Multimodality@Leeds research talk: Music Technology pedagogy for engagement: exploring a social semiotic multimodality

Day: Thursday 26 November 2020

Time: 15:00 (GMT)

Place: online Zoom (please register here , attendees will be sent a link to join the meeting a few days before the talk)

Speaker: Dr Elizabeth Dobson (University of Huddersfield)


Music technology is a STEAM (STEM+Arts) subject, offering professional opportunities across a range of creative and technical careers (Sterne & Rodgers, 2011). Our audio industries are predominantly (>90%) male (Abtan, 2016; Born & Devine, 1993, 2015; Dobson, 2018; Gavanas & Reitsamer, 2013; Grace Banks[i]; Smith, Pieper, Clark, Case & Choueiti, 2020[ii]), and the number of girls engaging in music technology already falls dramatically at secondary level. This situation can reinforce itself due to problematic assumptions how much interest or ability girls have in this area.

Following my Socioculturally framed and longitudinal discourse analysis of collaborative creativity and learning within tertiary level music technology education, I became concerned with this issue around gender, and indications that some students, more often girls, typically hang back and appear to be less engaged. Indeed research on gender in music technology education points to a lack of self-confidence, and points to the need for research that looks more closely at sociality and learning in music technology (Armstrong, 2011; Colley & Comber, 2003 Comber, Hargreaves & Colley, King, 2018)

Several studies have examined learning and collaborative creativity through analysis of talk and meaning making within music education, and studio and popular music settings (Dobson & Littleton, 2016; King, 2008, 2018; Meill & Littleton, 2008), but as yet none have adopted a multimodal approach. Since exploring a social semiotic multimodal methodology approach (Kress, 2009 & 2013; Jewitt, 2009; Jewitt & Kress, 2003) I have become interested in exploring the mediating inter-relationships between social interaction, engagement, agency, confidence, and engagement in music technology.

I propose that the most shy, non-verbal, and reserved learners may benefit from the development of complementary pedagogies guided by understanding the ways in which they naturally choose to engage. Also that if this describes more of the girls, while such a pedagogy could benefit all learners it may increate inclusion and engagement, ultimately leading to better gender diversity and inclusion in the field.

I have 35 hours of video recordings of 11-15 year old girls engaging in seven days of extra-curricular music technology workshops. The recordings show the girls participating in a range of music technology practices, six hours of which focus on a ‘sound harvesting’ task; recording audio individually using iPads, and in small peer-peer and youth worker led groups using H4n Zoom recorders. Transcriptions of the moment-by-moment interactions document verbal contributions, gaze, proxemics, gesture and ‘sound auditioning’. They form the basis of a multimodal analysis investigating inter-relationships between these modes, their meaning-making, confidence and engagement in music technology across time.

As I am still exploring a social semiotic multimodal approach I really welcome critical scrutiny of my assumptions and method. I also seek to recruit two external verifiers to undertake multimodal analysis of the data. I look forward to sharing examples from these recordings, my analysis, and some insights into this work in progress.

About the presenter:

Elizabeth Dobson is a National Teaching Fellow of the HEA, director of the Yorkshire Sound Women Network, composer, and a Principal Enterprise Fellow in Music Technology at The University of Huddersfield. In 2012 she completed her PhD “An investigation of the processes of interdisciplinary creative collaboration: the case of music technology students working within the performing arts” (with Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology at the Open University). Since 2007 she has been working at The University of Huddersfield, where she teaches modules in sonic arts, sound for media, film music composition, and empirical research for musicians. She developed an extra-curricular pedagogy for ‘enterprise creativities’ leading to the CollabHub ‘sandpit’ and the Yorkshire Sound Women Network C.I.C.. Liz has a long established commitment to supporting girls in music technology, demonstrated through fundraising and delivering workshops and summer schoolspartnering with Sound and Music. Her most recent research is exploring a social semiotic multimodal methodology for exploring music technology engagement and development. For more information you can see her research profile here

Most recent activities include:

Workshops and webinars ‘Practice Principles: social psychology for supporting learning and creativity in Music Technology’ for Yorkshire Sound Women Network

Guest Seminar for Women Nordic Music Technology (WoNoMute) at Norwegian University of Science and Technology October 14th 2019 ‘Interaction, Agency and The Role of Talk in Music Technology Education’ live stream available here

Composer Residency at Q-02 in Brussels

Book chapter published in April 2018: ‘Digital Audio Ecofeminism: The Glocal Impact of All-female Communities on Learning and Sound Creativities’ in L. De Bruin, P. Burnard and S. Davis (Eds.) Creativities in Arts Education, Research and Practice: Glocalised Perspectives for the Future of Learning and Teaching.

Performance and Round Table guest performer with the Female Laptop Orchestra and  Women in Music Technology at Sonorities 2018


Abtan, F. (2016). Where is she? Finding the women in electronic music culture. Contemporary Music Review, 35(1), 53–60.

Armstrong, V. (2013). Technology and the gendering of music education. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Born, G., & Devine, K. (2015). Music technology, gender, and class: Digitization, educational and social change in Britain. Twentieth-Century Music, 12(2), 135–172.

Colley, A., & Comber, C. (2003). Age and gender differences in computer use and attitudes among secondary school students: What has changed? Educational Research, 45(2), 155–165.

Comber, C., Hargreaves, D. J., & Colley, A. (1993). Girls, boys and technology in music education. British Journal of Music Education, 10(2), 123–134.

Dobson, E., and Littleton, K. S. (2015), ‘Digital technologies and the mediation of undergraduate students’ collaborative music compositional practices’, Learning, Media and Technology, DOI:10.1080/17439884.2015.1047850

Dobson, E. (2018). Digital Audio Ecofeminism (DA’EF): The Glocal Impact of All-Female Communities on Learning and Sound Creativities. In Creativities in Arts Education, Research and Practice (pp. 201-220). Brill Sense.

Gavanas, A., & Reitsamer, R. (2013). DJ technologies, social networks and gendered trajectories in European DJ cultures. In B. Attias, A. Gavanas, & H. Rietveld (Eds.), DJ culture in the mix: Power, technology, and social change in electronic dance music (pp. 51–77). London: Bloomsbury.

Jewitt, C. (Ed.). (2009). The Routledge handbook of multimodal analysis (pp. 14-27). London: Routledge.

Jewitt, C., & Kress, G. (2003). A multimodal approach to research in education. Trentham Books in association with the Open University.

Kress, G. (2009). Multimodality: A social semiotic approach to contemporary communication. Routledge.

Kress, G. (2013). Multimodal discourse analysis. In The Routledge handbook of discourse analysis (pp. 61-76). Routledge.

King, A. (2018), ‘The student prince: music-making with technology’, Creativities, Technologies, and Media in Music Learning and Teaching: An Oxford Handbook of Music Education, 5, pp. 162.

King, A. (2008). Collaborative learning in the music studio. Music Education Research10(3), 423-438.

Miell, D., & Littleton, K. (2008). Musical collaboration outside school: Processes of negotiation in band rehearsals. International Journal of Educational Research, 47(1), 41–49.

Sterne, J., & Rodgers, T. (2011). The poetics of signal processing. differences22(2-3), 31-53.



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