Finished Classroom

I’m now in the second semester of teaching this course in an open resource format, and five weeks into the second semester, I’ve finally managed to get my OER classroom under control. For the first semester, I really felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants, and moving into the second semester has been very reassuring. Having materials already prepared has let me focus more on the quality of the materials, options, and my own teaching. I can already tell from  my interactions with students and their interactions with each other, that it’s better this semester than the last. I’m more comfortable and they are more comfortable.

Here’s the tour of my classroom and some of the resources I’m using.

You’ll notice that I have not included quizzes or tests in my tour. By design, this course can be assessed using written submissions, classroom activities, and creative projects. So, when you look through the materials, the absence of these items is not an oversight, it is a design choice.

Things that have developed:

  • I’ve been able to use a larger number of films, videos, and music samples. Instead of committing them to reading chapters and chapters from books, newspapers, and journals, many of the ideas can be better captured in documentaries, music videos, and full length musical productions. Many of these are available through the school’s Films on Demand subscription and the remainder are YouTube based. Both allow for captioning, although the YouTube video captioning is at the mercy of the video creator. Anything I’ve created is accurate, but those are often not cleaned up the way I would like. One of the things I struggled to find was full musical presentations with English subtitles. These are readily available on DVD, but it’s difficult to put a DVD into a digital classroom. This one of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte is excellent.
  • I rely more class discussion and written and creative projects to flesh out critical thinking. Many books connect the dots for the students, but by providing them with information sans narrative, I can provide an opportunity for discovery and self-initiated thinking and learning. It’s been amazing to watch the students draw conclusion based solely on data and experience. They can and they will.
  • I still struggle feeling like I have provided enough. What would I add? I’m not sure, but I worry that students may need information from another perspective in order to succeed at a higher level. Thoughts for the future:
    • Podcasts
    • Study Guides
    • Lecture capture
    • Screencasts (especially for an online course)

My Advice, such as it is:

  • Don’t be afraid. It is daunting, but it can be done.
  • Don’t teach THROUGH your design. Design, then teach. I had about half of the class done when last semester started, but I still found myself scrambling for materials, making non-ADA compliant PDF copies and hoping that everything would work out. Having to do both at once was difficult for me. Even if you change it as you go, having a solid, “more than enough” framework is a good idea.
  • Think outside the box. There are so many resources available that it’s a great time to try something different. I used films and journal articles, neither of which were present in my class before the OER move. I was committed to doing study guides, but I left them out because they didn’t fit in with the way the course matured. Instead of linking to a site with information on musical terms, I used a Quizlet stack so that students could play games, use flashcards, and otherwise challenge themselves to learn the terms. Who knew?
  • When you start, let your old textbook be a guide, but stay closer to your objectives than your textbook. In order to really frame this course, I created about 50 unit-specific objectives that fit within the greater framework of my course. I had a textbook that provided nice guidance for what to use and how to use it, but I found that the more time I spent on design and teaching, the more I let the objectives guide me to new, better, more accessible sources.
  • Ask for help when you need it. I rarely do this, and my work suffers for it. I know that getting my materials into compliance with ADA standards will be a challenge. But, it will only be a challenge because I didn’t do it right the first time. I just didn’t take the time to ask and receive the help I needed. That is my next step.

So, would I do it again? Absolutely. I’ve already started outlining how I will take our highest enrollment music class OER for Fall 2015 in both face to face and online formats.


No Turning Back

Well, we have officially completed four weeks of textbook-free adventures in Music and Society. I am happy, and the students are happy. You think I’m just saying that, but I’m not, because I asked them, and they love not having a textbook. In fact, I’m pretty sure they love it more than I do. For them, it’s information one way or another, but for me it’s a whole new world of preparation. With that preparation, however, I have found that I’m using higher quality, more reliable, more relevant materials. For example, instead of reading a single paragraph in their former book about how studies are being done that examine that relationship between sexuality in music and human behavior, I provided them with the actual studies to read and share with one another. It’s better.

Some successful things:

  • The aforementioned sex and music studies. Students accessed the studies in class, via iPad, and each student read one. They shared their findings with the class. To enhance this and provide another learning aspect, I had them write a thesis statement on the wall that encapsulated their findings in the study. When all had written a thesis, we then created a class thesis that encompassed the findings, then observed that each of their individual theses could be a topic sentence for a supporting paragraph in a paper about the influence of sexual music on the behavior of teens and young adults. Want to know the thesis, as supported by journal-published research? As music videos have moved from a televised to an online viewing platform, not only has sexual expression in music and video increased, but viewership of this content has also increased. This increased exposure to sexual music and video is directly linked to more liberal sexual attitudes and narrower, more biased attitudes about gender roles. Surprised about that combination? So was I. So were they.
  • Women in Music. While our former text did dedicate a section to examining women’s role in common practice and modern music, a few pages is hardly justice for the women who have shaped our listening and creative experiences. By throwing out the old textbook’s summary, I was pushed to provide better information, biographies, and more women in our study. Excerpts from books dedicated to the subject proved much more effective than a chapter that tried to cover them all.
  • The non-traditional classroom environment. I didn’t just go OER in this class, I also moved it into our new , experimental classroom with handheld technology, comfortable chairs, and grouped seating. I think that doing both at the same time was an amazing thing for me and the students. For them, it encourages participation, gets them working with technology, gets them up and moving, and lets them feel comfortable in the classroom space. When we are talking about race, gender, sex, and politics, it’s important for them to be comfortable. For me, it forced me to re-examine the class entirely. It helped me avoid simply teaching the textbook course without a textbook. I could reimagine presentation, research, group participation and every element of the class. It is working well, although is a little more work.

For me, a lot of things just make sense as I’ve moved away from my textbook. For one, I think that group work is a vital component of an OER course. I don’t necessarily mean group projects or assignments, but face to face collaboration and discussion. By mandating this interaction, students are getting so much more than if I simply assigned them readings. In fact, by each reading something different and sharing with the group, they get up to 8 times as much information for the same amount of reading and note taking.

Another aspect that has shifted is the move from facts to critical thinking. Because the textbook isn’t laying out specific dates and terms, my thinking has moved away from those ideas to bigger picture items. As a result, my assignments focus more on creation, evaluation, and experience. Luckily, my course is conducive to this approach, but not all courses may be so lucky. One of the challenges of this is creating assessments that allow me to keep track of the details while pushing the students into higher level thinking. I’m not going to lie, it’s kind of fun.

Things left to do:

  • Create a reliable, working course calendar. Because I’ve tried to stay malleable and have had to move things around, I don’t have a concrete, prefect course calendar, yet. Having it will make me more comfortable and better guide students. This really will take the entire semester, but that’s okay with me.
  • Research, upload, and incorporate materials for the remaining units in the course.

Hurdles to overcome:

  • Create ADA-compliant PDFs. Some of my current PDF documents were created using our copier/scanners and are not screen reader-friendly. Some time in the FTLC will do me some good.
  • Create a more user-friendly Moodle experience. Because I’ve lumped my materials into topic-based modules, there can be a large amount of information in one place. I think having a more concrete course calendar may help, but something needs to be done so that students don’t miss material or lose their way.

I think that’s all for now. I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience and wondering which class I will next move to the format.

Some of My Useful Resources and Current Challenges

As I was drowning in sources, today, I decided that it would be good to catalog some of them here for reference and remembrance. 

  • YouTube: The most important source I have. Because this is a music class that will focus on both music and the way it is presented, concerts and music videos are vital to the success of the course. I used this a great deal in teaching the course Pre-OER, but the idea of embedding videos in Moodle for pre-class study and reference is quite attractive to me. Being able to use professional orchestras and original artists is priceless. My wish for this? Being able to use Closed-captioning for song lyrics. I tried it, and it’s not a choice. In order to be ADA compliant, I will likely have to attach a readable PDF of song lyrics for those pieces that have lyrics.
  • TED talks: I’ve only waded into the world of TED, but already I’ve marked a talk about listening to music to help students think about how they approach music. I know there are others there, because I’ve watched the talks.
  • iTunes U: To me, this is a lot like YouTube, but with experts weighing in from time to time. There are contemporary performances and productions as well as short explanations, introductions, and insights into many important musical works. In addition, there are scholarly presentations in various fields that apply to our learning. For example, we study the role of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and politics as they relate to music. There is great video and audio to help introduce students to ideas outside the musical sphere.
  • MERLOT:  I was turned on to MERLOT through one of the MVCR classes through the University of Illinois. It has topic specific modules that can be used to teach, reinforce, or otherwise help a classroom. For example, I found an interactive website through the Dallas Symphony Orchestra that allows students to listen to and look at instruments in each instrument family to hear how they sound and read about how they work. It includes video and audio samples so that students can go back again and again until they feel like they have learned about the instruments. The learning done here can easily be practiced and assessed using an in class quiz game.
  • Online Magazines: These are hardly scholarly, but they are current and relevant. Websites connected to magazines have a wealth of up to the minute information and resources. For example, has a an article about duets recorded by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga (see it here: What a great place to start for talking about jazz, sexuality, portrayal of women in music, differing generations and their perceptions, the art they make, etc. has an article about Meghan Trainor and her celebration of natural beauty over eroticized, plasticized, digitized beauty ( Another great leaping-off point for discussion of portrayal of sex in music. Even better, how about this one that links to 10 different musical tributes to Nelson Mandela for a discussion on Music & Politics or Music & Expression ( These magazines are a surprising treasure chest of resources.

Now the less fun part of the post. The farther I got into this project, the clearer it was that this was not as much a conversion to an OER format as it was a complete rewriting of a course. The activities I’ve used, the structure I’ve previously built, and the materials I relied on suddenly changed because I was throwing out the textbook that I relied on.

I completely rewrote my objectives. I still have my curriculum-level objectives, of course, but I reorganized my content into 5 large sections (instead of 8-10) and wrote new, measurable objectives for each section that would guide what I wanted the students to take away from this course. These tie back to the course objectives and give daily-level guidance to how I develop my content, what materials I need, and how I will formulate assessment. Here is the first page of my objectives document.

 As you can see, it’s insanely detailed, and it has taken a great deal of my planning and scheming time. Once I finished these and felt comfortable with them, I started to plan. I created a great, large spreadsheet on which I place course days, objectives, necessary documents, in-class activities, necessary Moodle documents, and useful links. This has been the great planning tool for me to help me really see where I’m heading and how I will get there. One of the most valuable columns is the Assessment column—if I’m going to teach it, then I need to assess it. On the flip side, if I’m going to assess it, I have to teach it. If you want to see the level of my craziness, here it is.


Being able to sort through what needs to be online, what needs to be prepared for class, and what instructional resources are necessary for a particular module or day or objective has been the greatest planning and preparing step for me.

I’ve also changed the format of my course. I had been using study guides for out of class preparation, but I think I’m going to let them go for the time being because they they don’t yet seem to fit my vision of the class as it currently stands. That very well could change, but for now I’m resting with that. There are clearly activities that will be accomplished outside class, but students will be accountable for them either in class or in an online forum or activity of some sort.

The way I’m looking at assessment is evolving. If you can read it, above, you will see that I am attempting to assess every single objective that I’ve written for this course. And, I’m attempting to assess them as soon and as regularly as possible. In addition, I’m trying to use as many different types of assessment as I can. I have in-class quiz games, one question quick quizzes, and forum posts that are principally formative in nature to check progress as we go. For summative assessment I am going to rely on creative projects, written papers, and presentations. The larger assessments will measure more objectives than the shorter, quicker ones. 

So, with about three weeks to go, this is where I stand. I feel like I’m behind, but I do not have to create a great deal of content, so this is the edge I’m hoping to enjoy later in the process. I should have the rest of my grand spreadsheet wrapped up by early next week, and then I can start loading things into Moodle so I can see the holes I’ve left and start finding ways to fill them.

OER beginning

My blog is late in coming, but make no mistake, the wheels are turning in my OER adventure. Here are bullet points about my endeavor:

  • Course: MUS 205—Music & Society
  • Description: An examination of societal issues as they are manifested, through time, in music. Topics include musical expression and connection in gender, ethnicity, spirituality, war, politics, performance, film, dance, and narrative expression. The course will be broken into five modules that examine large-scale societal ideas as expressed in music.
  • Credit Hours: 3
  • Instructor: James Hutchings
  • Target Semester: Fall 2014
  • Previous Textbook: Music: A Social Experience by Steven Cornelius and Mary Natvig. Publisher suggested retail: $103.80
  • Potential Savings: $2076 (for a class of 20 students)

My goal is to move this course to a completely open resource format in which students can use video, audio, source readings, online resources, and contemporary sources to research the role of music in society and society in music.


The more I have taught this course, the farther I have strayed from the textbook. I have consistently added more material, better examples, and additional readings to the required book. It seemed a natural transition to move from my highly supplemental method to one that removed the textbook all together. That said, here are some things that I think will be difficult as I transition from one to the other.

  • Historical source readings. The most effective documents will be accurate historical readings in the subjects being discussed. Because, until recently, western music has been largely written, performed, and dominated by white men, readings from multiple viewpoints through history are difficult to come by. This might require more instructor created content than I would like.
  • Choosing from among the many. It will not be difficult to find musical and audio examples of pieces being discussed and analyzed. It will, however, be quite difficult to narrow down to the most effective pieces for the subject.
  • Uploading. In addition to finding the examples, all samples will need to be uploaded and embedded into the Moodle classroom. Formatting and arranging these things will take time, energy, and patience. It’s the way it is, but it’s a hurdle that must be overcome.
  • Creating Content. This is a given, but it makes me nervous, nonetheless. The idea of creating original content is daunting. Many of the online music resources I’ve seen are aimed principally at younger audiences and this course needs to be a little more engaging, challenging, and thought-provoking.

First steps

Because I’m basically rebuilding this course from the ground up, I will start with the following steps:

  • Divide class into manageable modules that address larger ideas. Current modules are narrow and overly specific.
  • Using existing, curricular Outcomes as a guide, establish module-level outcomes for each.
  • Search and identify online resources for instruction. Areas of focus:
    • Elements of Music
    • Source readings
    • Begin to establish a database of usable musical examples, both video and audio

So there we have it. I’m excited to make this happen. Second post to follow soon.