Online Master’s in Music Ed. Graduates Q&A

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Annie: So with that, I just want to invite our graduates for a panel discussion, ’cause we have four questions here that we often receive from prospective students, and we would love to hear their perspectives. So I want to welcome Bonnie and Shannon on the phone. Bonnie, um, to start off, would you like to say hello, introduce yourself before we start?

Bonnie: Yeah, hey everybody! It’s nice to be here. As I — I’m from Katy, Texas, and I have, um, been teaching music — this is my 19th year, uh, I taught 14 years in an urban, suburban district, and now I am in a suburban district in Katy.

Annie: Alright, thank you. And Shannon, now would you like to say hello, introduce yourself as well?

Shannon: Sure, hi everyone. My name is Shannon Leighton. You can just call me Shannon. I am in my 7th year teaching at an urban charter school in central Massachusetts. Um, I really loved doing this program, so I’m very excited to be with you all today.

Annie: Thank you, great. So Bonnie and Shannon, um, first question that we — that we want to ask you is, what motivated you to pursue an online Master of Music in Education, especially the fact that, you know, you guys have quite a few years under your belt already? Maybe we’ll start with Shannon?

Shannon: Sure! Um, well I decided to pursue an online degree, there were a couple things, um, about two — about three years ago my school district announced that they were, um, [unintelligible 00:10:16] to start with, but my school district announced that they were going to freeze the teachers’ salaries if you haven’t gotten your Masters yet, and at that point I was 4 years into teaching and I had been thinking about it anyways. I had actually been speaking to some colleagues about programs that they recommended and, you know, even though Massachusetts has a lot of universities here, and we have a lot of great music programs, um, I also have two very young daughters and I work full-time, and I was really, really wary of doing something that was on-campus that would take me away from my family, you know, many nights a week or — and whatnot.
So the combination of, you know, hearing from my district that I kind of needed to get on the ball, um, speaking to some fellow colleagues about programs that they recommended, one of which was the Kent State online program, and, you know, thinking about my family and what was going to be best for them and for me, was really what motivated me to do the online program.

Annie: And Bonnie, for yourself?

Bonnie: My experience in choosing to do an online Masters in music was quite similar in that, um, although I live in an area where there’s a lot of wonderful university — universities that offer excellent Masters in Music programs, I really was hesitant to do one where I was required to drive across town two or three nights a week, um, I had lots of colleagues who enrolled in those programs and as wonderful as they were, the cost of having to drive in the Houston area was pretty high in terms of just time that you could have been — spent studying, and so I found that within this program I was able to use that commuter time to the best of my ability because I didn’t have to commute. I could just immediately start on my work.

Annie: Thanks. And maybe you guys could also speak a little bit to, um, I mean Shannon you mentioned that like Kent State’s program was also mentioned. Is there anything else that kind of made you decide to choose the program at Kent State?

Shannon: Yeah, when I took a look at the course offerings and just the titles of the different courses that were offered, they were, um, not that different from a lot of the programs that I had been looking at in other schools, but I just — I really liked the idea that it was, um, I liked the topics, I liked that there was a technology component, there was a lot of music history, which I really enjoyed, some world music, and that I could choose to do general music in addition to choral music. I teach middle school — right now I teach grades four through seven, which is kind of elementary and middle school, and I have really grown to love general music, even though I kind of started as a high school choral gal, way back when, but it was the courses, and it was also the seven week format. You know, seven weeks on, one week off, seven weeks on, I really felt like it was a pace that spoke to me. I like to work fast, I like to be effective, so, um, the pace of the program as well, um, really made me decide to pursue it.

Annie: Great. Thank you. And, you know, we’re talking about an online program, um, not everyone has experienced online learning, especially at a Masters level. Are you guys able to kind of share how your program experience is like being online learning? Maybe this time we’ll start with Bonnie.

Bonnie: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting. I was kind of surprised at how much the personality, both of my professors and my other students, uh, came out within our interactions through the online platform. We had — a lot of times there were — the courses were set up in a way where you needed to respond to classmates, um, well think that they were saying, ’cause most of the classes involved some discussion where a response was required. And in that you really did kind of get a sense of who else was in the class with you, um, there were often times, you know, just in the course of the discussions, there were people who, you know, you really resonated with, and you were like, oh, you know, I think I’d really like to continue, um, getting to know this person professionally because they’ve got some great things to say. And so despite the fact that I thought it might be disconnected, I was surprised by how connected it was.

Annie: And Shannon, did you feel the same or did you have other thoughts to add?

Shannon: I felt the same as Bonnie. I think Bonnie and I actually had quite a few courses together, if I remember looking at the discussion posts.

Bonnie: We did, uh-huh.

Shannon: We did. And did we work on the world music project together, or I’m not remembering it?

Bonnie: I don’t remember, but it’s highly likely, ’cause there was –

Shannon: [Unintelligible 00:15:24]

Bonnie: Was it the [unintelligible 00:15:28] music?

Shannon: Yeah, which one, I’m sorry?

Bonnie: Did your group do the [unintelligible 00:15:31] music [unintelligible 00:15:32]?

Shannon: No, we did the African — we did the African music.

Bonnie: Oh yeah, mm-hm.

Shannon: But no, I felt that the experience was, you know, like what Bonnie said, I was very surprised by how connected you felt. It’s funny, I actually had a former classmate from my undergraduate program at a college in New Hampshire who joined at the same time as me. She was a few years older than me, but she actually joined the Kent State program at the same time. It was really interesting to speak with her [unintelligible 00:16:06] level. But I think Bonnie was right that you really got a sense of who you were working with and, um, and, you know, the personalities did come through, and there were people that, you know, you could — you saw their answers and you said, oh, I remember them saying this, at a previous course they had mention this as well, and — but yes, I was surprised as well, by how connected we all felt despite being, you know, thousands if not, you know, tens of thousands of miles away from each other. There was someone — I don’t think there was anyone out of the country, but across the country, definitely.

Bonnie: Right. It was really — it was good.

Annie: Nice. And Professor Grutzmacher, if you have anything to add during these times, also definitely jump on in.

Prof. Grutzmacher: It’s just fun to listen to Bonnie and Shannon talk about their experiences online because this is what we wanted to do. We wanted to create a community of learners, and it’s really important to us that our students feel that they’re in that community and that they’re not just sitting out there isolated some place. And it’s so much fun to think of teachers from all over the country, as well as — we’ve had students from all 50 states and I think four or five foreign countries. But it’s so much fun to think about all of them talking together, and communicating together, it just makes that world much smaller when you have, for example, Bonnie’s from Texas, Shannon’s from Massachusetts, they’re in classes together with people from the west coast, from the south, from Ohio, from New York, from all over the country. So I think that’s really fun, and I’m so happy to hear that they did feel to be — that they were part of that community. I know the technology class that we have online is very popular and I heard — was it you Bonnie or Shannon who remarked about the technology course?

Shannon: It was Shannon, I had mentioned it, yeah.

Prof. Grutzmacher: Yeah, and that’s — I think the course has been very, very popular. And then the world music class, in which you’re doing projects together, um, I think that has also been a really popular course among the students. And you would think, well, how do you do a group project online if you’re from all over the country? So it appears that it worked fine for both of you, yes?

Shannon: Yes, it did.
Bonnie: Mm-hm, yes. And I wanted to say that I really appreciated the fact that when we took the classes, we were with instrumental people, secondary people, elementary, early childhood, choral people, all in classes together, and so when you were in the middle of a discussion, the perspectives that those folks brought to the conversation were — well it helped us to, you know, kind of broaden our own perspectives.

Prof. Grutzmacher: Very much so. That’s good to hear.

Annie: Yeah, I’m glad too. And, I mean, with everything going on, um, one of the questions I have here is also, you know, do you have any tips on balancing your time while you’re also working and just everything going on? And this time maybe we’ll start with Shannon.

Shannon: Balancing, uh, it’s funny, I think on every — almost every single one of my e-portfolio journal entries I wrote, I’m still learning how to manage my time. Um, that was a — that was probably the hardest thing for me in this entire program was disciplining myself enough to make myself sit down after a long day of work or when the kids are, you know, put to bed and I just want to go to bed and you know, sitting down and doing the work, or making the time on the weekends. Um, I think the best thing to do is to actually schedule it in, use your Google calendar, use a written calendar, if that’s your preference.

But make sure that you’re scheduling those 12 to 15 hours a week. I mean, some people — I found that some weeks I could get it done in like 9 or 10, um, some weeks I needed that full 15, but I always made sure that every week I sat down, you know, with myself and I also sat down with my husband, because we needed to, you know, look at family stuff as well and said, okay, I need to make sure that I’m home this night, but on this night I really need to go study at the library.

Or this night I would like to sit at Panera and eat my heart’s desire of bread and do my homework as well, you know. So it was really, um, important to put that time on a calendar and hold yourself to it. It’s very hard, um, but it was completely necessary. And it — there are a lot of trip ups, at least for me there were some times where I faltered and I didn’t get the work done on time, but you know, you live and you learn, so.

Bonnie: Yeah, it’s a challenge. Um, I think one important thing to balance is to have a really clear understanding of what your current work situation is, so that you can see where you might find pockets of time. Um, I also found that it was not always best for me to try to study at home, because that was where I was distracted most easily, ’cause there’d be other things that needed my attention. So it was very helpful for me to take advantage of the public libraries and study there. Sometimes you can reserve a room in those libraries. And I would carry my reading with me everywhere. One time I even read the chapters of my book in between, um, bands at a marching contest. When the judges were adjudicating I would read the next thing. But that kind of helped me balance ’cause it was something I wanted to do but I was still making progress. So you kind of have to find pockets.

Annie: For sure. And Professor did you have anything to add for this one?

Prof. Grutzmacher: I think both of these ladies, uh, expressed it very, very well. You know, this is a program in which we have established a level of rigor and we feel it’s very important, um, you know, we’re really proud of our students, like these two ladies who’ve accomplished so much and done so well, um, and we want to maintain those standards of expectation for all of our students because this is really important for your education. You know, you are paying a lot of money to get this degree and so it’s important for us that when you leave this degree, you feel that you’ve accomplished a lot, and that you’ve accomplished what you needed and wanted to accomplish.

So, I think it’s an important point to get across that it does take time, that you do have to learn to balance, and you do have to learn how to, um, establish a schedule for yourself, and I think that you need that support from the people around you too, that you’re able to accomplish this. So, um, we’ve had, uh, many, many, many graduates now from this program, and I think that the growth of this program is reflected by the fact that we’ve maintained high expectations and our students are proud of that when they graduate.

Annie: For sure. And, well with that, you know, talking about having some — very proud of the program experience, um, we want to get into the capstone projects, but just before that I will love to hear from Bonnie and Shannon in terms of, you know, can you talk about the overall journey of the capstone projects? So not [unintelligible 00:24:31] because we’ll get into the presentation, but the journey of the capstone project, um, how was it like? This time we’ll start with Bonnie.

Bonnie: Well, you know, it’s interesting because I really did have a hard time deciding what to do for my capstone, because each time I would take a course I was absolutely, completely interested in what I was learning. I think that speaks to the quality of the courses, they were very compelling. And I felt like I could have created a capstone around each of the courses, but in my very first class, the foundations class, which is the one that everybody starts with, uh, I did a paper for my e-portfolio where I talked about, um, professional development in online learning communities for music teachers. And throughout the entire journey of thinking about what I could do for my capstone project, it was just kind of in the back of my mind as something that was needed to be a part of what I ultimately did.

Um, meanwhile, you know, the courses continued and, you know, I was so eclectic in my interests that I started looking back and reflecting on my experiences, um, I’ve been an elementary music teacher for a long time, and as part of that journey I’ve spent a lot of time using children’s literature in my instruction. So I began to get very curious about what that’d look like. And, um, it just kind of all coalesced so that by the time I was ready to start thinking about what my, uh, capstone project should be and when I started doing the research, uh, class that’s available in preparation for the capstone, that’s kind of where my project kind of firmed up and took on a shape and so therefore I decided to do a, um, a program design project. I like to see how things work, I like to put structures together so that there’s a form that can be used. That’s fascinating to me. Um, so that’s kind of how it came about.

Annie: And we’ll get into a presentation of your capstone in just a little bit. So now Shannon, um, would you like to share your journey?

Shannon: Um, sure, um, to echo again what Bonnie said, I felt the same way going through the courses that I was very interested and, um, in everything that we were learning, that the courses were of such a quality that I was very, very engaged in everything, and intrigued about what I was learning about, especially the things that I thought I knew, and then I realized, wow, I really don’t have as deep of knowledge as this. But, um, my — I had a hard time deciding as well. I have a lot of different interests, um, I kind of always wanted to do something that would be kind of inspired by my current situation, working in an urban charter school, which is — it’s not as unusual as it used to be, but — ’cause charter schools are popping up in cities more, but, um, I was very interested — the one thing that kind of made me decide on my topic was, um, helping out at the last year’s all-state and districts conference in my state, just kind of solidified — and I’ll talk about it later — but solidified for me the reasons why I chose the topic of social justice, specifically in choral music education, because that’s kind of the world I’ve lived in for a long time.

But, um, the journey getting there was, you know, every journal entry I had put down, well what are you thinking about for your capstone? There was at one point I wanted to, you know, I wanted to do a tech thing. At one point I was dead set for a very long time on doing a professional development presentation for my district, and eventually for my state. Um, so it was a little bit of a battle sometimes. I had so many — I was pulled in so many different directions, but I think that the thing that was the most important for me was the research course, was working with an advisor, so, um, the journey, it was crazy. It was all over the place and then it kind of, you know, tunnelled in towards the end, which it sounds like that might be the experience for a lot of different people. A couple of the people I spoke with said they had a similar experience as well.

Annie: Yeah, Professor Grutzmacher did you want to say something about — anything about the — from a faculty standpoint, as well I know Shannon just touched on the faculty membership, right, like and –

Prof. Grutzmacher: Yes. Well, what I do as a coordinator for the capstone, um, I research by going into their e-portfolios and pull from that the area of interest for each student. So say for example, um, for this fall, for each student who I knew was registering for the capstone, I developed, um, a document in which I could summarize their interest areas and we have a wonderful faculty who work with these students on an individual basis because each student is assigned a personal advisor for that capstone. And each of our capstone advisors have specific areas of expertise. While they’re all wonderful music educators, there would be particular areas that they have researched, that their interest is very high in that particular area. So I try to pair them, because I know when our students are heading toward capstone they change their mind a lot of times, because of the courses that they’re taking.

Each time it’s, oh, I really like this course, I think I’m going to go in this direction, and so the advisors will assist them in focusing because it’s really I think a challenge, as both Bonnie and Shannon have said, to choose one area and to focus in that area on a topic that you want to spend a semester researching and writing about. So the advisors — the job of the advisors is to help in that way. And there are students that I will help before I assign them to an advisor, because maybe it’s a student that I really want to know more about, so I make sure I’m not making a mistake, that I want to make certain that that advisor’s the right person to work with them. So that becomes a very important part of this. Um, once they start that capstone, they hit the ground running, and there’s, you know, there’s a lot that needs to be accomplished within that 12 week span of time. So it’s really important that upfront, um, they get a good start.

Annie: Yeah, for sure. Thank you everyone for addressing these top of mind questions so that we get a perspective from both of you, Bonnie and Shannon, as, you know, as graduates and as students at one point in this program.


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