Collaborative Knowledge Building of Ethnic Musical Communities in an Urban High School: An Ethnographic Case Study
This study investigates the nature of the face-to-face interactions and collaborations between secondary school students and community members in the nested contexts of the classroom and a local Italian community, both situated in a large city in Canada. Students used the tools of inquiry of cultural ethnographers, interviewing members of a local community, transcribing their interviews, and documenting their representations and interpretations in a communal database. Students were able to read each others’ database entries, share information, and interact with each other in a collaborative learning environment. Two research questions were posed: (1) What is the nature of teaching and learning in a collaborative knowledge-building secondary music classroom focusing on a local music culture? (2) How does a selected group of secondary students represent their understanding of a local music culture, including concepts, beliefs, and values embedded in cultural practices?
In this study I employ a qualitative interpretive research paradigm in order to create a rich, contextualized, multi-voiced account of students using the tools of inquiry of cultural ethnographers. A purposeful sample of thirteen students, ages 15-17, was selected from a larger, upper-level music performance class. Five different data sets were analyzed for this study: (a) pilot study fieldnotes, (b) main study fieldnotes, (c) audio transcriptions, (d) video transcriptions, and (e) database.
Three overarching categories emerged from my recursive reading and coding of the data: Preservation, the function of music, and identity. The data reveal the value of traditional music for a local Italian community of practice. The students describe how music functions to preserve culture and to build and maintain ethnic identity. In addition, students describe how they position themselves as insiders and outsiders in relation to a local Italian community. Students struggled with different issues related to their own ethnic identity. The nature of interactions in the collaborative learning environment of the classroom, the database, and the community are discussed. Students were able to infer concepts, beliefs and values embedded in a local Italian community’s musical and cultural practices.