The Long And Winding Road: exploring the landscape of Digitisation in (Higher) Music Education

Part #1: Function, Social Role and Accessibility

by the Digitisation Working Group: Sandrine Desmurs, Marina Gall, Enric Guaus, Mimi Harmer, Luc Nijs, Matti Ruippo, Till Skoruppa and André Stärk.


For quite some years, many Higher Music Education institutions (HMEIs) have taken the path of digitisation, a path that emerges as it is being walked. This has led to a heterogeneous landscape of tools and practices that are implemented with various degrees of success. 

The sudden advent of COVID-19 has caused an earthquake, the consequences of which will be felt and dealt with for a long time. Not only has it exposed some weaknesses in different trodden paths, it also points to new possibilities to redesign the landscape and foster new directions, without restraining pathfinders and pioneers. 

In our view, redesigning the landscape and supporting HMEIs to travel it, requires some kind of topographic map. The Digitisation Working Group of the Creative Europe project “Strengthening Music in Society” (SMS) at the European Association of Conservatoires (AEC) hopes to offer some guides for an exploration of this new terrain..

Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we launched a call to map the landscape of ongoing digitisation projects. The call, inviting to provide information on existing digitisation projects through a questionnaire, was sent to all members of AEC and of partner organisations EAS and EMU, and was also distributed widely using the team’s other networks. Evidently, the advent of COVID-19 has drastically changed the situation, boosting digitisation in unforeseen ways. Indeed, in the wake of the lockdown, an avalanche of tools, strategies and reflections have been shared and discussed on websites, on social media (public) and in institutions (private). In a previous post, we have already shared some reflections on this.

The COVID-19 crisis forced the implementation of strategies that may or may not be used in the future. In other words, this crisis is pushing HMEIs further in digitisation at all different levels. In this way, COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst for the progression of digitisation.

In summary, music schools and conservatories will change after this crisis, digitising activities related to research, teaching/learning and administration. But digitisation is not easy. It is a process that must be designed according to individual institutional requirements and it can never be carried out in a fully effective way in an emergency situation.

In this post, we present the overall research and explain how the first set of labels have been designed.


This work of the group aims to map how digitisation has permeated HMEIs. To do so, we designed a questionnaire, inviting students, teachers and administration staff to share information about digital projects they have been involved in. Based on this information, we will establish a conceptual framework that allows mapping the current landscape of Digitisation in (Higher) Music Education and, in this way, building an understanding of the why, what and how of digitisation.

To establish this framework, we adopt two strategies. A first strategy is top down. Here, we use existing categories to organise the different projects according to their function, social role and accessibility. A second strategy is bottom up. Here, information about the goals and the expected results of each submitted project was transformed into a series of keywords. Next, these keywords were translated into a series of categories. 

Both strategies will lead to creating the envisaged framework, which – according to us – may help institutions to understand the opportunities and challenges of digitisation and, consequently, to walk the long and winding road of digitisation.

Please note that the goal of this framework is not to impose a certain road but to help institutions choose which road to take.

Top down mapping

The questionnaire invited respondents (students, teaching and administration staff) to organise their digital projects/practices according to the following sets of labels:

FunctionSocial roleAccess
· Artistic
· Research
· Learning/teaching
· Administration
· Music in the community/music in society
· Diversity
· Accessibility
· Entrepreneurship
· Learning and teaching
· Internationalisation
· Widening participation in the arts/music
· Mobile
· Visual
· Digital
· Global
· Synchronous
· On the web
· Social
· Open
· Massive
Table 1: Sets of labels presented to respondents

We believe that systematic reflection based on these three sets of labels, can help with creating a specific digitisation plan beyond individual tools. For instance, perhaps some institutions already have a digital solution for the administrative coordination of internationalisation processes, but they need to optimise the aspects related to the dissemination of the artistic results of these international collaborations (perhaps synchronously). This is just a simple example, but it illustrates how different viewpoints may help decision-making in relation to the digitisation roadmap. In the next sections, we elaborate on the different labels.

The function of the project/practice in the institution

The first set of labels is based on the role that the project takes within the institution. We proposed four items, each one representing one of the main activities developed in music schools:

  • Artistic: Initiatives using digital tools in the creative process, digital musical instruments, digital artifacts in live performances, etc.
  • Learning/teaching: Initiatives related to the teaching/learning process itself, such as the use of LMS, publication of Master Classes, using digital tools in the classroom, etc.
  • Research: Initiatives for developing and showing results of research projects carried out by the institution, such as the elaboration of online questionnaires, paper publications, call for collaborations, etc.
  • Administrative: Initiatives related to the administration of the institution such as the grading process, Erasmus management, social networks, etc.

The social role of the project/practice

The second set of labels is inspired by the different strands of the AEC SMS project. These categories are focused on the social impact of the presented projects/initiatives :

  • Music in the community/music in society: Initiatives for raising consciousness of the social responsibility of artists and HMEIs, and for provoking governments’ political responsibility to foster cultural organisations.
  • Diversity and accessibility: Initiatives for encouraging HMEIs to open their educational offer towards more diversity and to promote inclusiveness throughout their activities.
  • Entrepreneurship: Initiatives for embedding entrepreneurial skills in artistic educational programmes to better prepare students for a future role as a musician-entrepreneur.
  • Learning and teaching: Initiatives for exploring and discussing new L&T models enabling HMEIs to be effective in educating the musicians and music educators of the future.
  • Internationalisation: Initiatives related to helping music students and teachers internationalise their careers and activities.
  • Widening participation in the arts/music: Initiatives for strengthening student voice in all that we do and to establish a European network of Higher Music Education students.

The access to the project/practice

And finally, we asked which access strategies have been used related to audience, technological resources and/or privacy limitations:

  • Mobile: Initiatives accessible outside the institution, usable with mobile devices, etc.
  • Visual: Initiatives including photo, video, FaceTime, etc.
  • Digital: Initiatives using LMS (Moodle, Blackboard, etc.), digital recordings, scores in PDF format, etc.
  • Global: Initiatives developed in collaboration with other musicians/music educators or institutions all over the world.
  • Synchronous: Initiatives allowing more than 1 person synchronously connected at the same time.
  • On the web: Initiatives using web based softwares/applications (YouTube, SoundCloud, Doodle, Google Calendar…) for developing the project/practice or disseminating its results.
  • Social: Initiatives in which sharing content on social networks is a part.
  • Open: Initiatives in which anyone can access and/or support accessibility facilities
  • Massive: Initiatives benefiting from the participants’ contribution by using blinded peer evaluation, artificial intelligence, etc.
Figure 1: Three dimensional cube with each of the presented set of labels on each axis

Visualising the projects in a 3D space

Our next step involves mapping the submitted projects in a 3D space, using three axes that represent the three main sets of labels (See Figure 1). Each axis is subdivided according to its labels. As mentioned above, it is not the intention of this work to present a list of “good practices” but to promote reflection on (a) different aspects of digitisation on which to focus, and (b) the design of new digital projects. Visualising the projects in this way, is a first step towards an in-depth analysis, combined with the second strategy (bottom up). Specific results of the questionnaire will be detailed in the next post.

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