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Published March 28, 2010 | Humanities

Hard Truths – Sonic and Otherwise

People play and listen to music without really knowing what and how they are learning. In the second year of CCDMD's English-Language Materials Development Assistance Program Call for Submissions, I applied for a grant to turn the multimedia material in the course Sonic Truths: Popular Music and Knowledge into a course pack. The idea of the project was to give teachers and students the tools to move beyond the charms of music and submit it, and our relationship with it, to analysis with the help of Information Technology.

The course was an ideal candidate for a multimedia resource. Before the project, students were forced to listen to music in class and remember it. Now, class time can be better spent discussing the course readings about music that students listen to elsewhere. Furthermore, this music can be accessed simultaneously with texts enriching the appreciation of both. The DVD also contains information about active listening and reading techniques to create a dialog between the text and the reader. Students are coached to assess the credibility of the texts that they read. Students are also coached to listen actively, noting their reactions and observations. In fact, active listening is part of the evaluation context of Sonic Truths, Popular Music and Knowledge.

Index card about the Beatles

Using current theories about the production and reception of culture, as well as symbolic analysis, the CCDMD project Sonic Truths: Music and Knowledge provides students and teachers with the materials that allow them to place musical works in a historical context and to analyze their significance. In addition, students learn to become aware of the practical processes involved in how and what we hear in popular music. They are introduced to the nature of how music influences us as individuals and as a society, as well as the specific ways in which it is understood and "used" in our culture as a lens with which we can view the production and understanding of knowledge.

Although I wasn't thinking of my own pedagogical development when I applied for the grant, the benefits of going through the process of bringing the resources together were considerable. By having to think about which readings best integrated the information needed to meet the objectives of the course, it was necessary to carefully select material which allowed for more interconnections than before. While the original concept for the project saw the information being placed on a temporary storage medium, such as a USB key, to allow the database to evolve, in the end we settled, mainly for administrative and economic reasons, on the DVD as a medium. Although there were elements that didn't get included, the benefits definitely outweighed the disadvantages.

Index card about the 1970's

The production requirements of the CCDMD also facilitated clearer and more tightly coheherent content media. I had to create an inter-related database about the interaction of music, media and North American society, as well as guides for exploration outside of the context of the original course. There is a glossary of musical terms and concepts, and a feature tracking where songs and political and cultural events occur in time. There is also a broad selection of significant music from each decade in the form of track lists, and a full bibliography of writings about music and its impact on North American society. This material allows students to go beyond what is on the DVD in their projects to include the music, films and other media that could not appear on the DVD.

Index card about the song "California Dreamin'"

This is the first semester that the DVD is available to students. A beta version was tested in past semesters and it showed that students had easier access to the course readings and that their reflective exercises were better because they could do background and keyword searches which would reinforce what they were learning. Another advantage was that students had the tools to make the end product at the beginning of the term.

Producing Sonic Truths: Music and Knowledge was not easy, and there were a lot of compromises. The musical selections and artist profiles are neither comprehensive nor definitive. For example, the final product has no profile of Crosby Stills and Nash or Leonard Cohen. At the start, the CCDMD was uncertain about getting copyrights, and I had to work with the various publication rights holders directly. As a result all the music copyrights are from Universal Music. The graphics and database look and feel simple because the database was put together using CCDMD's public domain product Performer.

In spite of these compromises, the final product will be useful in any number of contexts including the following:

  • As a stand-alone humanities knowledge course, complete with readings, labs, lectures and assignments tailored to the competencies for the Humanities 345-103 course;
  • As a resource for teachers seeking access to trends, dates or other information about musical culture that can be added to their teaching and as a research tool to help with lectures.

In addition, I hope to offer web-based support for the DVD where users and discuss, expand and improve the database and deepen our collective understanding of the profound impact popular music has on our contemporary world. Please share your views on this subject with your colleagues by using the Comments feature below.

1 comment(s)

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    Ryan W. Moon wrote February 24, 2010 at 1:37 PM

    Congratulations to Professor Haughey and CCDMD for this exciting new learning resource. I'm sure the effort was monumental, but the impact for the students will make it all worthwhile. Looking forward to getting my hands on a copy to explore it further, and to see what CCDMD will create next!

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