I had the honour to open the MTEC conference in Sydney this week. ‘Honour’ isn’t too strong a word to use in this context. I confess that, as passionate as I am about the need for educators to creatively deploy technology in their teaching, I don’t usually find music technology events particularly exciting. This one has been different.
During my keynote, I spoke about the need for future teachers to integrate social learning in the classroom (for example getting students to blog, use social media, work collaboratively in friendship groups, and utilise the enormous range of video resources which are out there). Most of the sessions I’ve witnessed show that these educators are already here. There has been a real hunger this week: for new techniques, new teaching resources, new ways of seeing learning. But, in itself, this isn’t the really impressive thing. What is clear in all the interactions this week is that they’re not trying to keep on top of rapid technological developments to satisfy their own curiosity. Theyre doing it, to sift what will really help their students learn better, and achieve better, from the stuff that’s just bells and whistles. What’s more, they’re all supposed to be on holiday this week.
Yesterday, I took part in a session led by James Humberstone, a composer who teaches at MLC, a girls school in Sydney. I was deeply impressed by both his subject knowledge and his instructional method. James shared with us his experiences, and his resources – this is very much an open source conference, everything is freely shared – around the use of Apple’s ‘Garageband’ software in helping students compose. The resources contained student assingments, how-to tutorials and heaps of other things that would not only excite his students, but also visiting practitioners.
And then, almost as an afterthought, James showed us his most recent student project: getting his students to emulate Kutiman’s now-famous YouTube remix project ‘Thru You‘. If you’ve ever seen these videos your first thought is always ‘how on earth did he do that?’. Well, James, has provided a helpful tutorial together with a ‘here’s-one-I-made-myself’:
Watching this, a room full of jaws dropped, and a number of questions flashed through my mind: ‘how great must it be to be in one of his classes?’, ‘how long did it take him to put all that together?’, and, not least, ‘when does this guy ever sleep?’ It reminded me of the last great teacher I was working with, Jeff Robin at High Tech High School, and the labour of love that were his animations.
Nobody told James that his 10th grade students might not be able to cope with composing a song made up from dozens of samples taken from YouTube clips, and I’m sure those students expect to complete the assignment, because they’ve got all the support and expertise on hand, that they’d need. It’s this creativity, attention to detail, and willingness to give up free time to go beyond what’s expected that is so impressive. James was given an award last night for his work in Music Education. It’s richly deserved, and a reward for his dedication.
They may come from different disciplines, but Jeff and James share the trait that defines all great teachers: they have great expectations, not only of their students, but also of themselves.