World Music on the World Wide Web: Web Authoring as an Alternative to Term Papers

by Dr. James Frankel

 

            Two years ago, I began teaching a world music course to 8th graders at the middle school where I teach.  In order to get materials for my students, I did a great deal of research on the internet about 32 different cultures, representing each continent.  The amount of work was awesome.  Searching and downloading for hours to create course materials.  The culminating project at the end of the quarter was a written report about a culture that makes up each studentsı family background.  The report was two pages long and included a picture of the countryıs flag, most popular instrument and people dressed in traditional costume.  After receiving term paper after term paper that were quite frankly rather dull and tedious to read through,  I realized that I was short changing my students with such a traditional form of assessment.            The purpose of this project is to have students explore their own ethnic heritage through creating a website that describes the history, culture and music of their family background.   In my teaching experience, I have noticed that there is a serious lack of material available for music educators in regard to teaching world music.  While there are some exceptional texts about world music, there is very little aimed at teaching it at the middle school level.  The material that is available that is specifically geared for that age level, treats the subject area quite lightly with very little attention to the history and culture.  For example, one text talks about the music of Africa in five short paragraphs with one hand drawn picture of a ³native² playing a drum.     

    My middle school is quite techno-minded.  We currently have 40 G4 Power Macs in our computer labs, and each classroom has at least one G3 Power Mac.  All classrooms are wired through a centrally based T1 connection to the internet.  The students learn web authoring in sixth grade using Adobe PageMill under the guidance of our outstanding computer technology teacher, Mrs. Randy Freedman.  This emphasis on technology made the suggestion of this project easily manageable.  But why the web over a traditional term paper? 

            The advantages of a web page over a written paper are numerous.  Here are but a few: students can include as many color images as they wish as opposed to just a few; students can include audio recordings of representative works from their specific culture; students can include video images of people dancing and making music, students can create hyperlinks throughout the text of their pages that connect to related websites.  The power of the internet and web authoring is that it is only limited by imagination.

 

Outline of Curriculum Unit

 

            About six weeks in to the course students are presented with the following outline for the website project:

 

Website Final Project

 

            Now that we are a few weeks in to the course and you have an idea of what are the important facets of each cultureıs music (history, culture, dance, instruments), you should begin thinking about the cultures that are represented in your family.  Ask your parents about your heritage if you do not already know.  Choose a country from which your parents are from and think about the following questions:

What is the name of the country?

Where is it located?

What language is spoken there?

What is the name of the currency they use?

What does their flag look like?

What type of government do they have?

Trace the history of the country.  Were they ever ruled by another country? Have other cultures influenced theirs?  Have they ever been involved in a war?

What type of food do they eat?

What products are they known for?

What types of jobs do people have in the country?  Are they primarily farmers?  business people?  craftsmen?

What types of instruments are used in the folk music of that country?

How does the folk music relate to the history of the country?

Are the instruments used related to another country?

What types of dances are typical of the culture?

Are there any special holidays specific to the culture?

How does the folk music sound?

What does the popular music of that country sound like?  Is it like ours?

What makes you proud about being from that country?

Why did your ancestors move to America?

What is one thing about your culture that you would like to see as a part of ours?

            There are a lot of deep questions here.  Think about them.  Ask your parents or grandparents about your culture.  Once you have thought about the 20 questions listed above, develop an outline for a website that will portray your countryıs music for all to see.  You will develop a website that will be attached to the school website.  Think about the layout of the site.  Think about links.  Think about using images, video and sound clips.  Submit your outline for approval so you can begin creating your site. 

 

Research Begins         

            Two weeks after this handout is distributed, students will be scheduled in to one of our computer labs for a one week block so that they can begin researching their heritage.  I will help the students out with some searching tips for searching the web.  I will tell the students to just put in the name of the country they are researching.  Perhaps even adding the word ³music² to their search.  Students will then need to pour through countless sites which contain the name of their country, many having little to do with music, culture or history.  Students will need to act as their own filter of what is valuable and what is not.   There are numerous sites on tourism of the different countries, and these are some of the best sites for pictures and even videos.  Again, students need to be aware that these are usually commercial sites with profit on their minds.  When a student enters ³Israel Music² into a search engine, they will find many commercial music websites selling Israeli music.  Many of these sites are strictly popular music and contain no resources on the history and culture or folk music for that matter.   Again, students need to discern what is valuable on them.  The best sites that I have found on the web for the music, culture and history of different countries are usually produced by college and graduate students around the country.  By adding .edu to the search, students can refine their results dramatically.  This would be one of the searching tips that would also be related to the students.  It would, of course, be wonderful if the students could find that out for themselves. 

            Once the students start finding some relevant websites about their countries, the next step will be for them to determine which are valuable and which are not.  The assignment for the students after the first day of research in the lab will be to show their parents what they have found on the web at home.  Having their parents serve as secondary filters of information will not only be valuable for the student, the interaction of parent and child using the web might foster a discussion about their culture or even about using the internet for research in general. While it is certainly true that there is a fair share of garbage on the internet, there is also a vast amount of valuable information.  Just because itıs published on the net doesnıt make it a reliable source.  Is it a .com, .edu or a .org?  Does that make a difference.  These are certainly things to consider whenever teachers assign a web research project.  Students will save their research and the various audio and visual images they have found in their personal folders that are on the school server.  The teacher will check the progress of the students research in order to know when to proceed to the next step, design.

 

Designing the Site

            Students have several tasks to complete in order to achieve a well designed website.  These include finding the various forms of media discussed earlier to best illustrate their culture.   Once students find this material on the web, as well as text-based information, students will begin

thinking about the design of the site.   Using the web evaluation form that I used to evaluate different websites, students will spend a class period looking at different websites about the music of their country and critically analyze the structure and design of the site.  They will answer quest    ions concerning the layout, organization, navigation and the overall ³look² of the site.  They will articulate what they think makes a good site, and a bad one.  After critiquing a few sites, students will open the organizational software Inspiration to create their site hierarchy trees.  Students will then save their hierarchy trees to their personal folders.  The teacher will then check to make sure that each student has completed their research and design for their site.

 

Specifications for Website

            The following is the handout that students will receive prior to their creating the actual website.  This handout also includes the grading procedure.

 

Expectations for World Music Website

            Now that you have done some research and design for your final website project, itıs time to know exactly what I expect from your website.  The most important expectation is to completely avoid plagiarism.  You are welcome to paraphrase the information that you find on the internet, but remember, if you found it, so can I. Remember to focus on the 20 questions that were distributed on the last handout.  Use them as a guide for what to talk about in the text portion of your site.  If you find other interesting information contained on one of the sites you found, by all means include it, just donıt copy it word for word.  Enough said.

Here are the requirements for an A:

Answer the 20 questions.

Include images that illustrate the text, the more the better.

Create at least 10 hyperlinks embedded into the text for further exploration.

Include at least one audio example.

Site can be made up of numerous pages or one continuous cascading page.  If you choose to cascade, be sure to include a menu or navigation tool at the top of the page so that users do not need to scroll through all of the information.

Create a clear navigation system.

Create a links page to other exemplary websites on your topic.

Use tables to organize your information

Create frames if you know how.

Test the site. 

Make sure it works. 

What browser plug-ins are required? 

Be sure to include links to download any that might not be available to the user. 

To receive a grade lower than an A, you will have to leave out some of items 1 through 7.  Items 8, 9 and 10 are optional.  The more you leave out, the lower your grade.  Remember, this is a project that is intended for you to learn more about your familyıs history, culture and music.  Creating a website is just applying your existing knowledge to create something that many people will see and learn from.

 

Creation of Website

            Once the students have submitted a design that meets the requirements, they will begin to create their sites.  Using Adobe PageMill, they will spend the next week in the computer lab actually constructing their sites.  The teacher and the computer lab administrator will monitor student progress and help with technical as well as design questions.  Once the students have created their sites, they will use the FTP program Fetch, which they are all familiar with, to publish their sites to the school website.  Their sites will be located in the music portion of the site.  While the size of their websites is certainly a concern, especially when they contain video and audio, our school server space is immense and should not pose a problem.

 

Presentation of Final Projects

            Once all of the sites are up on the internet, the students will present their projects to the class, much as they would if they were presenting their written reports orally.  Students will not discuss how they created the websites at all.  Here, the media is not the message, the content is.  Students will present their cultures to the class and give a tour of their site and what kinds of artifacts it contains.  Students will also assess each others work using both the 20 questions from the first handout, and the expectations handout as a scoring rubric.  They can comment on the design of the site as well.  The teacher will also use both handouts as a rubric.  Students will be graded on both their research and their website development, with more weight on research.

 

Implementation

            Before entering the computer lab to begin working on their websites, the students had submitted their overall design of their website and had done research on their own to answer the questions that were distributed.  Research and design is a time consuming process, time which we simply did not have in the computer lab.  When the students arrived at the computer lab, they were well prepared for the task at hand.

            On Monday, October 10th 2001, the students in the 8th Grade General Music Class went to the computer lab in our school for a brief review on using Adobe PageMill to create web pages.  The students reviewed how to create backgrounds, tables, links to other pages within the website, links to other pages on the Internet, inserting pictures, clip art, video and sound.  On Tuesday, the students created the basic structure of their websites and made sure that the links within their site worked.  Students also created their home pages and the navigational menus.  Both the computer teacher and myself assisted students by answering any questions they might have had about the technical aspects of website design and construction.  The students had very few problems with the technical aspects of the project.  Most had questions about where to find reliable information and pictures on the Internet.

            On Wednesday, the students began to fill in the rest of their websites with the answers to the questions they were given previously.  They also began to include the various images and sounds that they were able to locate on the Internet.  Thursday was spent refining their websites and testing them in both Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator for browser conflicts.  Finally, on Friday, the students uploaded their completed websites to the school server.  This can be a time consuming process if the websites are not well organized, but the students did a great job designing their websites so it was quite easy.  By the end of class, all of the websites were up and running on our school website. 

 

Results

            Overall, the results of this assessment project were excellent.  The students expressed their enjoyment of completing such a project, which serves as an alternative to the traditional term paper.  Almost all of the students had little to no difficulty in designing and building their websites.  Those students who expressed some concern about the technical aspects of the project were paired with students who felt comfortable with the technology involved.  In my Period 4 class I had 18 students who completed 10 website projects.  In my Period 5 class, I had 18 students who completed 12 website projects.  The scoring of the projects can be broken down as follows:  11 groups received a score of A, 6  groups received a score of A-, 4 groups received a score of B+, and 1 group received a score of C+.  It should be noted that my particular school does not award A+ to any student work, in any subject area.

            Of the 17 groups that received a score of A or A-, each website was well designed and executed.  The groups that received and A- did not include enough information about the culture of their particular country.  The students agreed with the score they received because of the clearly delineated scoring rubric.  The 4 groups that received a score of B+ had varying reasons for a lower score.  Two groups did not include any audio examples, which was one of the mandatory requirements of the project.  One group included very little information about the music of their chosen country although the rest of the information on their website was complete.  The remaining group received a B+ because they did not include any links to other relevant websites, which was a  a mandatory requirement of the project.  The group that received a score of C+ included very little information about the history and culture of their chosen country.

 

Evaluation of Project

            This project involved a great deal of logistical planning on the part of the teacher, including making arrangements for computer lab time, and extensive research on what was available to the students online before assigning them the project.  As stated earlier, there is a great deal of information on the Internet, only a small percentage of which is actually reliable.  In order to ensure that the students had a positive experience with a strong opportunity for success, it was necessary to do a great deal of online research outside of class.  I also researched other student created websites, especially those created by the students of Dr. Cecilia Wong, who teaches at the University of Kentucky and includes this activity as part of her curriculum for a class she teaches which focuses on teaching world music.

            It is certainly easier to assign students a term paper with a list of requirements, than to assign them a website project.  There is little, if any, work that the teacher needs to complete while the students are in the research and writing process.  The major time aspect in such an assessment project is actually reading the student work.  This time factor does not disappear when assigning a website project.  In fact, grading the student work on a website takes far more time than grading a traditional term paper.  However, in talking to the students after completing the project, all of the students  felt that completing a website in place of term paper was far more interesting to them.  Many also commented that they liked using the knowledge that they had on computers in a different subject area.  The other factor about the project that most of the students enjoyed was that their work was included on the school website for their families and friends to see.  Usually with term papers, my experience is that they throw their work in the garbage as soon as they receive their grade.  With the website, their work is displayed on a very large and public ³refrigerator².

            I strongly believe that the extra effort and time involved in developing and administering this assessment project is well worth it.  For the first time in the 9 years I have been teaching general music, my students were actually excited about completing a final term project.  The administrators in my building as well as the Superintendent of Schools were delighted with the results, noting that it was good to see that the technology in the school was being put to good use.  I plan on administering this assessment project as part of my permanent general music curriculum, and I would recommend other general music teachers do the same, or at least explore the possibility of doing so.  If you would like to see the final results, log on to www.franklinlakes.k12.nj.us.  Let me know what you think.