A natural part of the creative process is getting the opinions of your peers and bouncing ideas off of them. When COVID pushed instruction online, this physical interaction evaporated almost entirely as I had no mechanism in place to facilitate this in an online format in a meaningful way. When this issue persisted into August with half of my class online and the other half in school, I knew that this was an aspect of my learning environment for which I had to find a solution. It was at this point that a couple of students approached me about creating a class group chat. This is something that I had done in my classes before, and I had really appreciated it. Group chats allow you to ask for anything from peer feedback to just a different explanation of the assignment. Not too much later, the students started a Discord server specifically for music technology. In this server, each student’s level (Intermediate or Advanced) is indicated by a role and color. They know that they are welcome to share projects they are working on, ask questions, or just enjoy each other’s company. When communication drifts too far from professional, we discuss what an appropriate professional interaction (even if casual) would and should look like depending on the audience.
When students began converting a side room of our music technology lab into a collaborative workspace, they started by simply working on the floor. They were completely fine with this initially, being high schoolers and all. They quickly took ownership and tried to assemble some form of a workstation made of empty boxes around the classroom and the school. Eventually, they realized that they really needed a desk to work on so that they could be a little more comfortable and focus on producing music. They approached me to ask for a desk, which I did not explicitly have at that time. They mentioned going to thrift stores to find a desk, but with no instructional funds I told them it wouldn’t be possible. I then got the idea that they should write a song to ask our principal for a desk (or the funds for a desk). Knowing how supportive he had been thus far, I knew that if the students made a project with a particular purpose in mind (and it was good), he would be more than happy to help out. Thus, Desk Song (above) was created as a way for the students to communicate their needs to the principal.
The number one question that is asked when a student comes into music technology class is “what is music technology?” This is because “Music Technology” is a vague term that serves as a catch-all for a wide variety of careers. Students in music technology could be anything from an audio engineer to film score composers or podcasters to foley artists. With so many options, I feel it is an important part of their education to explore all of the careers. When students have careers that particularly interest them (like the electrical engineering or video game music that two students were interested in this year) I make it a point to bring those guests in so that students can talk with them. Often times, these guests end up being community members. Prior to the guest coming, the students receive an overview of the guest so that they have time to prepare a few questions. For the students that are very interested in the field, we talk about networking and they have time to talk with the guest and learn to network and develop that relationship.
Weekly Module and Agenda
In a normal classroom, it is easy for students to let their mind wander aimlessly and still manage to get done what they need to get done. The teachers serve as their mental safety net recognizing that they are off task and redirecting them. For students that have transitioned online, this is a different story. This requires a massive mental shift for many students as they now are entirely responsible for keeping themselves on tasks and using their time wisely. To help aid students with this problem, I break up each week of classes into its own module on our learning management system. Each module/week includes an agenda of what we are doing or talking about, important links (such as our Zoom meeting), and any assignments that need to be completed.
Just like it can be hard to maintain focus and stay on task, it can be very difficult for students to keep up with assignments online. Learning management systems get riddle with all kinds of links to content to read, videos to watch, exercises and tools to explore, and then assignments to complete. Multiply this seven class and it is easy to see how students might become lost or overwhelmed with everything. In an effort help with this problem, I ensure that all of my class’s assignments have a defined due date in the learning management system and in our online gradebook. This helps create a to-do list for students to help focus their attention. As an added benefit, these assignments (and any assignments from their other classes) are actually complied into a composite calendar that they can utilize to stay on target.
Sometimes students just don’t connect with a certain way of explaining things. This could just be how a particular resource/tool/example approaches the topic at hand. In an effort to personalize their learning, I include links to multiple different resources on every topic we discuss. This allows the students to not be stuck with a one-size-fits-all approach and find the tool that works best for them. With every set of links for additional resources, I include a video in which I provide an overview of each resource so that the students can have an idea of what might work best for them before they start exploring.
Being able to communicate with others in a variety of settings is an important skill for 21st-century students to learning. When they enter the workforce, they will be part of dynamic teams that require them to quickly build relationships, network, and facilitate conversations. In order to assist students with this process, I have started to implement co-planning sessions with my third-year students. These students have been tasked with their own individualized capstone project, so the goal of these co-planning sessions is for them to update me on their progress and for them to seek clarity when they are stuck. Through these meetings, I teach them how to facilitate the conversation. This starts with larger prompts/questions to help them provide enough detail, but then this slowly shifts to them leading the entire conversation. It is helpful for them to learn how to lead a professional conversation with a supervisor, and it helps build our relationship.
Often times parents and other teachers only receive an email about a student when the student has done something wrong. As humans, it is easy for us to spot mistakes and highlight them. Unfortunately, this makes that teacher always the bearer of bad news and develops a negative relationship with those part of the communication. Being aware of this, I make sure to send a variety of emails out particularly focusing on positive or neutral emails over negative. Not only does this foster a positive relationship with those receiving communication, but it also adds weight to the rare negative email. These praise emails range from celebrating a student success, sharing student works, and just indicating desired behaviors that have occurred.
Kendall Finley was one of twelve students in the State of Georgia to have their music creations selected and showcased at a recording studio in Athens, GA during the state music educators' conference. Feel free to listen to her piece at https://t.co/Siwae6RHeK. pic.twitter.com/imKvhBBmuH— Lanier High School GA (@lanierhsga) February 10, 2020
One of the largest yet most often neglected stakeholders for the school is the community itself. The community is the businesses, organizations, and other members that may not have a direct connection to a student but have a vested interest in the success of a school. These stakeholders often receive sponsorship requests from school activities, but classroom teachers rarely reach out to the community for guest speakers, assistance with a lesson/project, or to share excellent student work. In an effort to help foster and nurture the relationship with our community, I make it a point to try and share as much about our classroom as possible. This includes showcasing guests that come into class to speak, stellar student projects/accomplishments, and fun projects. For example, we have had a top-tier music producer that visited thanks to a community member! We have also shared student accolades and we are currently working on a large project to be shared with our cluster elementary and middle schools.
Damon Thomas is a music producer, who has shared the workplace with the countless A-class recording artists. He is imparting his wisdoms and experience with the LHS Music Tech students! #hookemhorns pic.twitter.com/poHDT0BAJR— Lanier High School GA (@lanierhsga) September 19, 2019
Ice, P., Curtis, R., Phillips, P., & Wells, J. (2007). Using Asynchronous Audio Feedback to Enhance Teaching Presence and Students’ Sense of Community. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(2), 3-25.