Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Educational Theory

I have a theory (surprise!) about traditional education. Academia is, contrary to popular opinion and its own self-image, always behind the curve. Because of the "accreditation" and "credentials" hang-ups, it's all-but-impossible for traditional universities to hire people who actually know something useful. So, by the time one of these institutions figures out that an industry has a need for qualified, trained, and skilled entry-level employees, the industry is practically historic and the need is long gone.

Here, for example, is a job posting for an instructor in a substantial state school:

Position: Assistant Professor of Music Technology (Tenure –Track)
Department: Music 

Rate: Minimum Starting $46,400

SUMMARY: The faculty in this position must have a strong commitment to teaching excellence, creative activity, scholarship, student advisement, and university and community service.

DUTIES & RESPONSIBILITIES: Faculty contractual duties include, but are not limited to:
 Teach a full load of Music courses equivalent to four courses (12 credit hours) per semester or eight (24 credit hours) per academic year;
 Teach and /or oversee the teaching of music education courses such as instrumental conducting, instrumental techniques, and music education techniques;
 Provide leadership and recruitment of students who major in music technology, composition, and education;
 Participate in professional music education organizations, fostering relationships with local and state secondary school music programs;
 Procure and maintain music technology equipment and software, musical instruments, and instrumental music library materials;
 Observe Field Base Level III music students as they near graduation;
 Direct student instrumental wind and jazz ensembles;
 Instruct applied brass and/or bass in a variety of styles, including jazz;
 Advise students;
 May be assigned to teach evening and/or Saturday classes, courses via ITV, and/or develop and teach Desire to Learn courses;
 May be assigned to supervise field experiences;
 Develop and maintain collaborative and professional partnerships/relationships with local schools and provide service at the university, state, local and national levels;
 Hold office hours as required;
 Direct and/or supervise student research, independent study, field project, and thesis;
 Serve on faculty or University committees;
 Conduct scholarly activities such as research in a particular field of knowledge and submit findings for publication and/or presentation at professional conferences;
 Maintain regular attendance;
 Perform other related duties as assigned.

EDUCATION: Doctorate in Music and/or Music Education
EXPERIENCE: Five (5) years of teaching music technology and education courses, conducting instrumental ensembles, and teaching applied instrumental and composition lessons.

In addition to the minimum qualifications, preference will be given to the following:
o Demonstrated experience in composing and performing music for live performances, recording, editing and producing recorded music using the latest computer software programs
o Experience teaching digital audio recording, production, editing and notation software;
o Demonstrated experience excelling as a team member with good communication skills while maintaining personable relationships with educators and students;
o Demonstrated experience in facilitating improvements in music curricula;
o Experience with event planning associated with music concert performances;
o Experience participating in recruiting events and public music performances.

KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS AND ABILITIES Skill and expertise in the classroom;
 Ability in the use of technologies and/or strategies to enhance pedagogy;
 Ability to work effectively with a culturally-diverse student body;
 Ability to develop effective methodology for the integration of teaching and research;
 Ability to demonstrate excellent communication skills;
 Ability to teach undergraduate and graduate level courses;
 Ability to supervise undergraduate and graduate student research.

Presumably, this "instructor" is going to be useful to students as some sort of credible resource, but how is that possible? What would someone with a "Doctorate in Music and/or Music Education" and "Five (5) years of teaching music technology and education courses . . . " know that would be useful to a prospective professional recording engineer or producer? The answer is obvious, isn't it? Not to academia.

A lot of this comes from a wrong-headed delusion that is core to academia: the disconnect between what students want and expect and what educators imagine they want. Students have bought into the fantasy that "education is important." The kinds of numbers educators promote are based on some pretty sketchy numbers games. When students ask colleges to accept some of the risk, they get nothing but blank stares from those risk-adverse institutions. And for good reason, the connection between higher education and earnings are nebulous, at best. A few years back, I read an article that claimed that if you remove the "honorary" PhDs from the educated side of the ledger, the payback for higher education falls to nearly non-existent. When the Steve Jobs, Mark Zukerbers, George Soros, Richard Bransons, Bill Gates, Warren Buffetts, Steve Woziniaks, and the rest of the incredibly rich honorary PhDs are reduced to their dropout or BA status, it's possible to suspect that spending a lot of time in class might be a mistake. In some professions, it is.

So, my theory is "Any time you see a profession that is academically represented by people who should be in the prime of their careers, that profession is obsolete." It's also possible that any profession that is thoroughly ensconced in academia is history.

A while back, I got involved in a "discussion" on the AES Faculty Advisor newsgroup after I'd recommended an excellent instructor who had recently become "available for employment." When I mentioned that he had everything going for him except a college degree, several of the discussion participants chimed in that a recording engineering "terminal degree" was absolutely necessary in their institutions. When I suggested that educational paperwork was pretty much a non-issue in the industry, one instructor replied with "Well, what we're selling students is a degree, so I think it's pretty important from our standpoint." I guess I was wrong. I always thought we were trying to teach kids how do to useful work?

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Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.