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With online databases, students and faculty “have access to more content than they think”

As the demand for remote access to content grows, ProQuest has created a comprehensive set of programs that help institutions quickly transition to online-only environments.

We recently spoke with library staff and faculty at the Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory at Berklee for a deeper understanding of how online databases and e-resources like digital music scores, have simplified the sudden shift to remote learning and have contributed to student success.

How e-resources eased the transition to online-only teaching and learning

When the campuses at the Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory at Berklee were forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty and librarians rushed to find ways of providing students access to required materials in an online-only research and learning environment.

In some cases, this meant scrambling to track down and scan hard copies of resources like books and scholarly articles. But, more often, according to Brendan Higgins, Faculty Liaison and Outreach Librarian at the institution, it meant reminding faculty about the wealth of information available in online databases like Music and Dance Online, which includes the digital Classical Scores Library.

For Higgins, who is equally passionate about music and research, one of the most satisfying parts of his job is locating the resources students and faculty seek. Sometimes the process takes a bit of tenacious detective work; but other times, Higgins can quickly point to the materials, and provide them in a way that can be easily used.

When one faculty member urgently needed to provide students with music scores for a music composition class, Higgins said “I was able to find [digital versions] of a Mahler score and a Benjamin Britten score in the Classical Scores Library that day and send them to her. I was also able to embed the links into her reserve listing and she could take those links and put them into her online course.”

“I think there are a few faculty that forget that not everything is in physical form and a few of them are dealing with this thought ‘there’s nothing online so I have to figure this out myself,’ he continued. “It’s nice to be able to say ‘don’t forget, I’m here to help you find that, and you actually have access to a lot more than you think.”

Rebecca Marchand, professor of core music studies in music history at the Conservatory, also described how digital music scores from ProQuest simplified the transition to online teaching and learning for her students and herself. “I really appreciate the access and page navigation in Music and Dance Online: Classical Scores Library, because it encourages the students to browse a score the same way they might with a hard copy score in the library,” she explained.

“The navigation sidebar is incredibly helpful (and the annotation/clip feature is a huge boon--particularly for asynchronous work. I have the ability to highlight exactly what I need a student to notice (or watch, in the case of a video),” Marchand added.

In a Masters’ course she teaches on writing about music, one of the most critical topics is the “authority” of resources, including music scores. “I try to make sure my students know that ‘authority’ means that not all sources are created equal and that interrogating a source is as important as using a source,” she said.

When evaluating resources, Marchand noted “it is helpful to have clean scans of published (and recent) scores, with all front matter represented.”

Challenges and unexpected benefits of teaching and learning online

The challenges of a sudden shift to online teaching and learning and planning for a more flexible future learning environment, extend beyond locating and providing access to essential resources. Higgins described how the lack of face-to-face interaction inhibits in the moment feedback from students to know if they are grasping a concept, and it can deter the kinds of spontaneous conversations and requests that would find him when he was physically behind the reference desk.

Technology has been able to ease some of these obstacles. For Higgins, teaching classes on Zoom and being able to see students on video can be helpful, and the library has activated a live chat service so staff can interact with students and faculty in real time to help them in the moment.

And solutions for other challenges are still being figured out. For example, some courses require hands-on learning, such as music production where students need to be able to manipulate audio on mixing consoles. In a hybrid environment, where classes are partly held on-campus and partly online, campus spaces need reconfiguration to accommodate social distancing and ensure the safety of students and faculty.

On the other hand, some faculty like Marchand discovered unexpected advantages in having to adapt to a new way of teaching, particularly when it came to helping students learn how to access and navigate online resources.

“In the face-to-face classroom, I was somewhat limited by projecting my screen and showing students how to use a database,” she explained. “If they had laptops, I would often ask them to follow along, but then I had to go from desk to desk to address individual issues.”

 “In online classes, screen sharing has made this whole process much more efficient,” she said, describing a situation where she had a student share their screen to demonstrate searching the database while students offered suggestions. It was a great opportunity to encourage engagement and have students learn from each other. Plus, Marchand added, “The time saved by not having to use an in-room computer/projector was actually rather significant.”

Marchand also discussed working with a student this summer who struggled to find any sources related to her topic.

“In a private meeting, I asked her to share her screen so I could watch her process. It turned out the problem was threefold: inappropriate database, unspecific search terms and a lack of filters/operators. We were able to discuss all three of these issues briefly and she was then able to try different searches applying that information,” Marchand recalled.

“In fifteen minutes, she had a list of helpful resources.”

Studying music in a time of COVID-19

Another challenge is helping music students adapt to an environment where opportunities for practice and performance, once top priorities, are suddenly unavailable. But even here, Higgins pointed out how these challenges can help students dig deeper into their learning and explore other aspects of their education.

“One of the hardest things to teach in music schools, especially conservatories, is the value of everything you learn in terms of music – of entrepreneurship, of learning about different styles of music, of being collaborative and creative – because students are focused on practicing and making music,” he said.

“And while there is huge fulfillment in performing a recital, music education is really steering toward a more holistic, diverse education. But if a student is being pushed to focus only on practice, that’s really asking a lot of them,” Higgins explained.

“But now there is more time to develop a broader understanding of music and culture, and to explore other doorways that might open in the research process. For example, taking the time to explore metadata attached to streaming music on a database might introduce a student to a previously [to them] unknown musician that can lead down an unexpected path.”

Marchand shared similar thoughts and observations. “I remember that my advisor in undergrad always told me that I should listen to as much music as possible,” she recalled. “There never seemed to be time to do so, between practicing and doing work for classes. I think there is an opportunity to give students more agency and investment in music research and repertoire building.

“Well-crafted online databases, with easy-to-use interfaces, are a huge boon to invigorating a student's own exploration of repertoire. In music teaching there is a lot of instructor-selected repertoire, but I think now is a time, for various reasons, to allow students the opportunity to explore these databases, not just for specific projects, but in terms of becoming more knowledgeable musicians.”

Access music scores electronically

Whether they’re focused on conducting and performance, theory, composition or music history, music students and faculty need access to a wide range of scores. ProQuest has established a digital Music Scores Program to support music researchers and students who rely heavily on print editions. Music Online Classical Scores Library (Volumes I - IV) offers the largest and most authoritative resource of in-copyright scores to support teaching and research in classical music.

ProQuest wants to help librarians support digital music studies -- whether online, on campus or a blend of both. Contact your ProQuest representative for special offers on Music Online Classical Scores Library (Volumes I - IV) now, including over 50,000 online sheet music titles with very special pricing.

Learn more about Digital Music Scores and other unique E-Now programs from ProQuest. Our experts will work with you to prioritize the conversion of digital content based on your institution’s curriculum and research activity.

23 Jul 2020

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