Friday, April 08, 2005

Does "Rip, Mix and Burn" = Education?

I'm on holiday just now, but sad geek that I am, I couldn't resist finding an Internet connection and checking Bloglines. What follows is a holiday influenced, instant response to something I read. I reserve the right to change my mind once I've had more time to think about it.

I was struck by David Warlick's article on Putting Meaning in High Schools. I like the way David thinks and subscribe to his blog feed because he always has something interesting to say. He makes me think... and that can be no bad thing! For example, he makes me wonder how much longer we can go on tinkering at the edges of the way schools work. In particular I was struck by his observation that we are creating more and more ways to cope with disaffected learners. How long will it be before there are more disaffected learners in special programmes than there are learners in mainstream schools? I don't think we are close to that yet, but we do need to take a good hard look at how today's learners work and think and consider what schooling does to help or hinder them. (On a related note I thought Jim Wenzloff's suggestion in I Want it When I Want It, to ask teachers if they've heard of podcasting was interesting. I also want to find out how many pupils there are who've heard of podcasting, or who listen to or create their own podcasts.)

However, I think we need to be careful we don't throw the baby out with the bath water. The rip, mix and burn metaphor is clearly borrowed from the iPod culture. {Warning: Attempt at legal disclaimer follows! :-)} I don't own an iPod, but I have ripped a number of my own CDs to my own computer for my own listening pleasure. {Perhaps not meeting the letter of the copyright law, but I think it is a fair use of my own CDs.} How do I listen to this music? Well sometimes I use the random play - often when I'm working on something and the music is on as background noise. I can see the benefits of this that others report. You get the, "I haven't heard that for ages!" effect and it is interesting to hear the odd juxtapositions that are thrown up. In the past I have also put together the odd compilation tape for a special purpose like a party. {Showing my age in that last sentence with "tape" being the compilation medium!} However, when I really want to listen to music, more often than not I want to listen to the whole CD, in the order chosen by the artists. I suspect that not every artist thinks carefully about the ordering of tracks, but many (most?) do. For example {Warning: aging hippy alert!} Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here builds, develops and revisits themes and it makes sense to listen to the CD in the order that the band originally chose. {As an aside, I am old enough to have a vinyl copy of this album too. My daughters call my record collection, "Those black CDs"!}

To move back to education, a good teacher can create a structure and order material that might be missed in a rip and mix environment. I like David Warlick, but I was convinced his blog was worth reading because I saw him talk about Literacy in the 21st Century. David is a good teacher and I got a lot out of that presentation - more, I suspect, than I would have from doing a rip and mix of what I could find on the Internet on the same topic in the same time. Perhaps that is because I am not a digital native. Maybe if I was thirty years younger I would have a different view, but I don't think so. It is important that we have good teachers!

Don't get me wrong. I can see the value of a Learning Lounge approach for certain learners in certain situations. But I can also see the benefits of a good teacher choosing and structuring an appropriate learning experience. It should not be "either/or" but "both/and..."

P.S. I wrote this before I read David's reply to Viljar Soiland. It is clearer exactly how David sees his Learning Lounges working. I was particularly struck by his comment, "However, in my ideal school, students might as easily be doing the presentations as teachers..." I was saying how important a good teacher is and David reminds me that students can be teachers too. Interesting. There he goes again - making me think!

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