Northwestern Digital Learning Podcast: Episode 5, Voice Juries

Welcome to another episode of the Northwestern Digital Learning Podcast where each month we highlight an example of innovative teaching and learning across campus. I'm Kelly Roark, a Faculty Support Specialist with Teaching & Learning Technologies at Northwestern University, and your guest host.


Kelly: In this episode, we’ll talk about an innovative use of Canvas at the Bienen School of Music to manage what they call “voice juries”. I talked with Donna Su, an administrator at Bienen who has been embracing technology throughout her career.

Donna: My name is Donna Wang Su and I work here at the Bienen School of Music here at Northwestern. I am the coordinator for graduate services and financial aid and I kind of am the one-stop-shop.

Kelly: As well as Kurt Hansen, a senior lecturer and coordinator.

Kurt: I'm the coordinator for voice and opera in the School of Music.

Kelly: And we also talked with a grad student.

Joseph: I am Joseph Schuester. I'm a second year Master's student and I've been here for six of the last seven years as both an undergraduate student and a graduate student.

Kelly: Donna, Kurt and Joseph told me how they used to manage juries in the School of Music.

Donna: In any given year you have roughly 50 students that need to give a performance - kind of like a final exam -  a jury. The old process was you did a physical sign up on a door.

Kurt:  Where you signed up for the time that you wanted, and you also signed up for your accompanist.

Donna: You submitted your sheet of what you were going to perform and they would have to make copies for nine different faculty members that are going to be grading your jury, so they have nine different copies.

Kurt: You filled out the jury forms with the selections that you were going to sing. Then when the juries actually happened the graduate assistants then made copies of the jury sheets and there needed to be seven copies for every single student. And we heard roughly 60 to 70 juries per quarter. So that's a lot of paper. Then when we did the juries themselves every faculty member had to find that piece of paper for the student that was singing, and then write while they were singing and then at the end of the juries all those papers were collected and collated by the graduate assistants and then given back  to the teachers who then at the next lesson, talked to the student about the comments. But since all the juries are at the end of the quarter there was at least two to three weeks that would go between when they sang their jury and actually got their comments.

Donna: Sometimes you would perform which you wouldn't see the feedback until a month after you performed. So it was really hard to remember.

Kurt: It was a lot of paper, a lot of organization, and a lot of writing.

Joseph: The disconnect between when you sang the jury and when you actually got the comments you oftentimes forgot exactly what had happened. And so some of the comments sometimes didn't resonate as clearly because you don't remember exactly what they were referring to. There also was just the shorthand that was sometimes required for getting all those comments and there wasn't always the specificity of the comments from the teachers to know exactly what they were referring to.

Donna: So about three years ago what Kurt and I did along with Michael Dice Jr. was we set up some time to talk about how can we make this work, make this more efficient, and use it in Canvas. So we created the non-core site of voice one so that stays forever pretty much and it archives everything and we use Scheduler through Canvas and then we also set it up as an Assignment - that took the place of having a sign up on a door. It also took the place of physically handing in a piece of paper and possibly losing it. They just submitted it through the assignment tool on Canvas, and then the faculty uses Speedgrader.

Kurt:  So then the student arrives for the jury…

Joseph: You get up there and you have all of these teachers who you don't really know because you're new at the school and you're scared to sing for them and you just sort of black out while you're singing and then walk off stage. Yeah, it's definitely it's a little stressful.

Kurt: All the faculty has laptops and we ask the student, “Susie what are you singing today?” And she will say, “I'm singing Sure on This Shining Night”. And the faculty is able to click on that, and then on a box opens up next to it, and we’re able to make our comments.

Donna: And while they’re singing the professors are busy typing their comments at the same time.

Kurt: And then when Susie is done somebody will say, “Well, we’d also like to hear one of her other pieces,” and then we click on that, another box opens up…

Donna: And once the student is done they leave, we give the faculty a couple more minutes and then when they're done, they hit submit, and the student has instantaneous feedback.

Kelly: Joseph talks about what it's like from the student's point of view to complete a performance, and read the comments.

Joseph: They come backstage and they're excited and happy about the performance that they've given, and then they want to go on and check the comments right away and they want to see what feedback they've gotten. Generally, students either open their computer right away or they'll walk outside and look at it in private.

Kelly: Among the many advantages of moving the voice jury process to Canvas was a little surprise for Kurt about his handwriting speed.

Kurt: The thing that I've discovered it's easier for me to hear and type than it is for me to hear and write. I don't know why but it's very clear for me.

Donna: It's just great because they're all in the same system and it's just saving their name and their comments and typing is a lot easier to read than handwriting.

Kelly: In the future, the Voice department hopes to create a video of each student's jury and match the comments to each specific moment. Remember how Joseph said it's such a stressful event for students that they sort of “black out” during the performance? A video would be a great reminder of what actually happened.

Kurt: If you can look at your performance and say, “Oh, I see!” that that can make a real difference.

Joseph: If you don't have your own memories of everything that was going on because you're thinking about all the things that you need to do, you might not remember that your eyes rolled in the back of your head as you're singing or your arms started to float because you didn't know what to do with them... And then you've got the video to say, “Oh, that's what happened there, and it didn't look good,” or, “Oh, I did this very successfully and I can hear what they're talking about, and I remember what I was thinking about.”

Donna: What I love about Canvas is it allows us to give quality and efficiency to our students.

Kurt: “Voice people doing technology!” That is that's a little bit like somebody who has trouble seeing driving. The thing that I like is that it makes our job easier and better rather than just getting wound up technology. It really does make what we do easier and better.

Kelly: Kurt jokes about his department being on the cutting edge of technology, but they've really created an innovative system using relatively simple features in Canvas. If there's a process in your school or department at Northwestern that you think you could improve, let's talk!

Thanks for listening.

Note: The beautiful singing you hear in this podcast is from a Master Class session at Northwestern.