Star Staff: Ruth Clark

Tech Queen and music education innovator

Our very own in-house tech queen Ruth has developed some exciting and innovative tech projects to deliver music education in her ten years at LCoM.

She is currently working alongside our Production Pathway Leader to create a cutting-edge Augmented Reality project to facilitate better studio-based learning for students. Quite a different side to the industry!


What was your earliest musical experience?
 
My Auntie Rosie was a touring folk singer/musician (she now runs arts programmes in the North East) in various bands. My childhood memories are littered by memories of hearing her sing on her records and being allowed to tinker with her hammered dulcimer, to my young eyes the most unusual and exciting musical thing in the world. From then I made awful noises on the violin and less awful noises on the piano from the age of 5 or 6, singing in choirs wherever I could. Music runs through my Mum’s side of the family, with my Mum and maternal grandparents being members of the Leeds Philharmonic Chorus for as long as I’ve been around.
 
Who/what motivated you to have a career at a music conservatoire?
 
I’m not a brilliant solo performer, being on stage alone terrifies me, but I always loved studying music and being around musicians. I studied music to A Level and was in various school ensembles, including a tri-school samba band that played at the Nice Carnival and Royal Albert Hall.  I didn’t pursue music at university, I undertook a BA (Hons) History at the University of Hull, but I took some musicology modules and sung in the choir.
 
Being involved in music in whatever way was always something that felt natural to me and I always hoped that it could become part of my professional life. After I finished university I came back to Leeds and saw a part time Library Assistant job at LCoM, after a day of job searching where I thought I’d never be employed. You needed to have an A Level in Music for the job and my Dad said doing an A Level in Music would only lead to my becoming a singing dustman… so it feels pretty good that my A Level in Music opened the door to my whole career!  
 
How did your career develop?
 
After getting my first job at the college I worked towards an MSC Information Studies and once I achieved that my job progressed to a full time post developing the conservatoire’s first Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), Space. Initially this was quite a technical job setting up the whole site, adapting the underlying code and developing the processes of assignment submission/feedback. Alongside this I worked closely with the academic staff to establish how online learning could enhance learning and teaching at the conservatoire.
 
In 2011 the VLE was heavily invested in and now encompasses an ePortfolio system, AV capture/streaming and online conferencing. As there is now an in-house technical development team, I can fully concentrate on the pedagogical use of the VLE and other online/digital resources within the curriculum. With my background studying music, and by immersing myself in the learning and teaching activities of the college, I can combine my expertise to compliment the day-to-day demands of the curriculum, supporting students and also working on innovative development projects. I mainly collaborate with the academic staff and the AV Unit, identifying curriculum requirements that can be enhanced by the use of technology and online resources. We create our own interactive learning resources that support and enhance the delivery of the curriculum. I also support students in the use of online and digital technologies for their studies by going into classes and having other support sessions.
 
What is the best thing to have happened in your career to date?
 
It’s hard to pick out the best thing as there have been quite a few highlights over the past ten years but I’ve been involved in some really exciting projects over the past year. With the Music Production pathway leader and an external developer, I’ve worked on an Augmented Reality app to be used within the studios, allowing students to use smart phones and tablets to layer information and support over the real life mixing desks. Rolling that out and hearing the positive responses from students, then presenting the innovation at conferences and getting great feedback has been awesome. Also, with the AV Unit and Pop pathway, we’ve produced an online object, which can also be used on mobile devices, containing videos of scales, arpeggios etc. that help students prepare for their technical exams.
 
However, the real best thing is whenever a student says thank you. Whether that’s straight after I’ve helped them with an assignment, when they’ve used one of the online resources or at graduation, it makes it all worth it. When you see what they go on to do within the industry you always feel proud that they started out here.
 
How would you describe your biggest challenge in your role?
 
I think having to juggle the demands of all the different courses at the conservatoire. To do my job well you have to understand what’s being taught on all the FE, HE and Postgrad courses, why it’s taught in a particular way and where technology can compliment. The use of learning technology should be driven by the requirements of the curriculum and there’s no point using it when pen and paper or face-to-face interaction does the job well. 
 
What attracted you to coming to work at LCoM?
 
I’ve been here ten years so it’s hard to say what attracted me to start with but what’s kept me here are the people. There are not many places you’re surrounded by such inspirational people, both staff and students. I get to come to work every day to hear music being made and work with leading professionals, whilst working in an innovative field that’s always evolving and pioneering.
 
Who/what would be your dream to work with?
 
I’d love to work on something that enables current artists to contribute to our students’ education. We’re lucky at LCoM that top industry professionals and artists come in and deliver workshops to our students; however it would be great to produce something that would enable other artists, who can’t come to the conservatoire in person, to impart their knowledge in a meaningful and interactive way. I’m not sure what it would be exactly or how this would happen yet, but the cogs are turning!
 
What has been your greatest achievement?
 
Being awarded LCoM’s Learning and Teaching Fellowship a few years ago was brilliant. I got to go on a research trip to the US and Canada; visiting Julliard, Columbia, Harvard and Berklee, as well as attending an international conference in Toronto. Outside work, completing the London Marathon is definitely my biggest achievement!
 
Who is your greatest inspiration and why?
 
My Mum. She’s an incredibly strong and supportive woman, who’s completely unassuming, which reflects her own mother (my wonderful Granny). She’s been the best example to grow up with and I hope I reflect her in some way.  
Where would you like to be in five years? 
 
With my own private apartment on Necker Island! If the lottery win doesn’t work out then I just hope I’m still enjoying what I do, developing new and interesting ways of delivering music education.
 
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