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UW-Eau Claire Music Professor Chosen for Maxwell Schoenfeld Distinguished Professorship

RELEASED: Sept. 17, 2008

Vanissa Murphy
Vanissa Murphy

EAU CLAIRE — Vanissa Murphy, professor of music and theatre arts, is the 10th recipient of the Maxwell Schoenfeld Distinguished Professorship at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

The award, created in honor of Maxwell Schoenfeld, a UW-Eau Claire history professor and scholar from 1964 until his death in 1996, recognizes a commitment to the university, achievement in scholarship and a commitment to student learning and life.

"Because of the way this award was set up to honor teaching and scholarship, I think it is one of the most meaningful ways to be recognized," said Murphy who joined the UW-Eau Claire music and theatre arts department in 1989. "It is very humbling and an honor to be the recipient. I'm very appreciative."

She will use the funds to continue her research looking at the educational implications of the current body of knowledge regarding brain-based learning, Murphy said.

"There's a debate in the world of education about the usefulness of brain-based learning," Murphy said. "Articles published in the 1980s suggested brain-based pedagogy would help students learn better. Other authors dispelled that suggestion because there was not a large enough body of research to support some of the claims. Because of advances in technology, the last 10 years have provided much more detailed information on this topic."

As an example, a PET brain scan — a nuclear magnetic imaging technique that produces a three-dimensional image or map of functional processes in the brain — might show certain areas of the brain are more active when listening to music and those areas differ depending upon whether the listener is a novice or a trained musician, Murphy said. We also know that certain areas of the brain are bigger in the brains of children who study, for example, violin for many years before age 11, she said.

"Based on that information, some people would believe that those larger areas imply something about the superior development of that brain and we should, therefore, have children study violin before a certain age," Murphy said. "The truth is we don't know what, or if, there is any sort of correlation. We need to do more studies."

Murphy said she might use some of the award funds to attend the Connecting the Mind, Brain, and Education Institute at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., in June. The institute will bring together educators and researchers to explore promising developments, new insights and emerging connections in the fields of cognitive science, neuroscience and educational practice.

"The information from this institute has the potential to change how I teach and redesign courses, ultimately making me a much better teacher and, in turn, positively impact student learning," Murphy said.

Murphy has applied for a sabbatical starting in fall 2009 during which she plans to continue her inquiry into brain-based research. A sabbatical would coincide nicely with receiving the Schoenfeld award, she said.

She hopes to publish the results of her brain-based research in Wisconsin School Musician, the Journal of Teacher Education and the Journal of Music Teacher Education. She also plans to submit a poster for consideration at the Music Educators National Conference. In addition, she hopes her research will present opportunities for student-faculty collaboration.

Murphy earned a bachelor's degree from Middle Tennessee State University; a master's degree from the University of Kentucky; and a doctorate in music education, with emphasis in elementary music education and piano pedagogy, from the University of North Texas.

Murphy's previous research projects regarding interdisciplinary lessons in general music, teacher recruitment and retention, as well as reflective inquiry in action research projects, resulted in presentations at national MENC conferences, Wisconsin Music Educators conferences and the Innovations in Music Teacher Education Symposium. She serves as the Wisconsin Music Educators Association state coordinator of the Mentoring and Professional Development Project; state chair of the college/university area of the Wisconsin Music Educators Association; and the National Association for Music Education: MENC chair of the Wisconsin Society for Music Teacher Education.

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KH/JB

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