Faculty Research Spotlight: Dr. Jay Dorfman
“I’m at my happiest when I’m making music or teaching others to do it,” says Dr. Jay Dorfman.
Dr. Dorfman gets to teach a variety of music courses at Kent State University ranging from music technology to Progressive and Vernacular Music Methods to Rock Band Performance and Pedagogy.
Currently the coordinator of music education and an associate professor, Dr. Dorfman holds degrees in music education from the University of Miami (Fla.) and a doctorate of philosophy from Northwestern University (Ill.).
Like many fourth graders, Dr. Dorfman joined school band—choosing to play clarinet. But, it was not until he was thirteen years old that he discovered his performance instrument: guitar. He says, “Just the kind of typical middle school thing. I had a bunch of friends who played guitar, and I just wanted to be a part of that. As we went through high school, they stopped playing guitar and started playing football. I kept playing guitar, and now I still play guitar, and they don’t play football anymore.”
An accomplished researcher and author, Dr. Dorfman’s research focuses on music education technology, music teacher education, and curriculum development in music. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Dorfman about his research. Read our conversation below!
Alena Miskinis: How did you discover an interest in research?
Dr. Jay Dorfman: I did my master’s degree while I was a high school teacher. I also started getting into music technology and that part of my teaching life led me to think a lot more about teaching and how I could help students understand music technology. At the time, this was in the late 90s, early 2000s, there wasn’t a lot of curriculum available in that area. I started thinking about how curriculum could be developed based on researchable techniques. And also during my master’s degree, I got to work with a visiting professor. I did my master’s at the University of Miami in Florida. I got to work with a visiting professor, George Heller, who was a very well known music education historian, and he really helped me gain that entry into the research world.
AM: Was research something you wanted to do?
JD: I don’t know if I sought it or if I was pushed to do it, but I knew I wanted to pursue more graduate work in music education. Part of being a music faculty member is making original contributions. For music education faculty members, that’s one of the ways we do that.
AM: Have you seen your research implemented?
JD: Yeah, I have. I wrote a book that came out in 2013 which was about music technology and music education. It hasn’t been out for all that long, but I’ve seen it adopted by other universities, and I’ve seen people doing research and using that book as a theoretical foundation of their own research. And then, I’ve seen people implementing the things I wrote about in their own classrooms, so that’s really rewarding.
AM: What makes your research, particularly the book, so impactful?
JD: The strength of that book was that I was able to take some of the principles of education that had been applied outside of music and in other kinds of music teaching and morph them and adapt them to the music technology lab. People understand that teaching with technology should not be viewed as all that different from teaching with band, orchestra, choir, or elementary general music approaches. I feel that one of the contributions of that book is the adaptation of other types of teaching to the music technology lab. I took some general education frameworks and helped adapt them to the music technology lab. The theory that I developed in that book was based on the principle that other styles of music teaching recognize approaches to music teaching have goals that are similar to what we should be doing in the music technology lab.
AM: Is there any research you are currently working on?
JD: My research has developed into a few streams over the years. One is music technology-related, and I have just submitted a study about helping students learn to evaluate projects that are done in music technology. I did this with my class in the fall and gave them lots of opportunities to listen to each others' work and listen back and actually doing both open-ended feedback and grading. The grades didn’t count, but the idea was that pre-service teachers need to learn how to evaluate so that when they get in their classroom, they are prepared to do that. We do that in instrumental and choral classes and general classes, but as far as I knew, there wasn’t really anyone who had approached that element of pedagogy in the music technology classroom. I did this project last semester and have written a paper and submitted it to a journal, so hopefully, it comes out sometime soon.
Another avenue of my research is popular music. I’ve published a few papers and have a couple more in the planning stages right now about teaching people how to be in rock bands. Mostly with graduate students thus far, but I also have a paper in the works right now about taking popular music that could be difficult for those who aren’t advanced performers and making it simpler while not losing the integrity of the song. I gave a presentation on that last March at a conference. Now I am hoping to turn the presentation into a published paper.
AM: How do you gather your research?
JD: Most of my research involves living people. I presented a study last year: Over the last couple of decades, we’ve seen more and more technology-based music classes in middle schools and high schools. The thing that I was interested in was whether those classes are making students into better musicians. We know that they learn how to use programs, and they produce things with those programs, but we don’t know if they become better musicians in those ways that we would measure improvement in, say, a band or a choir.
I recruited middle and high school students at four different local schools where they offer technology-based music classes. At the beginning of their classes, I gave them a music achievement test, and then, they did the same test at the end of their music technology classes. It allowed me to gather baseline data and then determine based on the difference between their early and late test if their musical achievement had changed. I found that, under some circumstances, they did become better musicians based on that test. The longer the class was made a difference, and there were some other factors that made a difference. It was heartening to me that these classes which we think are good for our students, under some circumstances, are actually good for our students because they help them become better musicians.
AM: Since technology pervades our society today, does this contribute to the excitement students have in their music technology classes?
JD: Because technology is so pervasive, they don’t think about it as a novelty. What is novel is the music technology. Although, there are lots of kids who are doing music technology in their bedrooms. They’re discovering it on their own. So, the idea of approaching it methodically and showing students there are ways to solve their musical problems using technology—that’s something a teacher can help with.
Written by: Alena Miskinis, Writing Intern
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