Our class is having a virtual conversation about Wagner's book "The Global Achievement Gap." Here's a collection of quotes and questions from the first couple chapters using Storify. Pretty cool little tool.
Our class is being asked to use 20% of our course time to work on something of personal interest. This harkens to Google's policy of allowing it's engineers to focus 20% (one full day) of their energy on something they're passionate about. This policy led to many exciting creations like Gmail and Google Talk.
I have been passionate about music for a long time. I played the trombone (and a few other instruments) through Jr. High and High School, performing in Concert, Jazz and Marching bands. Unfortunately the college I chose to attend did not have a music department and I didn't have much opportunity to continue playing. Since then I have discovered and spent a lot of time listening to many different types of music and musicians. I find new music all the time, and I gravitate towards the creative and authentic, mainly focusing on rock and roll, jazz, world music and overlapping variants of each. Intricate rhythms, distinct melodies, and improvisation all inspire me.
So...the 20% Project is supposed to have elements of "knowledge, play and making" in it and I want to make some music of my own. Several years ago I was gifted a student-version bass guitar and amp, and I have never made the time to sit down and really learn it. I've toyed with it here and there, and I know how to tune it, but I don't know the basic chord structures or how to play any specific songs.
Clearly there's lots to learn and any number of musical avenues I could venture down, but I need to focus my efforts so that I have a clear goal and measurable outcome for the small time available. So here's a few questions to help guide me over the next dozen weeks or so.
What are the basic musical stuctures or theories I need to know to play the bass?
How do the various settings and knobs on the bass and amp affect the sound that is produced?
How does the bass fit into the "picture" of a song?
What musical documentation is needed to learn a song? Tabs, sheet music, video instruction?
What are examples of songs (in genres I enjoy) with distinctive, yet simple, bass lines that can be learned relatively easily?
Where do I find the materials to learn those songs?
How long will it take to become proficient playing those songs?
How will I measure success?
I've started forming some initial ideas to explore, so watch this blog to see how things progress. And please chime in with any thoughts or insight.
Michael Wesch brings a discussion of how technology and the internet has created new opportunities for people and students to interact, collaborate and create digital products that have a wide and lasting impact. This ability formerly belonged only to those in the media (e.g. TV and radio) but the internet has democratized the flow of information. We no longer need to simply know content and material, we need to know how to use it and how to make a difference with it. All of the world's knowledge is at our finger tips, now what are we going to do or create with it?
This topic really resonates with me as my work with environmental activists relied on a distributed network of people all over the country who were able to collaborate and share ideas using technology. I especially like Wesch's example of Ushahidi, as I've used their tools to create a couple sites where anyone in the world could share information on environmental issues in their neighborhood. The Ocean Illness site uses a crowd-sourced map of places that people are getting sick from exposure to polluted water.
In the classroom, these technologies allow for easy collaboration on group projects, letting every student contribute and participate in the creation process. The key would seem to be providing them with clear guidance on expectations and tracking their progress. This sort of work can help to prepare students for future careers. As we're reading in Wagner's book "The Global Achievement Gap" the types of skills that are needed and expected by today's employers are very different from what we have traditionally taught our students. It's up to us as educators to prepare students for the world they will actually live in.
This presentation by Dave White lays out a theory for categorizing two major groups of internet users: visitors and residents. While the traditional view of users states that people are either quick to learn and use online tools or are resistant luddites, White's view looks at how people use those tools and the level to which their lives rely on them. Residents tend to live a portion of their lives online, having social and professional interactions with others in the virtual world. The web has become a critical part of their persona. Visitors, on the other hand, use the web as a tool to solve problems as needed but they don't rely on it and they don't maintain an online presence. It may seem logical to use age as a proxy since we typically think of teens and millenials as being constantly online, and grandma and grandpa don't know how to click a mouse. But this isn't necessarily true, as there are many older people who have embraced the internet as a reliable and useful resource, and they may or may not find value in the more social and recreational aspects.
I would definitely place myself in the category of Residents, as I use the web for many aspects of my life and I have maintained my online persona for several years. I maintain both personal and professional relationships using the main social media tools of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I use the web as a constant resource for information, knowledge and entertainment. I also incorporate those tools into my teaching, sharing educational videos and news sources with my students, and pushing them to use online tools in productive ways.
At Surfrider Foundation, we realized very early that we could reach more people and spread our environmental messages more quickly by using and participating in social media and having online conversations with people. It's about more than just pushing your agenda in a one-to-many fashion. You have to build relationships and listen to those who want to interact with you. As a non-profit brand we were able to build huge levels of loyalty and dedication in people who cared about the coastal environment. The way to reach those people who are "residents" on the web is to connect with them where they live. They use these tools in ways that have become second nature, and that's typically how and where they prefer to be reached.
As an educator I need to figure out new and fun ways to reach my students in those online spaces where they live. They know how to use the tools for social interaction and for learning what they want to. We need to make the connections to more academic thinking and help students use their online skills in productive ways that will prepare them for life as adults in the workplace.
Will Richardson's piece asking "Why School?" presents a series of arguments and ideas for rethinking the way that education works in light of the new and amazing technologies that are at all of our fingertips here in the 21st Century. Schooling is traditionally about learning lots of "stuff" because in the past access to information was limited. We needed to have facts in our brains because otherwise we would have to spend hours or days searching hard copy books and encyclopedias in libraries to be able to find some important tidbit. These days we have access to most of the world's knowledge in our pockets, so all those little tidbits aren't really so important to know or have pounded into our brains during our formative years. If you need to find something, just punch it into a search bar and you'll instantly have links to thousands or millions of sources.
What's much more important now is thinking skills and the ability to work collaboratively to solve problems and to create. Unfortunately much of our educational system is still focused on the old traditional model. The tests we ask kids to take often ask them to recall inane facts that don't have much value or repercussions for the real world. Fortunately these same students are well-versed in the use of the new technologies when they need to learn something outside of school. I've found that you can have someone show you how to do almost anything by simply searching on YouTube. And of course these tools they are learning with outside of school are banned or blocked inside the school. Why not utilize them and push students to use them better and more efficiently.
All this sounds very similar to what I did in my previous job at the nonprofit environmental advocacy group Surfrider Foundation. We figured out that if you want to influence people to change their behavior or convince them to think more environmentally, you need to talk to them in the places where they live their lives. So we put more effort into talking about our issues on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Today, so many people live and interact with their families and friends in online venues that we, as educators, need to figure out how to take advantage of those tendencies.
We now live in and interact with a global community. It's so easy to share experiences and find someone who is going through the same thing as you, or that went through it in the past. We can learn from any number of people that have gone through the same things we have. But we need to teach our students how to think about those resources, how to recognize which ones are of value and how to apply that knowledge to the problems they are faced with.