0# | Collaborative learning processes

For this blog entry I chose to examine the paper “Collaborative Learning with Interactive Music Systems” from Adnan Marquez-Borbon. It is presented on the website of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME-20). It is a bit off-topic but relevant for the lecture ‘Interaction Design’.

The paper draws a new perspective on how to learn a new instrument – more specifically an interactive digital music system. The designers of those instruments are often the only performers and do not have many copies of their specific instrument. In general they often do not have instructional informations aside from a technical document (if existent) what makes it hard to learn it in a traditional way. The ‘traditional way’ means to first learn the musical notation and then the according application to the instrument. This way means a very linear and structured process of learning. The teacher transmits knowledge, evaluates the technical proficiency, musical accuracy and the appropriateness of style of the student. But this approach ignores the diversity of alternative musical practices and approaches. In an interactive digital music system the musical text and notation are not obligatory central to the practice. It lives from variable and numerous practices and the form of documentation applies to that. The learning process is therefore more complex and probably not tangible with the traditional way to learn an instrument.

The author describes an open-ended, exploratory and collective learning approach to learn a technologically mediated instrument and with that to overcome the traditional way of learning an instrument. The so called ‘socially mediated learning’ process centres collaborative learning and should provide a flexible and adaptable learning environment. This space is unlimited in musical exploration, creativity and bringing in additional musical skills of students. Learning by imitating other learners can lead to the extension of the own capabilities of students. The challenge of collective learning is to keep up the motivation and let the students take responsibilities in their freedom of learning (like setting subjectives). The teacher becomes a guide and is not longer an authority. 

As a method the author developed a new instrument with a 3D printed case, two outward facing speaker, four push buttons controlling pitches organised in a one-octave chromatic scale, two linear soft potentiometer (controlling the pitch & other) and a force-sensing resistor controls the output volume. The volunteers have been three people with traditional music education and extensive performance experience but with no experience in performing with musical technologies or interactive musical systems. They learned to play the instrument in group sessions over a period of six months. 

As a result they actually started to learn from each other, imitated and/or extended each others findings and were learning effectively together. Furthermore they started to make up their own learning structures by noting down individual musical notations as a learning aid. They even started to come up with group exercises and created own compositions in order to rehearse and perform together. The participants developed their own style in playing but also found a way to play together. Even without fixed learning structures they started to self-organise their capacities and activities as well as learning goals which motivated and oriented them. 

Due to the flexible exchange of ideas and techniques the participants found a unified conceptualisation and usage of the instrument. Both, the whole group and the individual learner benefit from the rich learning opportunities in the open and flexible learning structure.

My resume: Personally, I never thought about how we learn to play instruments – even though I myself learned the musical notation and how to play the flute and the piano. Looking back I realise that even as a kid the linear learning structure is very hard to accomplish in the beginning. I am sure I would have loved to learn with such an open and collaborative learning approach that Adnan Marquez-Borbon suggests. 

Keeping in mind, that the approach is aimed for more complex and often unique technologically mediated instruments I am sure, that this structure can be helpful also in other fields of computer-mediated channels like new and unknown software. Since a lot of daily tasks are getting more complex day by day I think we should see a collaborative learning approach as a serious opportunity to enhance not only our learning processes but also ideation processes in terms of innovative design. I currently started my summer job in the area of ‘making’ – means building, tinkering around and hacking all kind of old electronic rubbish in order to create new stuff, new ideas and appreciate creativity from a new, more practical perspective. This kind of practical process also nourishes from collaborative exchange of ideas and knowledge which is in my opinion a really fruitful way of creation.