst the blended learning students so they feel comfortable about interaction over the LMS once they are back at home. While there are times when both the blended learning and on-campus cohorts combine during the intensive study days, most classes are divided into cohorts so that we can encourage group cohesion within the blended learning group. These classes include lots of discussion activities so students get to know one another first hand. Following the first intensive, we have discovered that it is common for blended learning students to create their own Facebook pages independently of teaching staff in order to promote regular communication.
Online resources need to be high quality and user friendly. As blended learning students rely on online materials, they must be clear, self-explanatory and feasible. Early on, we sought funding for assistance with curriculum design from our expert e-learning professional staff who have the technical skills and knowledge to assist educators to develop online experiences that support pedagogy. This expert assistance and mentoring was vital to our ability to deliver online curriculum, and for us to develop the level of technical skills we needed to keep the materials running smoothly each week.
Initially, it was difficult for us to determine how long the tasks we designed would take students to complete, and so timely feedback from students helped to shape the curriculum in the first year of the course. Online resources take time to develop, and adequate planning and development time must also be scheduled into the teaching week, as well as time for trouble shooting technical problems. As for face-to-face teaching, online learning materials are subject to ongoing evaluation and development.
As part of a paper we presented at the 2014 Music Therapy World Congress about our experiences with e-learning, we invited three full-time first year blended learning students to respond to three questions about the course:
- Can you talk about a situation involving collaborative learning with your peers?
- How has the course given you opportunities to interact with staff?
- What aspects of the course have helped you to keep on track with your learning?
The students were informed that we would share their responses at the World Congress and with our colleagues, and so we expected that these circumstances would likely bias the students towards making constructive comments. Nevertheless, the students’ perspectives are interesting and thought provoking, and clearly highlight the need for research in this area. Additionally, student feedback has been routinely collected from each of the five blended learning cohorts from 2010–2014 as part of standard teaching practice. Each year, this student feedback has helped us to make constructive changes and to reflect on our pedagogy, however this data is not presented as part of this discussion paper as consent was not given.
Two students recorded their responses to the three questions on video, and one emailed answers in a word document. We listened to, or read, each of the responses and transcribed these into a single word document. The students’ responses were transcribed and collated under each of the three question topics. Responses under the three topics were examined further, and swept into broad themes in order to help us reflect on student experiences. Table 3 shows each question topic, broad themes, and the students’ quotes. It was not our intention to complete a thematic analysis, but rather to organise the students’ responses in order to facilitate discussion and reflection.
For question one, collaborative learning, the following broad themes were identified: students gained broader perspectives and deepened their thinking; learning tasks actively promoted respectful collaboration; students helped one another and felt connected; working together increased cultural awareness; and students viewed collaboration and sharing as important future professional skills.
Responses to question two, interaction with staff, were grouped into the following broad themes: face-to-face time was valued; and contact with teaching staff was flexible, timely and dependable.
For question three, keeping on track with learning, the following broad themes were identified: the variety of e-learning tasks helped maintain engagement in learning; detailed, regular and personal feedback from teaching staff was valued; the technology supported learning and feeling connected; and weekly learning tasks supported deeper learning (Table 3).
|Question topic||Themes||Supporting quotes|
|Collaborative learning||Students gained broader perspectives and deepened their thinking||I got to work with 2 different people. Two of the experiences were very distinct from each other. There was one fellow student who had very different perspectives from my own. Working with this student… I was able to see into another perspective,… a perspective I would not have considered... Contrastingly,… I was able to work with someone who had quite similar beliefs and views to myself and … we were able to go much deeper into a particular topic and that was very beneficial for my personal learning (Student 1).
But there’s no way that we would have reached this stage of familiarity and real sense of community without our lecturers understanding the value of interpersonal learning. Having engaged with studies in several degrees, I think that this is something unique and exceptional and I think conducive to very deep learning experiences (Student 2).
|Collaborative learning||Learning tasks actively promoted respectful peer interaction||Initial contact… at a 4-day study intensive was vital for creating foundations for peer collaboration (Student 2).
Intensives involved plenty of conversations and collaborative practical tasks… The course has continued to foster these relationships (Student 2).
Despite living in a remote part of Australia, the nature of the learning tasks and assessments has really managed to involve me in peer collaboration on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis (Student 2).
|Collaborative learning||Students helped one another and felt connected.|| So now independent to our actual course requirements, I talk or chat on line to at least one other student every day about issues related to our studies and quite often as a larger group too sharing ideas and talking through different challenges (Student 2).
There have been several instances where I've had opportunities for collaborative learning with my peers, most of them on-campus during our intensives but also on our Facebook page. This being the first year for me, I find the amount of new information I'm being exposed to is phenomenal but I must say that collaborating with my peers is extremely helpful particularly as we share information, questions, comments and or criticisms in order to process the data into a format suited for my personal comprehension (Student 3)
|Collaborative learning||Students viewed collaboration and sharing as important future professional skills||I could see how it would be useful working collaboratively in academia in the future and I can understand how that benefits the development of music therapy itself (Student 1).|
|Interaction with staff||Face to face time was valued.||During intensives, we get to spend a bulk time with our teachers. Spending an intense amount of time with someone… it’s really nice to get an understanding of who they are, and for them to get an understanding of us as well (Student 1).
The human interaction despite distance has been particularly helpful in staying up to date with learning. I think that this really supports my own learning style, to know that I am engaging with real people every week as apposed to that isolation of going through research without discussion all alone (Student 2).
|Interaction with staff||Contact with teaching staff was flexible, timely and dependable||The flexibility of time has been wonderful with live video chat sessions happening and feedback on line being very clear. And I guess also sensitive to the slightly different needs of distance students (Student 2).|
|Keeping on track with learning||The variety of e-learning tasks helped maintain engagement in learning||I’ve felt that my teachers in this course have really recognised the need to provide distance students with a variety of methods for learning. And I guess that just because you’re an online student it doesn’t actually…it doesn’t necessarily mean that you learn best by working at a computer all the time or reading text and typing responses. The assessment formats in this course have really recognised this and I’ve experienced a real range of methods for learning despite the limitations of being a distance student (Student 2).
One situation in particular that I found quite effective was our group session on Self Care with Dr Grace. It was helpful to summarise the reading we had and present it into a song, the words of which I can still recall today (Student 3).
Each week, we’re asked to respond to weekly case studies and reading. The on campus students are able to discuss these in class, which is wonderful for them, but the unique thing for us is that we get to develop our writing skills (Student 1).
|Detailed, regular and personal feedback from teaching staff was valued||…discussion boards between staff and students, audio and video lecture material to supplement the readings and we’ve been asked to film ourselves for assessments and received wonderful feedback for this… as well as testing essays, reports and practical placements with music therapists in our own home towns (Student 2).
I think the most notable aspects of the course that has helped to keep me on track in my learning is regular and consistent format of the online work: e.g. the abstracts in Apps A and their corresponding readings, the comments, replies and general monitoring of my progress supplied by my lecturers via the LMS or email or phone calls as necessary and the preparation of the course material in sequences of weeks and topics (Student 3).
|The technology supported learning and feeling connected||Also, using the LMS in particular the blended learning section of the menu, as well as receiving regular emails or necessary phone calls from my lecturers, plus the Facebook page for the blended learning students, I am kept updated and in the loop as much as our fellow on campus students are. There isn't any information that I am without for too long before I am given it or referred to the right source to find it (Student 3).
Certainly the clarity of the student portal has also been fantastic and having an expectation of several small regular weekly tasks to complete in differing formats has also helped me to stay very connected with the online portal and therefore rarely miss a notification and know what’s going on all the time (Student 2).
|Weekly learning tasks supported deeper learning||This has been useful also for me in creating a schedule for me that has enough flexibility to, for example, care for young children during the day and study at night – or take my study with me when I travel for work. But…I guess at the same time as this flexibility the week-by-week structure of the course content ensures that I’m engaging with the learning process most days of the week. It’s not something that can really be done intensively at the last minute. And I think this structure along with the flexibility really supports a much deeper form of learning that’s very achievable for someone living remote (Student 2).|
Reflecting on the Student Feedback
Australia is a vast and sparsely populated country, and with only two music therapy-training courses as of 2015, blended learning offers an alternative to traditional on-campus environments and improves access to training. The student experiences captured in our informal questionnaire suggest that our teaching strategies are supporting students to feel connected and gain skills and knowledge. When asked to describe situations involving collaborative learning tasks with peers, students explained how these tasks broadened their perspectives and stimulated deeper thinking. They noted the way peers had challenged their ideas and helped them to gain new perspectives (Students 1 and 2). Student 1 reflected on two contrasting collaborative experiences, one with a peer “who had very different perspectives” that she would otherwise “not have considered,” and another who shared “similar beliefs and views” that helped her “to go deeper into a particular topic.” Student 2, living in a remote part of Australia who had experienced other on line courses before enrolling in music therapy as a blended learning student, noted the importance of feeling connected to other learners in her statement “there’s no way that we would have reached this stage of familiarity and real sense of community without our lecturers understanding the value of interpersonal learning.” These comments reflect the effectiveness of interactive teaching, which encourages stimulating discussion and argument amongst students both during and outside the class (Biggs & Tang, 2011).
In further responses to our question about collaborative learning, Student 2 described the role of learning tasks in promoting respectful peer interaction amongst students. This student found that face-to-face intensives were “vital for creating foundations for peer collaboration,” and further explained that “practical tasks,” both during intensives and on line, had continued to “foster these relationships” and create a “real sense of community.” It was heartening to hear that students were helping one another to feel connected through interaction outside the virtual and face-to-face classroom. Even though blended learning students seldom see one another and live thousands of miles apart, they appear to communicate regularly in online discussions about “issues related to… studies” (Student 2) and this helps them to “process…phenomenal [amounts of]…information” (student 3). The importance of strong relationships between students and creating a community of learners is identified by higher education teaching experts as best practice, noting that when students have established strong relationships with peers, they are able to support, motivate, and stimulate one another (Biggs & Tang, 2011). Smyth and Edwards’ (2009) study reported similar experiences in research with on campus music therapy students, describing how they had shared individual strengths to help one another overcome difficulties and challenges. Given the potential risk of isolation for students undertaking blended learning (Partridge et al., 2011), such supportive peer relationships have an important role to play. In addition, Student 1 recognised the value of collaboration as a professional skill beyond training that “benefits the development of music therapy itself.”
Students responded positively to our second question asking them how the course has given them opportunities to interact with staff. Student 1 recognised the benefits of “spend[ing]… bulk time with our teachers” during intensives, explaining, “it’s really nice to get an understanding of who they are, and for them to get an understanding of us as well.” It is perhaps not surprising that students valued human contact, even when they choose to study via blended learning. Student 2 notes, “the human interaction despite distance has been particularly helpful in staying up to date with learning. I think that this really supports my own learning style; to know that I am engaging with real people every week.” Student 2 also appreciated that teaching staff were available and flexible, and that there were a variety of ways to communicate including email, live video chat sessions, written feedback on the LMS, or after classes. These comments were reassuring to us as teachers, especially noting early research demonstrating that supportive teacher-student relationships help music therapy students to feel more confident during clinical placements, even when teachers are not physically present (Miller, 2012; Smyth & Edwards, 2009). Given potential barriers to student-teacher rapport with blended learning models (Partridge et al., 2011) it is perhaps even more important for teachers to actively work to establish and maintain effective communication.
In the third question, students recognised several mechanisms that helped them to keep on track with learning. Having a variety of learning tasks and assessments were highlighted as helping students to develop various skills and integrate learning. Different online learning activities that were acknowledged included writing abstracts for set reading (Student 1), responding to tasks via discussion boards (Students 2 and 3), and audio and video lecture material to supplement readings (Student 2). Students also acknowledged assessments including assignments where they were asked to film themselves performing practical music tasks, and clinical reports (Students 2 and 3). These students also appreciated the detailed feedback they received from learning activities and assessments, with Student 3 stating how “the comments, replies and general monitoring of my progress supplied by my lecturers via the LMS or email or phone calls as necessary” helped to keep her learning on track. Student 2 further noted the variety of learning activities and assessment as being particularly suited to students learning online. This student also valued the way learning activities on the LMS were structured to support work and family commitments. These comments suggest that blended learning can offer effective and formative feedback communicated in a constructive and timely manner; elements recognized as vital for higher education students (Boud, 2010; Hattie & Timperley, 2007) to promote proactive learning (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006).
Looking Towards The Future
Although informal, our student questionnaire suggests that blended learning can address a number of recommendations made by experts in university education (Biggs & Tang, 2011; Ramsden, 2003). Student comments indicated that opportunities for peer collaboration in small and larger group activities encouraged respectful interaction, broadening of perspectives, and stimulated critical thinking; all of which are elements noted as decidedly valuable in higher education learning (Biggs & Tang, 2011; Lanham & Zhou, 2003; Partridge et al., 2011). Further, this small group of students confirmed our holistic approach, where people orientated teaching methods come first and technology is a supporting tool rather than a focus (Goodyear & Ellis, 2008).
While students were aware that their responses would be presented to the broader music therapy community and therefore likely felt the need to make constructive comments, it is interesting to read about the aspects they valued and appreciated. In writing this paper, it became clear that there is very limited research currently available to describe students’ experiences of online and blended learning, particularly in courses with a strong vocational focus, and none to our knowledge exploring online music therapy training. In these changing times, further research into online and blended learning is needed to ensure the continuing success of the music therapy profession. For example, we are yet to understand the impact of online and blended learning on the professional experiences of those students compared to their traditionally trained on-campus peers.
Our experiences support the notion that quality music therapy training can be delivered via blended learning. However, the high amounts of teaching time required to deliver a course where students value and require individual and tailored feedback from their teachers poses real challenges in budgeting and possibilities for expansion. While in Australia, blended learning meets a practical need to offer training to geographically distributed learners both locally and to our Asia Pacific neighbours, the future of blended learning is still unclear. In reading the student responses, we are reminded of the work of leading university education experts (Biggs & Tang, 2011; Ramsden, 2003), who emphasise that educational success lies with the human face of teaching rather than the brightest and newest forms of technology.
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