Global Collaboration in the Music Classroom

Global and cultural competencies are going to become increasingly important as the world continues to globalize, and schools and districts across the country are beginning to work to address this need. On a large scale, paradigms must be re-imagined–but what can teachers do in their own classrooms to get started? Here, we share the story of a teacher who brought global collaboration to her music classroom.

By Angela Lau

During the four years I’ve been teaching music to first- through fifth-graders at Branksome Hall Asia, a private international school for girls in South Korea, I’ve been exploring opportunities for students to collaborate and connect creatively beyond traditional classroom boundaries. One of the questions that intrigued me was: What is the future of interacting in the classroom and what could happen if students and teachers were collaborating and creating with those from the other side of the world?

In 2016, I became involved with the New York University Music Experience Design Lab, where I had the opportunity to work with some amazing educators, developers, designers and researchers who were passionate about creating new experiences for music-making, learning and engagement. While working on my Masters, the Lab became a creative space where I could experiment with the newest ideas in design and music learning. It also completely expanded my views on technology, and how new upcoming technology relates to music education.

Capturing Sounds Around the Globe

That experience at the Lab in New York City sparked my desire to create experiences that reach beyond our local classrooms. Upon returning to South Korea, I started “Sounds of the Globe,” a project where learners, as creators, are provided with the tools and resources to collaborate with others on a global scale. The project began with a Skype call with Matt McLean, a full-time music teacher at LREI, a private, progressive school in New York City.  Matt also directs the Young Composers & Improvisers Workshop in New York City.

We wanted to create an experience that gave learners a chance to explore, create and share musical ideas with a diverse audience. We asked ourselves, to what extent can local actions and creations reach audiences on a global scale? In what meaningful ways can students utilize technology as a tool for artistic expression? How can we use innovation to spark artistic expression?

“Sounds of the Globe” explores these questions by connecting communities of young learners from different cultures and providing them with the technology and resources to explore and compose. As a pilot, three schools (New York, Canada and South Korea) are involved in this project. It was really exciting for us to imagine the possibility of school children in different parts of the world creating music together.

The first step of this project started locally in our own communities. We went on “soundwalks” to search for interesting sounds in our environments, and then used our mobile devices to record 15- to 20-second intervals of rain, traffic and other sounds that are unique to our surroundings.

Once the sounds were recorded, students listened to them and selected the ones that were musically interesting so that they could create their compositions in Soundtrap. I used this opportunity to discuss form, texture, timbre and the use of different effects in digital music production.

Collaborating in the Cloud

Soundtrap is a cloud-based audio recording platform that lets students compose, play and edit songs, recordings and podcasts and share them online in a secure environment. Soundtrap’s platform accommodates iOS, Android, Chromebook, Mac and Windows, which was important because all students could participate, regardless of the device they used.

Our students are digital natives who grew up interacting with and using digital media as an integral part of their lives. Consumer-based digital experiences are important, of course, but this project helped them understand the ways in which their digital knowledge can be used to create their own work and express themselves. Our classrooms are ideal spaces for fostering this habit, as they allow us to introduce youngsters to the endless possibilities that exist beyond their environments, whether they involve another subject, artist, or someone from across the world.

We shared these sounds with each other via cloud-based platforms such as Soundtrap and Soundcloud, using online Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) to create original samples and compositions. It’s my hope that “Sounds of the Globe” continues to expand and include schools from different countries. Imagine the possibility of creating a global symphony with samples made by students from every part of the world!

Making Music Without Boundaries

Collaboration encourages conversations about the creative process. Collaboration means more students enjoy a single piece of music because they all contribute to this wonderful body of work. Cloud-based tools like Soundtrap make collaborative experiences possible. They give students a platform for sharing their processes, and for learning how others engineered these processes. There’s enormous value in students starting something on their own and then working with others to build on what they started.

While it’s easy to spend most of our time developing personal styles and expressions in solitary environments, the experience of working with other people (especially those from different backgrounds and cultures) is an education in itself. There will continue to be more and more opportunities–both in music education and other areas–for education beyond classroom boundaries, and the music students at Branksome Hall Asia will be the first to tell you how engaging and fulfilling the chance to collaborate internationally has been for them.

For more ideas on how to help your students develop global competencies, see:

Angela Lau is an IB PYP music teacher currently based in South Korea who works with the NYU Music Experience Design Lab. Connect with her on Twitter: @angelahyl 

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