The Virtual Classroom: Distance Learning for Music Educators

By James Frankel


            If you have been on the Internet lately, you have probably noticed the high number of advertisements for universities offering online degrees in everything from business administration to nursing.  All of the ads stress the ease and convenience of taking an online course ­ the joy of never leaving your home, the flexibility of being able to complete assignments in your ³free time², and the relatively short amount of time it takes to complete your degree.  The advertisements usually show really good-looking people smiling in front of a computer on their way to success. 

Before we get to online courses specifically geared for music educators, Iıd like to relate some of my personal experiences with online courses that might paint a more realistic picture than the advertisements do.

Recently I completed the requirements for the New Jersey Supervisors Certificate.  After completing my doctorate, I realized that I didnıt take one course that satisfied any of the requirements.  The last thing that I wanted to do was go back to school.  I registered for 6 credits at a university in New York, and 6 credits at the University of Phoenix Online.  I did a fair amount of research on whether the school was accredited (it is) and whether the State Department of Education would accept the credits (they did).  With that, I enrolled for two 3-credit courses in curriculum.

  I had taken a few online courses during my doctoral studies, and thought that, in general, they were far easier than traditional classes.  The usual format consisted of an asynchronous chat room ­ where each student posted comments, responses to questions, and completed assignments to a virtual bulletin board for all of the other students and the teacher to see.  There were usually one or two papers, as well as a handful of reading assignments. 

On the first day of class at the completely virtual University of Phoenix Online, I was expecting the same - an easy 6 credits for a minimal amount of effort. How wrong I was.  I can safely say that I have never worked so hard for 6 credits in my academic life.  I can also say that I learned more from these online courses than from many of the traditional courses I have taken in the past. Each 3-credit course took 6 very long weeks to complete. Every night, seven nights a week, I spent at least an hour posting responses and comments.  There were four major papers ­ one group paper and three individual.  There were 24 reading assignments.  It was intense.  My point is that online courses can be   excellent learning experiences, but do not think that they are any easier than traditional courses.

Aside from the many educational administration and other subject area courses that are online, there are a number of online courses for music educators that are   truly exceptional.  The following is a list of three such programs that are intended as graduate programs in music education.  While some institutions offer degrees completely online, others do require some courses to be taken on campus over the summer.  Either way, the online courses that follow offer music educators a way to get a masters degree in a much more convenient way than signing up for one 3-credit course per semester for 10 semesters complete with a two-mile trek up to the music building from the deepest corners of an abandoned mine shaft which has been converted into a makeshift student parking lot.


Required Equipment


            Before diving headfirst into the world of online education, there are a few basics that one needs to know in order to make the experience enjoyable.  The most important thing is having the right equipment.  The following is a list of suggested minimum requirements for both PC and Macintosh systems given by the Berklee College of Musicıs Online Program.



-Windows 98SE

-64 Megabytes of RAM or more

-800x600 color monitor

-Windows Sound Card

-At least 20MB of hard disk space

-Modem (preferably  DSL or Cable)



-Mac OS 9 or higher

-64 Megabytes of RAM or more

-800x600 color monitor

-At least 20MB of hard disk space

-Modem (preferably  DSL or Cable)



-One of the following Web Browsers:

Internet Explorer 5.5, Netscape Communicator 7, or AOL 7.0.

- Flash Player 6

- QuickTime Player 5

-Adobe Acrobat Reader 5

-Outlook Express

-Microsoft Word 2000.


Online Music Courses




Of all of the online music courses that I reviewed for this article, the ones offered by the Berklee College of Music are by far the best designed, most inexpensive, and most technology oriented.  While they do not offer a degree, they do offer continuing education credits (CEUs) that might be used to obtain additional credits above either a bachelors or masters degree (BA +30 or MA +30).   Before signing up for a course, make sure that your district accepts CEU credits.  CEU credits are different than college credits.  Berklee may offer college credits in the future, but at this time.  This is the only drawback to their program.

The courses that one can choose from include: MIDI Sequencing Basics, Music Theory 101, Desktop Music Publishing, Song Writing Techniques, Editing with Pro Tools, Finale for Composers and  Arrangers, and many, many more. Both Berklee College faculty and well-known technology experts teach the courses.  You can visit the website and browse through some of the courses ­ everything from the syllabus to the assignments by clicking on ³Explore the School² and then selecting the ³Sample Course² option.

The courses generally run 6 weeks in length, but there are 3, 10, and 12-week courses offered as well.  A typical 6-week course costs $395 while a 12-week course costs $695.  I highly recommend these courses even if you donıt need the credits.  They are very well thought out, and can teach you practically everything you need to know about how to use music technology.  You can then use that knowledge to utilize it in your classroom.


Duquesne University

Mary Pappert School of Music


            Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA has a very well respected music department with an excellent music education program.  The music technology program at Duquesne is nationally renowned with faculty members Bill and Lynn Purse. 

            The music department offers a Master of Music in Music Education Online.  The course was created by Dr. Judith Bowman who is the co-author of Applications of Research in Music Technology with longtime Tempo contributor William Berz.  This program offers students the opportunity to take 16 credits toward a 30-credit degree online.  The school does require that students take 14 credits on campus during the summer.  The courses offered online are as follows:

-Foundations of Music Education

-Psychology of Music Teaching and Learning

-Music Education Seminar

-Music Education Research

-Music History

-Music Theory

Students must take music technology and leadership courses on campus. 

            The online masters  program utilizes a well-known distance education program called WebCT that you may be familiar with.  This program allows the user to log in to a secure online  ³classroom² where they are able to read the course syllabus, retrieve readings and other assignments, and most importantly post comments and assignments on a public bulletin board.  All of the postings are archived so that they can be read at any time.  Students are encouraged to read each otherıs comments and post their reactions.  The discussion threads can easily get quite animated.  One of the best aspects of distance learning is that the students in the course are usually located around the country, and it is very interesting to share anecdotes and advice other music educators who are often in very different situations than your own. 

            It should be noted that this program is meant to be a complete masters program, so one must complete an application, be accepted, and make a commitment to attend the summer classes on campus.  For music educators with a hectic schedule during the year (who doesnıt have one?) this program offers a very convenient way to obtain a masters degree in as little as two years.


IUPUI School of Music


            The Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis may be a mouthful, but they offer a wonderful online program in music technology that leads to a Master of Science degree in Music Technology.  This program is completely online and takes three years to complete.  The courses offered are as follows:

-Foundations of Music Production

-Principles of Multimedia Technology

-Research Methods in Multimedia

Multimedia Design Applications

-Digital Sound Design

-Music Technology Methods in the Arts

            Similar to Duquesne, IUPUIıs program is based in Blackboard that is very similar to WebCT. Student interaction is much the same.  What makes this program different from all of the others is that it is completely online.  There are no on campus courses required.  Other than this fact, the masters program is very similar to any other.  There are the usual admissions requirements and performance expectations.  While I was not able to review any of the course syllabi during my research, I know that IUPUI has a very solid reputation in Music Technology with some outstanding faculty members. 


            Many music programs across the country offer online courses as a part of their masters programs.  The three programs that I have selected to discuss in this article have made serious commitments to using online education technology as a part of their programs.

Online education is quickly becoming one the Internetıs most successful applications.  Hundreds of thousands of individuals are enrolling in online courses.  Perhaps it is right for you.  While programs vary, you might find that an online degree is the best way to further your education.  As always, if you have questions, please feel free to email me, or visit my new website: