Do I really want to read my prof's Music blog?
January 11, 2010 10:59 AM   Subscribe

What uses of blogs and technology have you seen in undergraduate classes that didn't feel tacked on or useless?

I'm a graduate student teaching two sections of an Introduction to Music class for undergraduates elementary education majors. We basically take them through the simple paths of "this is how you read music," "this is how you play recorder," and "here's how you teach songs to kids."

There's a big push to include things like blogs, wikis, and other digital media in classes taught at my university. I'm familiar with all of these types of technologies, but every time I've seen them put into place, they've been lacking.

For example: a professor posts something on a blog, and everyone has to write a response. Of course, everyone waits till the last moment, the responses aren't thought-out, and it turns into just another homework assignment, not a website that's actually useful for the kids in the class.

Have you ever seen something like this be effective? The main use I can think of at the moment is a central location for helpful links (recorder fingerings, pdfs of blank staff paper for writing music, etc.), but beyond that, I'm sort of hitting a wall as to creative ideas, or how to make this not seem like a tagged on, "look at me, I'm using the Internets!" type of addition.

Any and all advice (positive and negative experiences) are much appreciated.
posted by SNWidget to Education (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I know this isn't exactly the same, but when I had to take my required freshman writing class, my professor made us write blog posts to a communal blog about current events that had something to do with the class's subject matter. He divided the class into 3 groups, so every person in one group had to write a blog post the Monday before class, and the next week another group had to write posts. I had to write 3 blog posts total during the semester, so it wasn't a huge burden, but I spent hours on each one making it perfect. The groups that didn't have to post had to comment on one blog post each week. My favorite part, though, was that my professor chose a couple of the really good posts each week to discuss in class. It was my goal each time to be one of the "chosen ones."

The blog posts and comments counted for about 15% of our grade, so everyone worked hard on them. Only 5% or something wouldn't be a high enough perecentage to make sure everyone cares and does a good job.

It was a really positive experience for me because, not having ever had a blog before, it allowed me to write in-depth pieces about religion and politics that I knew other people were reading. I developed a thicker skin and learned how to communicate better online.

If you are teaching elementary education majors, maybe you could have them write blog posts about how music can be used in the classroom, how music can be taught to beginners, or what types of elementary-level material for teaching music is available. I think something like that could be a useful resource for your students, and since they would be taking ownership of the blog and its contents, give them a sense of responsibility and excitement about the place of "new media" in education.
posted by pecknpah at 11:11 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, my professor had guidelines about what type of blogging was suitable, such as word limits and types of sources. I love rules that tell me exactly what to expect. I think that contributed to my success in the class.
posted by pecknpah at 11:13 AM on January 11, 2010

I'm currently a graduate student in community and regional planning, and the early part of the program involves lots of readings on theories of urban design, human rights, property rights, poverty, etc. Because there are quite a few students in the program, the professor set up a blogspot blog, on which we were encouraged to continue discussions outside of class.

She made participation on the blog one of several criteria on which students will be graded, noted that it would be a good outlet especially for students who were too shy to participate in the classroom discussions. Or those that skipped class...

Anyway, it worked out pretty well -- most of us made at least one post and quite a few comments, and not just because we saw it as part of our grade. With her encouragement, it evolved into a format for discussion of current urban issues in the news in the context of our somewhat abstract theory readings.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 11:18 AM on January 11, 2010

Reading my response over, it might appear that I only liked the class and the whole blogging experience because I got a good grade. That is not the case. I liked blogging because I could make articulate, interesting contributions to the discussion that I rarely had the guts to do in class. If you have people in your class who are reluctant to speak up in class, this could help solve part of the problem.
posted by pecknpah at 11:23 AM on January 11, 2010

Best answer: In my experience these have always been pretty much useless: people just get wrapped up in the novelty of new technology, so they think that adding that technology to anything will make it better, but often it just distracts them from their original purpose.

I'm not saying blogs, wikis, etc. are useless for teaching, but I'm saying you consider using them when you already have a need that they fill, rather than starting with the idea of using them and then trying to manufacture an excuse after the fact. It sounds like whoever is pushing you to use these tools is has already started out on the wrong foot by not having a purpose in mind.

That said, I think a blog could be more useful than email as a way of making announcements to your class. A blog or wiki could be a place for students to post things that they wrote so that other students could comment on them—if that's something your class wants to do; I'm not sure how relevant that is to music.
posted by k. at 11:23 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

We had a class blog for a 4000 level postmodernism class. No one had to use it, but many did. Each week someone would post a summary of what we'd talked about, information about videos we'd watched, etc.

Also, people could and did post interesting/related stuff they came across, like dadaist music, chicago style generators, and local shows. It wasn't inserted into the course so much as jsut being available. It was good.
posted by cmoj at 11:31 AM on January 11, 2010

Best answer: Have you ever seen something like this be effective? The main use I can think of at the moment is a central location for helpful links (recorder fingerings, pdfs of blank staff paper for writing music, etc.), but beyond that, I'm sort of hitting a wall as to creative ideas, or how to make this not seem like a tagged on, "look at me, I'm using the Internets!" type of addition.

I think you have the right idea here that the important thing to think about is what kinds of use cases you want to support and figure out what technology can support that, rather than picking a technology and thinking about how you can shoehorn it into your course.

I would say the best use of technology in my experience is as a way to help students and instructors communicate more easily. In my CS classes in college it was through course-specific Usenet groups, but these days you could use forums or wikis to do the same thing. If a student has a question they want to ask you outside of class time, they can email you or go to office hours or whatever, but if they post it on a forum or wiki instead then all of the other students can see it. And students can contact each other more easily, so that if someone wants to organize a study group or sell their used textbook from last semester or whatever they can post a message for everyone to see.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:38 AM on January 11, 2010

Best answer: What k. says.

I've never seen blogs or wikis implemented in the classroom in a way that didn't seem forced. As for technology, I think computers in the classrooms can be great tools for writing assignments, but only if the classroom is set-up in a way where students aren't just surfing the internet through the entire session (the key is to have the screens facing the professor, so that the students have to turn around to use them).

That said, I think a blog could be more useful than email as a way of making announcements to your class.

I disagree about this one, only because it's hard enough to get students to actually check their email daily, much less check a blog.

I'm a pedagogical luddite, though, and these opinions are probably a reflection of that.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:54 AM on January 11, 2010

In your case, specifically, though, it would be cool to have online course content related to things like reading music--flash programs with exercise or something like that. I'd imagine that would be a more useful tool than dry, academic reading on the subject.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:56 AM on January 11, 2010

If your department is pressuring you to use more technology, ask them if your students would better spend their time on a blog or practicing.
posted by domnit at 12:12 PM on January 11, 2010

I like having blogs around so that students can share their assignments and keep track of what everyone is working on...So, not exclusively for written responses (which aren't bad, but yea, generally half-assed), but any kind of work that can be shared digitally. Maybe lesson plans in your case?
Also seconding the use of a non-required blog, though it takes a level of maturity/dedication not guaranteed at the undergraduate level to make it something fruitful.
posted by supernaturelle at 12:35 PM on January 11, 2010

Response by poster: domnit: These aren't music majors, so their time practicing recorder is negligible.

Thanks for the good ideas, and the criticisms. I'm not one to ever shun technology, but I've never seen it done well in a college class. Some of the ideas are great, but I'm feeling like unless I have a really good reason for them to go there, it's not going to happen.

Unfortunately, I remember from my undergrad days that anything that wasn't "required" generally got prioritized somewhere below "sitting on the porch of the student union hoping for someone to wipe out on the ice."
posted by SNWidget at 12:43 PM on January 11, 2010

My university (and I assume many others) offers a pretty basic introduction to computers. Naturally, there is an updated text book nearly every year explaining the newest technologies and even then it quickly becomes out-of-date.

Last year I took a Technical Communications course for student in Computer Science. One of our projects was to re-write the main topics discussed in the introductory to computers and create a wiki from them. Part of our mark was write a section of the wiki and another part was to edit other parts. The idea is that this this wiki will soon be used as a replacement for the textbook. Although it was still an assignment for us, there was the incentive of knowing this could actually be used by real students and help them out. It saved money on the text book (around $80 each I think) and it gave them the most updated version possible (ex: it's easy to add a section to include Google's Android, in 'Phone OSs' right after the announcement). Changes could be tracked and I guess it would be possibly to give out bonus marks to students who add material to their own textbook, as well as the textbook of their fellow students. Something similar was done for the Intro. to Programming course and I believe it had already replaced the entire textbook for that course.
I loved this idea and was glad to be apart of it. A great use of a wiki in my opinion.

Another idea is to include Podcasts of all your lectures. It lets the students join in the discussion without worrying about having to write everything down. (I'll ignore the argument regarding more people skipping and not learning the material as well.) This is as simple as hitting 'Record' on an MP3 player before each class.

Finally, you could create a blog/video blog based on others teachers out there. This would probably be a bit more work, but you could incorporate some additional ideas and bonus material into there. Check out Walt Ribeiro to see how he brought music teaching to the mass internet with big success. Justin Sandercoe is also a really popular online guitar teacher. Be enthusiastic and it will do wonders.
posted by Kippersoft at 12:52 PM on January 11, 2010

Best answer: Ask each student to post a tutorial on something they've learned how to do. This transforms the blog/wiki into a "knowledge base", which can be then used/finessed in subsequent classes.

You could pair this with an assignment in which the students have to *use* one or more tutorials written by other class members, and get them to provide feedback/questions to the writer. This is what the web's really excellent for -- using feedback to hone information.
posted by media_itoku at 1:27 PM on January 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm currently TAing a class that has a blog-- students are required to post at least twice per quarter, and allowed to post as often as they want, and it does count as part of their participation grade. The posts are on a set schedule, where two students post on each day of reading, and they're asking to raise a specific question in their post, and then talk briefly about this in class. They then lead discussion for five to ten minutes, as other students respond to their question. The other students are asked to read the posts in advance, and I think most do. This has been quite useful.

I've also been in a graduate class that had a twitter backchannel, and where students were encouraged to present projects in various digital forms. That also worked extremely well, but I suspect that was largely the case because it was a small seminar consisting entirely of advanced graduate students, and our investment in the class was greater.
posted by dizziest at 1:42 PM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I took a philosophy class where we read a book with a lot of jargon in it, and one of the assignments was to write a definition for one jargon word each week. They were supposed to be short, and written before the lecture for that week's reading to give us practice at figuring out stuff from its context, and the professor assigned words every week so that nobody ended up defining the same thing. After we had gotten our words back (with a mark & suggestions for improvements), we all put them on the course website, so at the end of the semester there was a big jargon dictionary to help everyone study for the exam.

Getting to make a useful resource = awesomest assignment, I think.
posted by bewilderbeast at 1:47 PM on January 11, 2010

I've three times been the victim of classroom assignments so I'm really here to beg you to NOT do what these professors did.

In one instance, students were assigned to select a blog from a list and comment regularly on their chosen blog. All I did was flag and delete irrelevant comments from college students on my blog for the entire semester. An ecommerce site I built was selected for a "assessment and critique" end of term assignment in a class and resulted in inventory being pulled out of stock and trapped in carts abandoned at checkout for 48 hours at a huge rate - that was really annoying and inconvenient and loss-making. And a professor teaching a PR class assigns the same post on my blog to his students every term, and requires the students to comment on it, which is again annoying.

So whatever you do, please don't make some poor blogger do work for your course that he or she never signed up to do.

Something like a wiki for the course syllabus might be more useful. I like bewilderbeast's suggestion a lot.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:04 PM on January 11, 2010

Response by poster: DarlingBri: Don't worry, I won't be sending everyone to break someone's site.

media_itoku: I had an idea similar to this, and I think that it might work. I was planning on having the class write lesson plans on how to teach a certain song to a group of kids, and then trade off with other students, trying to use someone else's lesson plan - mainly for the level of detail I'm looking for.

Thanks again, everyone.
posted by SNWidget at 3:39 PM on January 11, 2010

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