On teaching in the lush gardens of YouTube, iTunes and MySpace
As much as I enjoy turning up the volume and sharing the Ugly Beauty of a Thelonious Monk, or the swelling chants of an Amiri Baraka, I believe I'm most effective in the classroom when the room is quiet - when all you can hear is the whirring of the computer fans. When the room is quiet the students can think better and help each other (which they do expertly) and I can work one on one with the struggling students to help extinguish the little technical fires that regularly flare up in a Media Literacy class. I believe that a quiet classroom also gives students a chance to take a mind breath and to reflect on the multiple tasks at hand.
In my Media Literacy class all students are required to bring headphones to class. See my post, Tools You Can Use. The students use their headphones to listen to podcasts, watch topic specific videos and to make audio and video recordings. Well, at least according to my course outline and syllabus, that's why they bring these items to class. But here is the reality: only a handful of students have spent the $29.00 to buy the headphone/mic sets and only a smaller few use their headphones to listen to podcasts and to watch topic specific videos. Instead, an inordinate amount of time is spent listening to the musical styling's of T.I., Sasha Fierce and T -Pain. There is also a lot of fascination with street fighting and beat down videos. These distractions are a given in the 21st century classroom.
It is a major challenge to keep teens on task in the lush gardens of YouTube, iTunes and MySpace, but I must admit, that since we've been working with Audacity and MPEG Streamclip, there has been a significant increase in responsible and constructive headphone usage in my Media Literacy class. My biggest complaint these days is reminding students that headphones are for private listening and that neither I nor the students sitting near them should hear your audio if you are wearing headphones.
Fighting, plagiarism, insubordination and cutting class notwithstanding, I believe that keeping students engaged and productive in the lush gardens of YouTube, iTunes, MySpace, Facebook et al, will be one of the biggest challenges for 21st century educators. I started teaching rather late in my career - at the age of 40 and after my first week in the classroom, I quickly learned two invaluable lessons: 1. that I needed to bring my own teaching props to class - television, camera, microphones, books, magazines and 2. that the "sit and get" approach to teaching would not work for me nor would it work for my students, at least not everyday. "Sit and get" worked for my generation in the '60's and the '70's when the teacher was the grand poobah of all things scholarly and there were no laptop computers, no cell phones, no MP3 players and of course no Internet. But that was 40 years ago. Since then, the educational landscape has changed drastically.
Information is super abundant today. It is on my MP3 player, it is on my cell phone, it's on my digital camera and on my flash drive. Information is all over the Internet, in podcasts, on YouTube, on bliptv, and on iTunesU and don't forget that seemingly endless repository of information available through iGoogle, Netvibes and Pageflakes? Let's face it, even the grandest of poobahs would seem shallow and uninformed alongside all of the information available over the Internet today.
For those of us toiling daily in the digital vineyards, a huge part of our job in 2009 will be to remain open and receptive to the best practices and approaches for keeping our students engaged and productive in the lush gardens of YouTube, iTunes and high tech gadgets.
We can accomplish this through meaningful (just-in-time) professional development and through focused, face-to-face exchanges with our colleagues down the hall and around the corner. Another important part of this challenge is to broaden our own virtual learning networks by subscribing to educational podcasts, educational blogs, and participating in webinars and conferences like K12 Online, EduCon and Classroom 2.0. These forums are hosted by some of the best thinkers and developers working in education today. Most of these sessions are free, downloadable and easy to archive. It's a great time to be a student and an even greater time to be a teacher!