A look at the human-centered design process behind Music Education Hack 2013.

In advance of the first Music Education Hack event, the leaders at iZone/InnovateNYC and Spotify engaged a group of NYC music teachers in IDEO’s human-centered design process. This process explored the question: Can technology transform music education in NYC schools?

In a school system as large as New York City’s, a lot of money is spent on technologies in classrooms. In the past, the decisions around which technologies were deployed to classrooms were often controlled by a few very upper administrators who purchased the technologies in bulk and deployed them to schools. Once deployed, that was that. We all can probably point to points in our own experiences when we have witnessed this. Also, we probably know of times when we or our colleagues were not engaged in a discussion around the selection of those technologies. As a result, unused copies of expensive software or hardware often went unused, and money wasted.

In direct challenge to this model, Music Education Hack emerged as a test case to engage teachers in directly providing input into the development of new technologies that may in the future make their way into NYC classrooms. As a result of IDEO’s human-centered design process, the following guidelines emerged and were presented to the group of hackers present at Music Education Hack:

  1. Teachers need to convey musical concepts and skills to students who have different styles of learning and levels of ability. What if there were an app that helps them explain volume and pitch?
  2. Students need help with short-term motivation to manage and maintain a long-term commitment to the practice and study of music? What if there were an app that made music homework and practice more fun?
  3. Classmates need to collaborate with one another to learn and play music. What if there were an app that helps us teach music to each other?
  4. Parents and guardians want to support their kids’ music education outside the classroom. What if there were an app that helps them learn music with their kids?
  5. Administrators need to record and report student accomplishments in music education. What if there were an app that helps us track their students’ progress?

As you can see, the framing of the challenge to Music Education Hack participants focused on solutions for teachers, students, classmates, parents and guardians, and administrators. The  majority of hacks addressed at least one of the above items. Here are the judging criteria used to evaluate the hacks that won the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes:

  • Integration of music and education: Does this advance the fields of music and education? Is the application useful to a student, teacher, or musician?
  • Level of Innovation: Is the application unique and innovative? Does it bring new functionality to the music and education space?
  • Depth of integration with partner APIs: Does the application take advantage of the functionality of the partner APIs?
  • User Experience: Is the application easy to use? Is the application aesthetically pleasing?

It is still unknown as to whether or not any of the hacks created at Music Education Hack will result in technologies that will be widely deployed in the NYC schools. However, this process is an intriguing and disruptive innovation that seeks to inspire the design and deployment of music technologies that music educators, administrators, students, and parents/guardians will actually use and benefit. This push is in part driven from Mayor Bloomberg as part of a push to spend NYC Department of Education resources more efficiently.

It is my understanding that the developers of some of the hacks (most all had ongoing feedback during the hack event from music educators) will be invited to explore further development and possibly adoption within NYC schools or beyond. I’ll keep you posted as I hear more about this.

1 Comment

  • What a fascinating idea a music ed hack is, and the discussion process you described is pretty encouraging. I’m interested to see what comes out of it.

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