Collaborative Learning using Music and Technology

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Are you interested in a creative and innovative opportunity for collaborative learning applied to a music and technology project? During this session, faculty describe a robot dance project between majors and non-majors, share team building experiences, and present team competencies (expectations) for successful completion of interdisciplinary projects.

Sponsored By


Dr. Debra Smarkusky is an Associate Professor of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) and Co-Coordinator of the IST Degree Program at Penn State University, Scranton Campus. She has taught for Penn State World Campus (online), has completed learning requirements for the CANVAS Learning Path Badge, and completed Penn State World Campus Certificate for Online Teaching. She received B.S. Mathematics and B.S. Computer Science from Penn State University, a M.S. Software Engineering from the University of Scranton, and Ph.D. Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Connecticut. She is a member of the IEEE Computer Society, Association of Computing Machinery (SIGCSE and SIGITE) and Association for Technology in Music Instruction.
Sharon Ann Toman is a Assistant Teaching Professor of Music and Program Coordinator for the Arts and Humanities. Sharon is Music Director for the Penn State Scranton Chorale, the Campus Jazz Band, and The Roc[k]tet. Sharon teaches a variety of MUSIC and INART courses in both resident education as well as through Penn State's e-Learning Cooperative. Sharon has completed the training requirements for the CANVAS Learning Path Badges as well as certification for teaching Penn State Online Courses. She received Bachelor of Music degree (B.M.) in Piano Performance from Marywood University, Master of Music degree (M.M.) in Piano Pedagogy and Music History from The Catholic University of America, and doctoral studies at Manhattan School of Music and Temple University.

Extended Abstract

Collaborative learning is effective in academic development because it engages more students with the subject matter. Interdisciplinary collaboration provides opportunities for innovation, problem solving and increased technical abilities.  The motivation for this assignment was to create a learning environment where majors and non-majors would need to collaborate for the successful completion of the project. 

In this session, we discuss the interdisciplinary project definition with information about the Information Sciences and Technology (IST) majors and students enrolled in a Music Theory - General Education Arts course who participated in teams for the completion of the robot dance project.  We share team process requirements, collaborative learning experiences and describe the Seven C’s (Competencies) for collaborative learning that resulted from this effort. We conclude with student comments, feedback and reflection from a faculty perspective.

For our project, the Music students were tasked with creating digital musical scores and the IST students were tasked with writing Java applications for robot movements that when coalesced would complete a robot dance where the movements of robot couples were synchronized to the rhythm of the music.  The design and implementation of the choreography would be the bridge between discipline areas.  We discuss the schedule logistics and planning that are needed to make this a reality with faculty in each area teaching concepts that would provide the foundation for this project.  The grading criteria for the project was based on the correctness and completeness of technical requirements for each discipline, with each team dependent upon the choreography for success and integration of the final project.

The technologies for this project include the utilization of Sibelius ( to create digital musical scores for the background music of the dance.  LEGO® MINDSTORMS® (, with leJOS NXJ ( installed as the firmware, provide the platform for IST students to develop Java applications using Eclipse (, with associated plugins, for maneuvering the robot. 

We discuss composition of teams between majors and non-majors and the need to satisfy the fundamental guidelines for a General Education course at our university which states that a course must “aid students in developing intellectual curiosity, strengthened ability to think, and a deeper sense of aesthetic appreciation”.  In meeting these criteria, we wanted to excite students about the use of technology while being creative, and utilize active-learning exercises to aid in the retention of knowledge.

This project included an element of creativity that allowed students from both disciplines to work together towards a common goal.  We provided students with an opportunity for participatory learning and defined an assessment that included a set of learning objectives linked to grading criteria.  Our students were initially apprehensive about the project and how it would proceed because they were working with students from other disciplines.  As teams from both disciplines shared information online (via Box and CANVAS) and worked towards the completion of this project, we perceived the collaborative learning between interdisciplinary members.  Students started using a common language to describe the dance steps, assigning tasks, setting deadlines, planning for future changes, and working together as a cohesive team. 

To provide a framework for enhanced motivation and defined expectations, we developed the Seven C’s (Competencies). We will share the competencies and the student survey results which provide a ranking of competencies with greatest impact on the successful completion of the project.

The feedback that we received from students was positive. Students could incorporate the content learned in both courses into the completed robot dance, which includes the background music, choreography, and the implementation of the movements using Java.  Students indicated that they enjoyed using robots as an area of application and working with other majors.  We noted that students were motivated and wanted to ensure that their final team project was complete and of high quality.  

We hope this session will provide the creativity and related competencies to enhance the collaborative learning experiences of students working in a team environment.