Friday, May 16, 2008

Play To Learn and Grow

In a very short time technology has changed an entire generation’s behavior radically, and it behooves all of us who are not from that generation but whose daily life involves interaction with them, such as parents and teachers, to learn as much as we can about the new behaviors.

(If you are someone who doesn’t think behavior can change that fast around technology, try to think back to how quickly, when telephone answering machines first appeared, the norm went from “It’s rude to have an answering machine” to “It’s rude NOT to have an answering machine.)

Marc Prensky
The Emerging Online Life of the Digital Native 3

Many of us are reminded daily that we are strangers in a strange land. We approach the field of play in the classroom from a different direction than our students. What is normal to us is quaint to them; what is normal to them is unknown to us. Luckily for us, we have a weapon that many of our colleagues in other disciplines lack: our work as performing musicians has a strong collaborative element to it. We ask our students to work together, share, criticise themselves and their peers and synchronise sounds created by various anatomic or mechanical means to achieve a collaborative result. The group can achieve what the individual cannot.

Likewise we have a strong individual component to our subject where there are levels of performance - benchmarks for want of a better word - against which performers can measure their technical and artistic prowess as they progress in their studies. There are competitions, festivals, master classes and more where students perform for a "master teacher" and are critiqued and helped to work through problems that may be holding them back in the advancement of their studies.

Or discipline also contains the "experimental" branch where an individual sets themselves against the task of transcribing what they hear in their head to paper, or analog waves or bits. Tonalities, tunings, harmonies, melodies; combinations of instruments. voices and, well, who knows what in order to create "in the air" what previously only existed in their imagination.

How lucky we are in this digital age, that many of the tools of our trade have become ubiquitous objects in the household and school environment! Our digital native students can't imagine not being able to use a sequencer with realistic sampled sounds to program a piece of music. Creating music tracks and burning CDs, editing and creating DVDs, stop-motion animation - all with edited original soundtracks or mixes and mash-ups of their favourite music. They think nothing of creating formulae in spreadsheets to simplify their calculations and explore "if, then" questions. Digital images, instant messaging, blogging, Facebook, MySpace, Meebo, Twitter are the ways that they communicate. The mobile phone that we digital immigrants struggle with, is the everyday tool of choice for the digital native: camera, SMS, for starters and the more advanced phones include GPS, radio, Internet browser and access to the normal "office" style applications. We digital immigrants buy CDs - our digital natives download, usually from a Peer-to-Peer source or a Torrent that is outside the normal legitimate channel of distribution that the record companies have created.

We ask them to record reflections and progress on worksheets: they would prefer to have a wiki where the entire group can reflect and interact as well as individuals have individual pages where they can "soliliquise" and accept comments from their friends. Our concerts are posted on YouTube and the performing groups organise sites on Facebook. I am inspired by my fellow teachers who have taken the first steps into social networking and used Facebook to organise reunions and school celebrations. I am also inspired by, and more than a little envious of, my colleagues who tell me that the audition materials we supply are posted on their school provided web sites and the students download them, record the audition, evaluate their own performance and submit their best efforts back to their teacher via E-mail or the department shared space.

What is the end of year message in al of this? Ah, grasshopper. As the spring turns into summer and we begin to de-compress and re-create, all of us digital immigrants need to take a little step out of our comfort zone and explore some of the technology around us. If you have an interactive whiteboard, prepare a set of flipcharts for a favourite lesson. If you don't have an interactive whiteboard but have a projector or beamer in your room, prepare some PowerPoint or Keynote presentations of a lesson that you teach. Explore that mobile phone. Grab the digital camera and take a photo essay of your your holiday and use one of the free or inexpensive photo editing tools or web sites such as Picasa or Flickr to share your images with your friends, family and the world. Open up that copy of Garageband, Acid Pro, Cubase, Sibelius, Finale or whatever new music tool you have and play. That's right. Play. Arrange a song, write the Romantic Composer Rap, score that arrangement that you've always heard in the the back of your head.

Enjoy exploring the technology and enjoy some of the "new ways" of approaching our subject.