Collaborative learning in conservatoire education: Catalyst for innovation

Which collaborative learning approaches already exist in conservatoire education, and how could such approaches be implemented? This is the subject of Tamara Rumiantsev’s (PhD candidate at ICLON) thesis. Defence on 14 April 2022.

Master apprenticeship tradition

Contemporary professional music performance and music teaching practices demand musicians’ ability to engage in a variety of collaborative settings with a broad range of competencies and skills. Conservatoire education is centred around one-to-one tuition in the so-called master apprenticeship tradition. According to various studies, offering a wider variety of pedagogical approaches and implementing collaborative learning activities in conservatoire education would be beneficial for students’ preparation for their prospective careers. However, collaborative learning has not yet been broadly and widely implemented in conservatories around the world.

Collaborative learning at conservatoires

The aim of this research project was to increase understanding of which collaborative learning approaches already exist in conservatoires, and how such approaches could be implemented. Conservatoire teachers were interviewed regarding their perceptions of course content, group lessons, and possibilities for innovation, whereas students were questioned about these aspects through questionnaires. Interviews with conservatoire leaders brought new insights into their observations and perceptions on curriculum reform and on how to educate students for their future professional practice.

Better preparation for professional practice

Collaborative learning in conservatoire education assists students in the development of collaborative, teamwork, social and interpersonal skills. Also, metacognitive skills, self-regulated learning and self-efficacy were reinforced by collaborative learning. Learning activities and content of lessons appeared to be very suitable for collaborative learning. Thus, collaborative learning approaches prepare students better for their future professional practice.

Paradigm shift in conservatoire education

Yet, aspects of culture and tradition generally sustaining a teacher-centered approach, were found to hinder the process of implementing a larger variety of learning approaches in conservatoire education, including collaborative learning. Along with the process of implementing collaborative learning, teacher professional development is necessary. Leaders too, need to increase their insights into evidence-based pedagogies and reflect on their perceptions of teaching and learning. A better connection to professional practice and society requires a paradigm shift in thinking about conservatoire education and in the education itself.

Version 2014:

My PhD research is about collaborative learning in higher music education. At present I am developing tools and design of possible collaborative working forms in a conservatoire setting, as well as studying literature on this subject.

My initial research proposal, as it was accepted by Prof. Dr. Wilfried Admiraal from the University of Leiden, can be found below. In case you have any questions or remarks on my research project, please do not hesitate to contact me.

“From its history and nature, the one-to-one teaching model in conservatoire education has a primary focus on transmission of craft skills and development of talent, rather than developing a diversity of skills for contexts in music practice and creative industries (cf. Gembris & Langner, 2005; Wöllner & Ginsborg, 2011). The traditional master-apprentice model has a long history and remains till today strongly anchored in higher music education. However, entering a profession with an unpredictable future requires more than musical expertise only (Smilde, 2008). Important aspects of preparation for professional practice, such as self-regulation, flexibility, independency, collaborative, creative and reflective skills, do not form explicit pedagogical goals in current conservatoire education (Gaunt, 2010).

Learning labs will be developed to introduce a collaborative environment for experiential learning through pedagogical work forms based on seven qualities (creativity, flexibility, innovation, communication, collaboration, interdisciplinarity and enterprise), derived from various sets of descriptors for higher music education such as the European Sectoral Qualifications Framework (SQF) for creative and performing disciplines, the competences from the National Programme Profile for the Bachelor of Music (Landelijk opleidingsprofiel Muziek) and the Learning Outcomes of the Association Européenne des Conservatoires.

Learning labs are an important tool to change the current focus on achievements and self-discipline (Johansson, 2012), which are possible stress factors for many music students, and to realize a shift in ownership of learning from teacher to student.

In this study, the outcomes of different pedagogical models, including learning labs and one-to-one tuition, are analysed with regard to students’ experiences and obtained professional qualities and qualifications. The main research questions are:

– To what extent are collaborative and experiential learning as in learning labs part of present conservatoire education (descriptive phase)?

– What are design principles for effective and efficient use of learning labs in conservatoire education (design phase)?

– What are the effects of learning labs with respect to students’ educational experiences and learning outcomes with regard to professional qualities and qualifications (evaluation phase)?

This study provides perspectives and discloses dimensions and expertise of one-to-one teaching, small-group teaching and learning labs. Introducing learning labs in conservatoire education implies a major and significant change in teaching and learning, and may be regarded as an innovation. A secondary function is serving as a platform to discuss pedagogical and professional goals with teachers. Another aspect is the change of role model for students who are the next generation of teaching musicians, and implications thereof for their future pedagogical practice.

Impact on my own educational practice, being a teacher of both practice and theory, is being able to teach in a collaborative environment where theory and practice can be integrated and with a clear relevance for professional practice.
In preparing performing and teaching musicians for a versatile but unpredictable future, I experience a large sense of responsibility. Especially in the current era, where professional environment is changing rapidly and continuously, musicians need to initiate new connections and applications with their art. Conservatoires should effectively and efficiently prepare them for this task.

My motivation for this specific research project derives from the following:

– too little knowledge exists of pedagogy applied at Dutch conservatoires; no systematic study has taken place in this field so far;

– comparison with other conservatoires and use of the European Qualifications Framework for Music will give understanding of our position in European dimension;

– a wide body of knowledge exists on collaborative learning of which little is applied in conservatoire education;

– collaboration is such an evident feature of music professions (ensembles, choirs, orchestras, opera, music theatre) and yet collaborative learning has such a small account in higher music education; understanding the reason why, will assist in introducing other types of teaching and learning;

– being both a teacher and a researcher will put me in a very interesting role: finding a strategy to ask relevant and sometimes critical questions, remaining objective and keeping a relation of trust with my colleagues;

– interviews/conversations with colleagues will assist in professional development and opening up of possibilities for pedagogical and educational changes;

– my own experiences as professional musician have led to the understanding that only with a large number of the seven qualities mentioned, musicians will have a chance to make a living from their beloved art.

piano div

Collaborative and experiential learning form starting point for an optimal learning environment. One from which musicians learn to create their opportunities and chances in contexts that differ from tradition. Changes of policies, funding and audiences’ preferences require innovative musicians.”
[February 2013]

2 reacties

  • Tiwánee van der Horst

    Beste Tamara,

    ik kreeg uw naam door van Martijn Stellingwerff, hij was mijn afstudeerdocent aan de TU Delft, Architectuur. Het is nu alweer 3 jaar geleden dat ik daar ben afgestudeerd en sindsdien ben ik bezig met mijn eigen beeldende kunst praktijk, waarin ik onderzoek hoe schilderkunst ruimtelijk kan worden door te schilderen in 3D met een analoge 3D kwast die ik zelf heb ontwikkeld. Nu heb ik de ambitie om dit een stap verder te brengen door een PhD te doen aan Universiteit Leiden – Creative Arts and Performance. Na een oriënterend gesprek met Martijn over de mogelijkheden zei hij dat u me wellicht zou kunnen helpen om meer te weten te komen over Practice-Based Research en hoe ik dit onderzoek zou kunnen vormgeven.

    Het lijkt me daarom erg interessant om eens met u in gesprek te gaan. Zou u daarvoor open staan?

    Met hartelijke groeten,
    Tiwánee van der Horst

    • admin

      Beste Tiwánee,

      Excuses voor deze late reactie, maar ik zie het bericht nu pas… Misschien ben je al begonnen met de PhD?
      Ik adviseer anders contact op te nemen met Prof. Dr. Janneke Wesseling van Leiden en KABK. Ik zit niet zo erg in de BK/schilder praktijk.

      Veel succes met alles!

      Hartelijke groet,

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