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Technology for Tight Budgets

Mike Fedyszyn | June 2010

    We live in an age with technology all around us, and students expect it to be a part of all facets of their lives, including school. While technology should be integrated into the music curriculum to support great teaching, the dwindling funds for education in today’s poor economic climate make it difficult to budget for new equipment. Further, many teachers who consider themselves technology novices do not know where to begin to incorporate technology into their classrooms. Luckily, there are now numerous ways to infuse innovative and easy-to-use technology into a music classroom on any budget.

Find Deals
    Technology can be inexpensive if you look in the right places. Being a smart shopper can reap great rewards; by comparison shopping for products at a variety of retailers, you can ensure a great deal for yourself. These retailers may also have discounts or special offers for educators that you may not be aware of. The internet is an excellent place to find great prices on items; such web sites as MySimon, Price Grabber, and BizRate specialize in finding the best price for any item. Online auctions such as eBay and online classifieds like Craigslist also allow consumers to find items for competitive prices.
    Another great way to save money is to find gently used, refurbished, or off-lease products. Technology doesn’t have to be new to work; much like a pre-owned car, these tools can have a long life and allow users to complete the task at hand. Many times, these items even come with some type of warranty. While it is usually better to purchase new equipment, having an older computer, stereo, or other device is much better than not having one at all.

Donations and Grants
    The rewards are great for teachers willing to go through the long and tiring process of applying for grants and pursuing donors for educational projects. Opportunities abound from individuals and groups. Grants have long been a great way to raise funds for educational projects, and many are available to teachers looking to incorporate technology into their curriculum. There are many places to locate these grants, including searches for grants on sites like Grant Wrangler and Grants Alert. Professional associations will often announce grants in their journals from various organizations. In addition, some local and national retailers, such as Target and Best Buy, have educational grant programs that encourage teachers to creatively use technology in the classroom. Networking with colleagues, parents, and community members will also help locate grants that fit the needs of your program.
    A relatively new innovation in searching for grants are grant match services that link donors with projects they are willing to support. These types of sites are much like posting a resume on an online job site such as Monster or HotJobs; the only difference is that educators can post their projects online. This service is offered by a variety of sites, including Digital Wish, Donors Choose, and Adopt A Classroom.
    Looking to the parents and community leaders in your school system is an excellent way to secure funds. Parent-teacher organizations, education foundations, and booster clubs are excellent sources for donation requests. In addition, gently used items (such as old iPods, DVD players, and computers) can have a new use in your program from donations by parents and community members. As a donation to a school, which usually is considered a non-profit organization, these types of gifts can be tax-deductible, providing an extra benefit to those wishing to help.

Inexpensive Gadgets and Gizmos
    As technology becomes more prevalent, prices go down. Many items that once would obliterate a budget now can be had for a small amount of money. In addition, new technologies are increasingly becoming easier to use, thus allowing new innovations to become even more widespread.
    A great example of technology that is rapidly falling in price is the projector. An essential item for 21st-century classrooms, the projector is the most effective way to deliver information to the masses today. While many classroom teachers have used projectors for years in their teaching, instrumental music directors have not embraced this technology as much. The possibilities of using a projector in the band curriculum are truly endless – a small sampling of possibilities includes:
    • A PowerPoint presentation of the rehearsal order and daily announcements.
    • A digital bulletin board of pictures of students.
    • Using the internet to watch videos of various performances.
    • Multimedia presentations at concerts.
    • Doubling as your output for VCRs and DVDs.
    Prices for projectors are rapidly falling; one with specifications suitable for a large classroom (2000 lumens or more and 1024×768 resolution or more) is now less than $500. The cost is well-worth the investment because it provides the capability of including so many options of technology in the classroom.
    There are also many ways to present technology on a computer to your class if you do not have the money for a projector. If your computer has an S-video output jack, an S-video cable can be connected to most televisions, enabling it to function as a large monitor. PC-to-TV converters also are widely available, such as the AVerKey series from AVerMedia. The above methods do not provide as high an image quality, so projectors are still highly recommended. However, these low-cost options can provide a cost-effective solution for many classrooms.
     Many teachers also have an interactive whiteboard, such as those made by SMART Technologies and Promethean to accompany a projector. These tools allow teachers and students to view a computer screen as well as control the computer from the board itself. Over the past decade, these types of boards have received acclaim from all areas of education. While these types of boards are extremely useful, they can be quite expensive.

         An interactive whiteboard can be rigged up with a Bluetooth-enabled computer, infrared pen, and a Nintendo Wii controller.

  For people looking for a low-cost alternative, the Wiimote Whiteboard is an excellent solution. Using a Nintendo Wii remote, Bluetooth-enabled computer, and infrared pen, teachers can make an interactive whiteboard that is similar to its more expensive counterpart. Wii, the revolutionary video game system, uses infrared cameras in its remotes to communicate with televisions and, thus, create the system’s motion-sensing games. In addition, Bluetooth technology allows the controllers to be wireless. By using these tools in tandem, an interactive whiteboard can be devised for your classroom computer and projector for less than $100, a fraction of the cost of a traditional board.
    Recording devices are also rapidly dropping in price. Portable MP3 players, such as the Roland Edirol and Zoom devices, are powerful, handheld tools (with high-quality, bidirectional stereo microphones) that record to removable media, like an SD card. Many high-quality, low-priced video recording options are available as well, such as cameras from the Flip series. Once considered luxuries to have these technologies in the music classroom, portable audio and video recorders can now easily be found for under $200.

Use What Students Use
    The high-tech tools that students use every day can easily be integrated into music classrooms. Rather than look at new technology with trepidation, we can use new devices to motivate our students. Furthermore, these technologies can be extremely inexpensive to purchase and use.
    It goes without saying that SMS (text) messages are extremely popular, especially among students. This technology can easily be used to the advantage of music teachers. A group text messaging service like JabberText, TextMarks, or Upoc can send texts to students to remind them of rehearsals and performances or as cancellation alerts. While not an appropriate option for educators who teach young students, text messaging can provide a wonderful option to incorporate technology at low prices.
    Apple’s iPod has become a cultural phenomenon since its inception in 2001, and many students own at least one. In music classrooms, iPods can become portable listening libraries, with model recordings of fine ensembles and performers, play-along accompaniments, and other recordings used as music examples. Podcasts, a series of short audio or video episodes on a topic, can also be presented in classrooms and used as an online-based instruction tool. Instrumental music teachers can use it for neglected topics in a traditional curriculum, such as cleaning an instrument properly or beginning drum set lessons.
    Apps, or mini-programs, have been featured on Apple’s portable devices since mid-2008; Apple’s App Store has become one of the defining features of the iPod Touch and iPhone. Over 100,000 apps have been downloaded over two billion times, and many of those apps can be extraordinary tools for music educators. Most apps on the App Store are either free or extremely inexpensive (most can be had for under $5). From tuners (ClearTune and Pitch Pipe) to metronomes (Tempo) and educational resources (Instruments in Reach, an app with fingering charts for every instrument imaginable) to practical tools (the iPro Recorder is a wonderful audio recording app), the App Store contains numerous options for music educators.
    The students at my school frequently play music-related video games, such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band. While it is easy to dismiss these games as a farce to music education, when used the right way, they can have some educational value and make great extrinsic rewards for students while transferring knowledge learned using traditional methods. A fine example of this is the method used for reading rhythm in Guitar Hero; the scrolling, on-screen fretboard used in the game visibly shows players a steady and subdivided beat. This is a wonderful way to relate concepts of subdivision and syncopation to actual music, especially in a style where syncopation is so prevalent. While music-related video games shouldn’t be used excessively in a classroom, they can be a valuable tool, much like a rarely used, but important, kitchen utensil.

New Developments
    Throughout the course of the past decade, numerous new music software programs have surfaced with cost-conscious music educators in mind. SmartMusic, a low-cost, subscription-based practice suite, allows students to perform from a library of thousands of solos, method books, exercises, or full ensemble music with their computer. The program also can be used as a means for assessment and evaluation by musicians. A tool that can be thought of as a combination of iTunes and Guitar Hero for your students, SmartMusic enjoys a high level of popularity among young people and their teachers. Other notable programs that can be used by music educators on a budget include sequencers Acoustica MixCraft and Sony JamTrax, as well as composition program Finale Notepad.
    Today’s students have never experienced life without the internet. There are countless internet tools that have been recently conceived with educators in mind; most of them are either inexpensive or free. One of the most exciting innovations of the past few years has been the development of Web 2.0, which is the title given to the new wave of information sharing on the internet. Focusing on interactivity and collaboration, the focus of Web 2.0 is essentially the end user. Examples of Web 2.0 include such functions as video sharing sites, web applications, social networking sites, wikis, and blogs. These sites are very easy for anyone to navigate, including those with limited technology experience.
    Tools like these can be used by music educators in a variety of ways. Facebook, the world’s most popular social networking site, has a feature that allows groups to make their own fan page, which can feature news updates, photos, video, calendars, and links. By featuring your music program on a Facebook fan page, your students and parents can access a multitude of information. (It should be noted that creating a fan page does not allow other users to see your own Facebook profile if you have the correct privacy settings applied to your own account.) Blogs, or online web journals, provide a great and easy-to-use opportunity for creating your own web site. Sites such as Google Docs allow people to view and edit documents easily and efficiently. Video sharing sites, such as YouTube, allow your ensembles to share videos of their performances with the world as well as view and analyze thousands of musicians.
    Another recent trend on the internet is the availability of freeware and open source software. These types of programs are of no cost to users; in the case of open source software, it is continually updated and rewritten by the general public. (One of the most prominent examples of open source software is the Mozilla Firefox web browser.) Almost every type of popular program will have an open source option that is comparable (and often better) than its paid counterpart. Some of the best examples of free programs that can be used in your music program include:
    • Audacity (a multi-track sound recorder)
    • OpenOffice (an open source version of the Microsoft Office suite)
    • TrakAx (an open source, PC version of Apple’s GarageBand)
    • MuseScore (free music composition software)

Final Thoughts
    Today’s students not only enjoy technology in the classroom, they expect it to be there. To reach these students best, teachers have to embrace technology to motivate them. With the numerous ways to incorporate technology at low cost, your creativity should never be compromised by low budgets. 

Useful Free Programs
OpenOffice –
CutePDF –
Pictures and Imaging
GIMPShop –
Krita –
Paint.NET –
ChocoFlop –
iTag –
Web Site Creation
KompoZer –
Flash Slideshow Maker –
Powerbullet Presenter –
TrakAx –
MuseScore –
AnvilStudio –

Audacity –
iTunes –
WinAmp –
SongBird –
CinemaForge –
VideoSpin –
VirtualDub –
Jahshaka –

Music Education Software
E-Chromatic Tuner –
JAM Chord Player –
Tempo Perfect Metronome –
GNU Solfege –
TabPlayer –
The Music Interactive –

Inexpensive Software Options
SmartMusic –
MixCraft –
JamTrax –
Finale Notepad –

Additional Internet Resources

Metronome Online –
Ricci Adams’s –
Good Ear –
Noteflight –
Vic Firth Ed. Resource Center –
Conn-Selmer Ed. Resources –
8 Notes –

Useful Links

Internet Retailers/Price Comparison Resources

TigerDirect –
Slick Deals –
Price Grabber –
BizRate –
Google Product Search –
MySimon –
NexTag –
eBay –
Craigslist –
Half –

Social Networking
Facebook –
Twitter –
Ning –
Blog & Web Site Creation
Blogspot –
Weebly –
WordPress –
ClassJump –

Grant Match Services
Digital Wish –
Donors Choose –
Adopt a Classroom –

Grant Opportunities
Grant Wrangler –
Grants Alert –
TeachersCount –
School Grants –

Current Technology/Web 2.0 Resources
Text Messaging for Groups
JabberText –
TextMarks –
Upoc –

YouTube –
SchoolTube –
Google Wave –
iSchoolBand –
Freeware/Open Source Software Listings
Sourceforge –
MusTech –
FreeMusicSoftware –
Additional Resources
Wii Teachers (everything needed to make a Wiimote Whiteboard) –