Sunday, June 29, 2008

I write the music in the classroom

I am very interested in figuring out how to use digital music with students. Whether teaching online or on campus, my students are often carrying mp3 players, iPods, or some sort of device for playing and listening to music. Instead of asking them to set that stuff aside, I want to use music in instructional ways. Here are a few ideas:

  • Pick a course topic and have students find songs that say something about that topic. For example, I teach educators, so I have students find songs about school (such as School's Out, We're Going to be Friends, Be True to Your School, Hot for Teacher, and so on). Then, they share their songs and we discuss what the songs tell us about the experience of school...the good, the bad, and the ugly.

  • Related to the idea above, have students pick a word (e.g., power) or an event (e.g., when they felt like they had really succeeded at something) or an emotion/state-of-mind (e.g., confidence), and find a song that represents that word/event/emotion. Students can include an explanation of how/why the song represents that word for them, or students can engage in a 20-question activity to ferret out why each student selected their song.

  • Have students bring in a song and rewrite the lyrics to reflect a particular course topic (everyone can write lyrics for a 12-bar blues, after all). I have a colleague who does this at the end of a course, and students perform their songs (original or rewrite)!

  • Have students select a song, and then create a music video for the song. The video should reflect a particular course topic. For example, if I was teaching a course on language, literacy, and culture, I could have students pick any song, but then create a video in support of the song that reflects diversity. [This idea relates to the various digital storytelling posts in this blog.]

  • As a way for students to get to know each other, each student could share a song and explain why the song is meaningful to her or him (I call this the "Soundtrack of Your Life" activity). Or, alternatively, students could share their songs, and then the group could ask questions about the song -- sort of a 20-questions activity -- to figure out why each student selected the song she or he did. Finally, the shared songs could be used to consider the groups shared interests, differences, and so on (e.g., how many folks like jazz, or female songwriters, or sad songs). A great tool for this is Finetune. Finetune allows you to create playlists from a large library of music, and then makes it easy to share your playlists with others. Songza is a similar tool that I also like. So, for the Soundtrack activity, I ask students to create Finetune or Songza playlists that are shared with others in the class. To give you an idea of what you end up with, here are a few examples of my playlists:

    June 17, 2008 (in Songza) ~

    Easy Listening Groove (in Finetune) ~

    Living in London 1978 (in Finetune) ~

    Is that the Amtrak train, already? - Chico, 1988 (in Finetune) ~

Saturday, June 28, 2008

"Stump the Professor"

I have been playing with the idea of playing games with students in online courses, mostly influenced by recently seeing an episode of "Are you smarter than a 5th grader?" online. When I think about those types of games -- Jeopardy, Millionaire, and so on -- I think that it is the questions that make the games interesting. And, that the folks who have the most fun and learn the most are those who construct the questions. It is hard to write a good question. If you can write a good question...that's everything. So, I've been having students -- as individuals or in teams -- compete to develop a great question that can stump me and the rest of the class. Then we have a race to see who can answer it first -- me or them (usually in teams). They usually win, and that's very cool.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Using instructionally, with a cherry on top is a very useful online social bookmarking tool. It allows individuals and groups to collect a library of online resources (i.e., webliography). For instructional purposes, I have asked groups of students to create a webliography on a particular topic. But, honestly, I find this to be somewhat limiting, and less than satisfying in and of itself. It works well if I then have students do something with the resources they have collected. But, if the process ends with the collection, it just doesn't work for me. I don't really like the idea of, "hey kids, let's social bookmark together!" I think it has to have a purpose so students are social bookmarking in order to create something else...something unique, creative, constructive.

So, here are two suggestions for using that have worked for me:

  • Collect a set of sites in, and then ask students to use the sites to create a unique presentation or story. It is interesting to see how different the products students create are, even though they used the same source sites provided via [Alternatively, have groups of students collect and share a set of sites via instead of you.]

  • Post a set of seemingly unrelated links in, and then asked students to figure out why the sites are collected together. The students have to be detectives to figure out why the links/sites are related. [Again, you could have groups of students post a set of seemingly unrelated links in instead of you.]