To many teachers who are involved with the daily instruction of college students in Electronic Music Labs some of the suggestions in this article may be "old hat." It is precisely the reason this article needs to be written, and rewritten! The next time you walk in and find a speaker blown ($300-500 a shot), your hard drive missing large amounts of data, or a synth--full of coffee, you can think about the suggestions I am making here. Do yourself a favor--- help save your equipment and better educate your students---------read on.
Students entering college-level electronic music courses have a wide variety of backgrounds. Some know more than you!! (or sometimes think so) Others are lucky if they can find the switch to turn on the computer. A WIDE variety of basic computer operations knowledge is also apparent. You may assume that each student has a comprehension of simple computer basics and will be startled to discover that nothing of the sort exists!! How do you teach sequencing, notation, and sampling if the student cannot operate your lab platform? The following suggestions are developed, and based on five semesters of experience as both a neophyte entering the electronic music program at Penn State, and as a veteran leaving it with postdoctoral study concluded. My experiences are not atypical, and my suggestions may be common sense but they are based on reality and things I have seen and experienced and will help eliminate "fires" before they start.
Determine what you want the students to know BEFORE they touch the equipment in the lab and TEST them as to their competencies. Do they knowhow to work with the operating platform?? Ascertain what their background is and compare it to what you expect. Write out your initial requirements and see that they are implemented. You will be doing your students a favor as they will waste a lot of time for themselves and perhaps damage work of others if they do not understand basic information needed for utilizing your system. This is especially true if the entering student is used to working with another platform and has to transfer to a foreign country (PC/Mac). It may be wise to devote several sessions to basic computer usage, and if you have a very "green" group, you should access software or video introduction packages that are available for beginning students needing to understand operating platform basics. Does your college require a basic computer literacy course? Find out! Have your students taken this? If not, then in is not unreasonable to require such a course before they signup for an electronic music offering.
Spelled out in writing, the following will save a lot of headaches. Some suggestions:
It has to be developed!!! It has to be updated!! It has to be composed of information that each student must have. It must be assumed that each person is NOT familiar with the equipment both hardware or software. It can be on computer or in hard copy---I recommend both! Each student should have a hard copy version!! The hardcopy version should use a spiralbacking or three-holed liner so pages can be added as it is developed. You may wish to put the Lab Manual on the computer, however my feeling is that having an overview of the project in the hands of the student BEFORE entering the Lab is vital, so the project project can be thought through. My feeling is the student who enters a lab and spends his/her two hours reading "push the green button and then pull the red slider" and then doing it with out prior study is wasting a lot of time and will not develop a conceptual OVERVIEW of what is being accomplished. What should be in it?
A security ID doorlock system, using a swipe card, may look like a large initial expense however it does much is saving the time and bother of those keeping the keys should a traditional key access be utilized. It also allows for identification of those entering and leaving the lab at all times. If it is implemented properly it also allows for extended hour usage should you lab be placed where it can be accessed by those entering a universally secure/available main door. Obviously glitches can occur if students leave their friends in by providing access to their personal ID cards. Many colleges have personal ID numbers for access to individual computers within the system. You may wish to continue this on your system as it will again provide an additional measure of accountability for what occurs during the time the lab is utilized by the student. An alarm system with a delay is also possible--should the door be left open for a certain number of seconds an alarm will sound, and be recorder on the security device monitoring lab activity. This may seem like a lot of "cops and robbers" but it makes the individuals utilizing the Lab more conscious of their activities and will put others on alert should someone think about having one of your synths and that nice ADAT as part of their home studio.
All of the above is useless without communication. Lab users must be not only initially aware of the procedures to be followed but continually aware and accountable should problems occur. Whether procedures for sanction include: removal of privileges for a period of time, outright exclusion from equipment usage, or, some "variation on the theme" this information must be made known in advance. It is also important to repeatedly emphasize correct Lab procedures as students tend to become over confident and sometimes get sloppy. It must be continually stressed that damaged equipment or other malfunction can result in "down time" not only for the perpetrator, but for all who use the equipment. With the current cost of technology and the limited funds available to departments, this can be a tragedy to all concerned.
You will alleviate a lot of problems, save your equipment, and make your students more aware of their performance in the Lab. You will also make your courses more valuable as to practicality and usefulness as your students take not only knowledge of the materials you present with them, but also an initiation as to ways for implementation when they are faced with the situation as instructors.
Dr. Fred Kersten returned to Penn State years back to study Music Technology. He is a veteran of many years of teaching public school music. Fred started with the very basics of computer usage and has been working with digital audio and video in addition to burning his own arrangements for recorder on CD. He has continued over the years working with music technology and making presentations for ATMI, TI:ME and MENC. You can reach Dr. Kersten and view his work at his web site.