Brownlow: 20th century student succeeds as 21st century educator

Dr. Art Brownlow, UTRGV professor of music and 2016 recipient of the UT System Outstanding Teaching Award (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

By Vicky Brito

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – AUG. 15, 2016 – For Dr. Art Brownlow, UTRGV professor of music, the trumpet isn’t the only instrument important for teaching. Enter the iPad.

This is Brownlow’s way of bringing modern methodologies – including Apple applications like iTunes U, Pia Score and Music Journal – to his courses, especially “flipped courses” like all sections of Music History.

“The problem with the traditional method is that students just sit there listening in class and do nothing,” he said. “Then, they get home to do their homework and they are stumped, because they don’t know how to do it without any direction.”

That sort of attention to student success was a big factor in Brownlow being named a 2016 UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teacher, one of the five UTRGV recipients named this year. In all, 60 UT System recipients will be honored at a ceremony Aug. 24 in Austin. 

UT Regents for the past nine years have bestowed the award on tenured, tenure-track and contingent faculty, including lecturers, adjuncts and instructional assistants, who have demonstrated extraordinary classroom performance and innovative instruction.

Brownlow says being a lifelong learner helps him improve his teaching skills, so he sets goals for himself. And as any musician would, he says, he reaches for growth.

“The main thing I am interested in now is improving my teaching,” he said. “Early in my career, I was interested in publishing in my field and that kind of thing, and I did write a book and it was published. I have performed on my instrument (trumpet) around the Valley. I did all of that.

“And I guess my interests now tend toward seeing what I can do to improve my teaching by using technology. I’m interested in that, so I am looking at new things all the time,” he said.

In 2013, he was selected to participate in an iPad pilot project at UTRGV legacy institution UT Brownsville/Texas Southmost College, which provided his students with iPads for use in the classroom. 

He uses iTunesU to upload his lectures with accompanying slide shows. The students then can watch the 20-minute lecture on their own time before class, and they can do hands-on activities in class that typically would be assigned as homework.

On the iPad, students are able to pause, rewind and fast forward to customize their lecture to their individual pace – a method that addresses all three types of learning: visual, auditory and kinesthetic.

In class, Brownlow’s students use PiaScore for hands-on assignments. With the app, the students are able to annotate musical pieces, listen to music and present findings, assignments they typically would do independently as homework.

With the integration of technology as the central delivery method for lectures and assignments, Brownlow’s classes are 100 percent green because they require absolutely no paper.

In 2015, Brownlow was named an Apple Distinguished Educator. ADEs are part of a global community of education leaders recognized for their work with Apple technology both in and outside the classroom.

Brownlow said the single most important skill is an individualized approach to teaching each student during one-on-one lessons.

“You have to learn every student,” he said. “They’re individuals and they’re different. Some students can be pushed to practice every day; some students, if you push them too hard, they’ll recoil and back away. You have to learn that.”

Brownlow said part of preparing a student to excel at trumpet is to set weekly, semester and yearly goals for each individual.

“It’s a question of setting realistic goals, and then expecting them to complete those goals,” he said.

During his one-on-one lessons with trumpeters, he uses an app called Music Journal, where musicians can manage their daily practice routine, organize their piece of music and track their own progress.

Former student Amanda Daniels was one of seven of Brownlow’s students to submit a letter of support for Brownlow’s ROTA win. She is now a music teacher in the Garland Independent School District, in the Dallas area.

“One of the things that always amazed me about each lesson was his level of preparedness for class,” she said. “Dr. Brownlow’s lessons have a certain flow that I have rarely encountered since my time in Brownsville. When I attended my weekly lessons with him, he always knew exactly what I was supposed to play for him that day. This is something I greatly appreciate now that I am also an educator, and I can appreciate how difficult it is to be so organized, with such a demanding schedule.”

Adonai Avalos is a current student at UTRGV studying music education, and has taken Brownlow’s flipped Music History course.

“His enthusiasm and devotion to teaching was felt since day one of his class,” Avalos said. “Rather than having the lecture in class and struggling to jot down and memorize as many facts as possible, by seeing the lecture at our own pace, on our own time, my classmates and I could take notes more effectively and comprehend the lesson much better.”

UTRGV Informational Writer / 956-882-4330
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