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Peer Review

BBC - Orchestra Guide



Overall Numeric Rating:

4.75 stars
Content Quality: 4.75 stars
Effectiveness: 4.5 stars
Ease of Use: 5 stars
Reviewed: Jun 23, 2008 by Music
Overview: The site introduces young audiences to the instruments in a traditional symphony orchestra through textual descriptions, images, and sound bites. Each instrument page also includes a short interview by a performer from the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Each instrument, consistently, includes sound bites of its playing range, sound effects associated with its main playing techniques, and solo excerpts from well known musical pieces, appropriate to younger audiences. “Secondary” orchestra instruments (e.g. saxophone, English horn, contrabassoon, etc.) are briefly presented during the discussions on the “primary” instruments in a given sub-family (e.g. clarinet, oboe, and bassoon, etc. respectively). This is an extremely well designed resource in terms of both, content selection and structure, and presentation layout and navigability. Multiple distinct but interrelated and well integrated navigation paths are laid out, with the main content of the site being accessible from within multiple contexts. Although the site is not as extensive or detailed as it may seem at first, it already has the infrastructure and design needed to allow easy and effective growth. In addition, most pages include requests for contributions by visitors, enhancing the possibility that this resource will continue to be updated and grow.
Type of Material: Collection / Reference Material that includes sound examples, simulations, and learning games. More specifically, a) under an instructor’s guidance it can function as a task-related learning tool, b) it supports free exploration, without the need to follow a single, progressive path, and c) it offers several interactive games that make learning fun and motivating.
Recommended Uses: Humanities, general music, and music appreciation courses.
Technical Requirements: Latest I.E. or Firefox browser with the Real Player plug-in. The site uses http protocol access to .ram files to stream audio content, so there is no need to configure the browser and plug-in for the currently more common, rtsp protocol.
Identify Major Learning Goals: Introduction to the instruments of the orchestra. Presentation of the various instrument families: strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion. Performance examples of appropriate orchestral music to highlight the various instruments and instrument families. Introduction to music listening and literature.
Target Student Population: The intended audience and the audience that will get the most out of this site is, specifically, grade school students. This is clearly reflected, not only in the low level of detail/depth/sophistication of the information presented (level that may also be appropriate for adult beginner learners) but also in the language and overall tone used in the site’s text portions, in the sound-bite selections, and in the graphics/images used to illustrate the musical instruments.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: The site is very well and efficiently designed, requiring no previous knowledge on the topic, and minimal computer and web-browsing skills.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 4.75 stars
Strengths: The information is accurate, well organized, and follows a consistent format throughout. It is as comprehensive as possible without going into more detail than appropriate to the intended audience and general scope of the site. It offers multiple opportunities for exploration and adventure without making the users feel lost. The interviews, pictures, etc. of professional BBC Orchestra performers, accompanying each instrument presentation, are a big plus of the site. By associating a real person’s face and personality to each instrument, they provide attractively presented role models and make it more likely for the information to be motivating and have a lasting impact on impressionable young audiences. In many respects this site has a lot in common with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Kids site . The advantage of the DSOKids site is its inclusion of a “Teacher’s Lounge” that offers a higher level of information detail as well as additional resources and advice on how to best use the site for instructional purposes Advantages of the BBC Orchestra Guide site include the performer interviews/pictures and the well designed integration with other related BBC cites (hard to beat the BBC information machine). The BBC sites for Classical Music, Radio 3, and a wealth of ensembles, along with a series of useful, interactive games, are just a click away.
Concerns: Although the level of detail is appropriate to the intended audience, it would be useful if the site included selected links to additional resources, guiding users to more detailed analyses/descriptions of each instrument. Assuming appropriate selection, placement, and monitoring of such additional resources, this site could become a one-stop-shop for music students/teachers of all levels and interests. Some buffering is required to retrieve audio files.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4.5 stars
Strengths: Although there are no explicitly stated learning objectives, prerequisites, or progressive presentations of concepts, this site can support very effective student learning, through both instructor guidance and free exploration. The well selected, organized, and presented information is enhanced by 10 interactive games/tests that are well designed and engaging, to the point of becoming addictive! (I spent a good 2 hours competing against uncharacteristically aggressive monks in “Hoketus” and exploring electronic music composition in “Lizard”).
Concerns: See the “content” section, above

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: As mentioned in the general comments, this is an extremely well designed resource in terms of both, content selection and structure, and presentation layout and navigability. Multiple distinct but interrelated and well integrated navigation paths are laid out, with the main content of the site being accessible from within multiple contexts. The site quality is consistent with the high standard established by the vast majority of BBC’s online endeavors. Similarly to the PBS, and Annenberg & McArthur Foundations sites, I strongly recommend bookmarking the general BBC site, as it is the location of multiple excellent educational resources online, some of which are already included in MERLOT There is a wealth of multimedia information laid out, literally, as an intricate web that users can emerge in, getting the feeling that they discover while exploring.
Concerns: One broken link: “Enjoy Yourself” audio example in the “Spot the Orchestra” section.

Other Issues and Comments: Great resource! While the primary focus is for young listeners, this site is equally appropriate for adults wanting an entry level experience with the orchestra and guided music listening.