One way and another I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the last decade and a half looking at the impact digital technology has had on music education. And it’s not all been theoretical, either; I’ve led several initiatives in the area. Part of my role as the BBC’s Head of Music Interactive was to oversee the online work commissioned my Marc Jaffrey (now Marc Jaffrey OBE, no less) as the Factual and Learning Division’s representative with Audio & Music (and as I write these words I ask myself: will that mean anything to anyone with no BBC experience?!)

In any case, my association with Marc has continued on and off ever since. While I was at Somethin’ Else, Marc commissioned us to create interactive content for the Music Manifesto, the music education campaign he was then leading. And we’ve crossed paths in various guises since I became a freelance consultant almost six years ago.

So I was delighted to hook up with Marc and his long-time associate Jane Bolger yesterday, to help out at a South and South East Music Hubs Peer Learning Conference at Rich Mix in Shoreditch.

The day was hosted by Peter Chivers, who is Head of Music for the music hub in my own manor, Brighton and Hove, and James Dickinson, his peer at Hertfordshire Music Services. There were some great sessions throughout the day, which was a mixture of plenary presentations and facilitated peer learning sessions. But the highlight of the day was undoubtedly a quite inspirational talk by Dr Michael Dobbins.

Michael is headteacher at Derry’s Foyle View, a school for children with special educational needs and disabilities, although he describes himself as a “community activist”. His path to that role was far from smooth, and the insights he gave us into that path and what he’s done since being at Foyle View were fascinating. I was struck in particular by his assertion that there what we need in life is “food, water… then play”. I was also delighted, on chatting to him over lunch, to discover that he’s a fellow metalhead, and that we were both psyched that Sabbath’s new album was streaming for free that very day.

I facilitated a couple of peer learning sessions looking at the role of technology in the working practices of those attending, and truly interesting it was. Some observations that came out of them:

  • The use of technology in education and by educators is far from consistent, with ability and knowledge level being pretty diverse – a real problem when it comes to putting a tech strategy in place.
  • There’s an ongoing tension between bespoke, enterprise-style tech solutions (the excellent Charranga, say) and the cloud-based services (YouTube, SoundCloud etc) which children use in their “real lives”, but which come with some very real dangers.
  • Digital communication generally, and email in particular, can become overwhelming and a distraction from actual work (hardly unique to this world – indeed I think it’s a widespread psychosis – but it was interesting to hear about it in this context).
  • Digital tools for music making and music learning needn’t lead to purely digital music.
  • Social media can be hugely useful in communication and promotion but there are real concerns about privacy and security and local authorities have pretty strict rules on their use.
  • And – save the biggest til last – given the vast amount of information and expertise available online, the teacher’s role needs to be rethought radically – although it remains vital.

I’m not sure we cracked all these areas – that would have been tough! But we had some stimulating and lively discussion and I came away with the impression that if people like this can find the time and the correct environment in which to address these issues, then the solutions will come. And that, I guess, is the heart of peer learning.

It was great, as ever, to hook up with Jane and Marc – and thanks to Jane for her usual brilliant work in making it all happen. I’ll leave you with this video set, which was made ahead of the session, in which I share some thoughts on technology’s role in music learning.