Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Jim Bungert

Dr. Jim Bungert

The syllabus description for Music 295, known affectionately to students as "Rock Band,” sums up Professor Jim Bungert’s teaching philosophy. It reads, “There are two goals in this class: personal and musical development, in that order.”

Professor Bungert’s development of the Rock Band concept underscores the broader effort at Rocky Mountain College to continually innovate, personalize and enhance the student experience. His work embraces each of the College’s Core Themes: Academic Excellence, Transformational Learning, and Shared Responsibility and Stewardship. Professor Bungert strives to break through traditional barriers to learning the notably dry topics of music theory and, to a lesser extent, music history. He knows these topics well, having earned a bachelor of arts in music theory from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, a master of arts in music theory from the University of Iowa, and a Ph.D. in music theory from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Yet, despite a career steeped in higher learning, he embraces popular culture as a way to reach young hearts and minds.

“Rock Band is the epitome of what I’m striving for as an educator,” said Jim. “The original thought was ‘let’s form a chamber ensemble that’s a rock band.’ It’s student-run and we have gigs. Last year, we played Losekamp Auditorium and Shooter’s, a local bar. We had a week and a half to prepare and the students buckled down and practiced relentlessly. The transformation was unlike anything I’ve seen. I’ve seen individual efforts but this was six students working together and giving 100 percent across the board.”

The transformative learning experience of Rock Band is precisely what Dr. Bungert seeks to extend to all his classes. He wants his students to leave Rocky with more than the material and knowledge they acquire during their time here; he wants them to leave with a thirst for a lifetime of learning.

“I want to instill confidence, but confidence can be dangerous,” said Jim. “I always say, ‘One cornerstone of success is crushing self-doubt.’ I want them to channel that self-doubt in productive ways at the right times and places. It’s a motivating fear that you can use productively. I want my students to have a sense of ‘dissatisfaction’ when they graduate. Not dissatisfaction with Rocky or a particular teacher or program, but a sense that they have just whetted their appetite for learning.”

Inspired by the success and popularity of the Rock Band concept, Professor Bungert has been exploring the pedagogy of music theory versus the implicit pedagogy of video games. Prompted by an admitted obsession with Candy Crush, he wants to understand how video game developers are able to make the acquisition of knowledge and skill so enjoyable, addictive even.

“Video game developers are pedagogical geniuses,” said Jim. “They build pyramids with multiple base levels that lead to higher levels. As a music theory teacher, you have notes, chords, harmonies and keys. How do they move and work together? It’s a pyramid with similar levels and layers. How can I tap that pedagogy of video games? What do they do with the form and structure of Candy Crush that makes people keep coming back for more?”

As a father of two- and five-year-old children, Jim finds many parallels between his roles as a parent and teacher. For this reason, he especially appreciates the family atmosphere at Rocky.

“Like parenting, there is a give and take,” said Jim. “At Rocky, I’m allowed to deeply care for my students. I’m not just guiding them through the curriculum; I’m guiding them through a scary, transitional time in their lives when they’re trying to find themselves. That is a wonderful, awesome responsibility.”