James Lamb writes: Later today (Wednesday 4 March 2015), Professor Siân Bayne will deliver her inaugural lecture as Chair in Digital Education at The University of Edinburgh. The subject for Siân's lecture is 'The Trouble with Digital Education'. Siân has played an integral role in the MSc in Digital Education and also the E-Learning and Digital Cultures course from which our Elektronisches Lernen Muzik project emerged.
In conversation last Friday, Siân mentioned that she was searching for some music that could break the awkward silence that can precede formal lectures of the kind she will deliver later today. Her difficulty though was in finding material that was both suitable for the occasion and free from any issues surrounding public performance and copyright.
Whilst acknowledging the shortness of time available, I asked whether it would instead be possible to make an original piece of music, using music creation apps and other digital resources. This level of compositional freedom, I suggested, would allow for the creation of something more than auditorium-background. Here was an opportunity, I felt, to explore how a piece of music could be used to reflect and represent subject matter, whilst at the same time creating an aural environment that would help the audience tune-in to the knowledge content that was to follow. Soundtrack as an atmospheric and rhetorical device.
I put it to Siân that it would be worth contacting Stephen Bezzina who, as well as being a Physicist and student on the MSc in Digital Education, is a DJ and contributor to Elektronisches Lernen Muzik. I subsequently emailed Stephen with a short brief for a 20-minute soundtrack that would in some way represent Siân’s work within the field of digital education, whilst simultaneously drawing on the specific themes of the lecture that she would be delivering.
By Sunday evening Stephen had responded from his cliff-top studio in Malta* with an original soundtrack and accompanying rationale:
It will be interesting to see what, if any, reaction there is to Stephen's ambient composition later today. Will the music help to manufacture the collective audience-ease Siân hoped for? Or maybe the air of dystopian menace will make for a more unsettling and uncomfortable atmosphere than would ever have emerged through silence? Perhaps I’m being too ambitious in hoping that the soundtrack will stimulate some level of discernible response, and we probably want to avoid the reaction that accompanied the 1917 performances of Parade by Erik Satie, that pioneer of earlier ambient music. Of course, just because we can’t see an obvious audience response, that doesn’t necessarily mean it won't have struck a chord.
Thinking about the broader subject that Siân will be addressing, perhaps this exercise tells us something about the community, collaboration and creative possibilities that can exist and emerge within digital environments. Within a really short period of time a conversation-in-passing turned into a critical challenge and then the composition of a unique piece of music. The trouble with digital education, I would argue, is that there's hardly time to catch your breath.
I’ll share Stephen’s composition here after Siân’s inaugural lecture has taken place. Meanwhile, the lecture will be livestreamed here from 5.15pm Edinburgh time.
*I don't know whether Stephen's studio sits on a cliff-top but I imagine it probably does.
A mere 11 months after the opening entry in our Music for Study series, we invite the sharing of songs and albums that contribute to the task/pleasure/chore of academic reading. Music for Writing captured the imagination to the extent that it stretched to two volumes. It will be interesting to see how we fare this time around.
Some of the comments and feedback that we’ve received since we created this project have encouraged us to think that while music lends itself to some scholarly pursuits, it might not always be helpful when it comes to working through journal articles or book chapters. On the other hand, other contributors have described being unable to read effectively without music.
If you do read to the sound of music, we'd like to know what it is that you listen to.
By 'academic reading', we're thinking about any material that is directly relevant to any aspect of your academic practice. That could involve reading undertaken with a view to studying, research, teaching or general background knowledge in your discipline. It could involve a journal, textbook, website, newspaper, government report – whatever is pertinent to your field of study.
This exercise is open to students, tutors, researchers, librarians, administrators – anyone who chooses or is required to undertake academic reading, and elects to do so in the company of music.
You can nominate tracks for inclusion on the Music for Reading compilation by using the short online form below. All we want to know is the song or album, the artist, and a single sentence description of how or why the suggested music accompanies or inspires your academic reading.
Thanks in advance for your input – we look forward to hearing about your Music for Reading
James Lamb writes: One of the pleasing side effects of this project is that as I encounter and experience music, I’m encouraged to keep an eye out for songs or albums that have a formal link with education. By this I mean material that was created with the aim of promoting or representing learning. This is distinct from the approach within our Elektronisches Lernen Muzik playlists where the goal has been to share songs that stimulate scholarly activity irrespective of composer intent. Within this blog entry, then, I've collected some such resources that I imagine would be filed under Educational Programming within a music library, or deep in the vaults of the BBC archive.
Our journey begins in the sentimental and scholarly seminar rooms of Belbury Poly. If the liner notes are to be trusted, Belbury Poly is the work of the musician Jim Jupp, founder of the excellent Ghostbox Music label. If I seem less than certain about the man concealed behind the gown it’s because the CD inserts that accompany my Belbury Poly CDs are less concerned with technical, factual information than with playing on imagery surrounding public information films and educational broadcasting of an imaginary past.
If you want to learn more about the world of edutainment that is Belbury Poly you can download and listen to tracks on the Ghostbox website. You might also want to flick through the Belbury Parish Magazine blog where, in addition to reading about forthcoming releases, you can gen up on the Shoreditch Experimental Musical School. This is kind of thing that comes up in an exam.
If Belbury Poly offers a gentle nod to the recent educational past, then the Trunk Records label leaps with both feet into a strange and distant world of musical misadventure. Perhaps the best way of describing the Trunk website is a place of musical curiosity. Whilst recently flicking through the racks of Bossa Nova, obscure Jazz and Official Soundtrack albums in search of long lost/ignored tracks for my own Exotica playlist, I came across a number of interesting educational resources.
Thanks to the dedication of the person or people behind Trunk Records, at the click of a button you could be listening to the Classroom Projects album, described in the accompanying notes as ‘a fine and rare collection of magic and oddness, including folky bits, tape manipulation, songs about drunk driving (on the CD not the LP), death, love, beaches, Autumn and more besides.’ Delve further into the Trunk catalogue and you’ll discover collections which are less about capturing the nature of education, than enhancing what takes place in the classroom. What better way to learn about gravitational forces, for instance, than with The Ballad of Sir Isaac Newton? I don’t know much about the Astrophysics curriculum however I imagine that the Space Songs album by Tom Glazer and Dottie Evans has got it all covered. That's your revision reimagined. Trust me.
While the Trunk catalogue captures some of what might be fun and strange about school education, different emotions are captured in Innocence and Despair, The Langley Schools Music Project. The story of this 1976 Canadian school project was described in a recent BBC Radio 4 documentary by rock critic Pete Paphides which sensitively and joyously featured insights from some of the individuals whose voices-as-children can be heard on 300 vinyl LPs that were originally pressed to accompany the exercise.
The BBC documentary is well worth a listen, as is this VH1 documentary. That said, the charm of the story can be appreciated in itself by listening to the album, which was re-released in 2001. If the children's voices and instrumentation aren't always in tune or on time, there's a sense of perfection in the way that their teacher Hans Feger abandoned conventional teaching practice, and defied the School Board, to let young people experience and express the joy of music. It would take a cold hard heart not to warm to the sound of 300 troubled teenagers recreating the angst of Phil Spector’s To Know Him Is To Love Him, or Brian Wilson’s In My Room. In contrast to the nature of our conversations and collections on Elektronisches Lernen Muzik, where enthusiastic learners have accounted for the way that music enhances their scholarly endeavours, the Langley Schools Music Project reminds us that songs can be an escape or inspiration for those who might not otherwise experience contentment or confidence within the classroom.
So sit back and listen to the some of the interesting and inspiring sounds of Belbury Poly, Trunk Records and the Langley School Music Project: there won’t be a test at the end.
James Lamb has contributed as a tutor in Digital Environments and Online Assessment on the MSc in Digital Education at The University of Edinburgh
Stephen Bezzina writes: What is my epistemological position? Is this a Hawthorne effect? Is the observed difference between means, statistically significant? Am I a post-positivist? What is the best research design? Are there any confounding variables? What’s the confidence interval? On which philosophical assumptions are my research paradigm and methodology based on?
These are a few, yet important questions that I have asked myself during my first real meet-and-greet with the world of social science research. Not all of these questions have a definite answer, but all require extensive reading, understanding and writing.
On analysing the extant quantitative data available, I embraced Kraftwerk’s Tour de France through the sampled sporting voices and mechanical sounds, paving the way forward towards the statistical significance of the results obtained. Sven Väth and The Human League with Harlequin's Meditation and Kiss the Future respectively, set the ideal climate and mood for evaluating results and drawing conclusions. Finally, the jazzy fever surrounding the sound of the saxophone in The Man With The Red Face, put Laurent Garnier on top of the playlist during the writing-up of my own research proposal.
Stephen Bezzina was completing the Research Methods course on the MSc in Digital Education at The University of Edinburgh.
James Lamb writes: Last March, I posted an invitation on this blog for tracks that learners used to support the task of academic writing. Whilst acknowledging that the digital classroom encourages and allows for new ways of writing, my interest was in identifying music that accompanied, influenced or enhanced activities what might be described as 'essayistic composition'.
In the following weeks, more than twenty students from a broad range of disciplines suggested a wide variety of listening material. As the comments under the original blog entry show, the task of academic writing was shown to be influenced and inspired by Classical, Northern Soul, Electronica, Techno, official film soundtracks and guitar music made by thin men in hipster jeans. This is great in terms of diversity but difficult in terms of making what I wanted to be a single, cohesive and usable soundtrack. And so I decided to make two separate compilations, loosely classified as ‘Classical’ and ‘higher tempo’ (and if my use of terminology presents me as a musical amateur, that’s because I am).
Finally, a quick word about the artwork for this compilation. I wanted to try and capture a feeling of public information literature and Open University TV programmes as I remember them from growing up in the 1970s. I downloaded a British Rail font for the typography. Again, I’m an enthusiastic amateur with digital Letraset and Wingdings. Have a look at the brilliant Ghostbox label to see it done professionally. Nevertheless, here for your listening (and writing) pleasure, is Music for writing (Volume 1): Classical Composition.
James Lamb is a tutor on the Digital Environments course on the MSc in Digital Education at The University of Edinburgh
James Lamb writes: Earlier this week I submitted my dissertation for the MSc in Digital Education. I explored the subject of multimodal assessment in the digital classroom. At an early stage of my literature review, I became aware of the tendency to refer to multimodality as a 'constellation' of semiotic material. I liked this description and decided to use the astral metaphor to shape the representational form of my work: the dissertation was itself a multimodal artefact that represented my ideas through an orchestration or images, sounds and words.
More typically however, I sought influence and inspiration through music. This included listening to the soundtracks from the films listed above, as well as searching through my own iTunes library, and the iTunes store, for songs that evoked a sense of digital space. Some of those songs are collected on the playlist accompanying these words.
By seeking out music that aligned to an interstellar metaphor I was able to create an environment that contributed towards the task of composition. Just as significantly however, as I listened to the tracks - and in particular those by Brian Eno - I gradually worked out how I was going to create a soundtrack to form the aural component of my multimodal dissertation.
James Lamb recently completed the MSc in Digital Education at The University of Edinburgh.
Michael Sean Gallagher writes:
Human nature is like water. It takes the shape of its container
A fascination and apprehension towards water and an appreciation of how it governs our thinking is the focus of this playlist and much of the kind of media gathering and mobile learning I like to do in my spare time. Everywhere I travel or live, I instinctively find myself leaning on a railing staring into a river or an ocean or sea or a lake. I see people wading in the water or having a picnic next to it or even just socializing or walking along it in the evening and I began to think about how much of the water itself is actually governing our behavior. How much of it defines how we learn in this world?
So I began recording audio next to rivers to hear their flow and the people next to them. I kept hearing particular signatures in the water (how the Thames sounds completely different from the Seine, etc.) and I tried to make playlists that mirrored these. I assembled and edited the playlists haphazardly, looking for music that flowed, bounded, and receded, like waves on a shore. I listened to these sounds and playlists as I studied and as I walked, mostly through London along the Thames past Wapping, Limehouse, and Shadwell, out past the pubs of Whistler, Turner, and Dickens. I kept pulling from a literary past to make sense of it and so I turned to Hesse:
Flow of ideas, aspirations, dreams through the imagination; collective action as packets distributed in bursts. Learning networks become like water on pavement: they find every crack and crevice. Full saturation. We love water (out of necessity) as it is ever-changing. So are we. We love music that mirrors this flow. It is perpetually possible, always in the process of becoming.
Having your learners construct a playlist to reflect the learning or cognitive impression of a particular object or space is engaging another mode for reflection, another type of literacy. The tracks are:
And if you want to hear these different signatures in the water, listen for yourself. A few can be found below.
Michael Sean Gallagher is a Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and a Phd candidate at the Institute of Education.
Chris Millson writes: I made this mix after taking the E-learning and Digital Cultures online course (MOOC) from Edinburgh/Coursera. The peer assessed part of this course was to create a 'digital artefact' (this is what I submitted). But following the course, through finding some fellow peers who were into music via Twitter, I was motivated to create an alternative artefact, in the form of a 'reflective mix'(!). The tracklist is influenced by some of the course themes - including digital communication and assessment. It would never meet the assessment criteria, but it was fun to make, and was an interesting way to think about the course themes.
I hope you enjoy it.
Zomby: Test me for a reason: For what reasons are people taking MOOCs? Some have said that they open up learning opportunities to more people: universities are offering courses indiscriminately, and without any limits on class sizes. Some have called them elitist, in that they favour people with time, motivation and internet access. If your top priority is getting enough work to pay the rent, you're less likely to take a MOOC than someone more financially secure. I'm not sure what I think yet. Maybe both.
Tests were a topic of interest in EDC MOOC. How valuable is a score of 0, 1 or 2 on an assignment from three peers? How anonymous is this 'anonymous' feedback, when artefacts could easily include identifying information? The marker was generally anonymous, but not the person being marked. Is this a problem? I felt that EDC MOOC's decision to pass everyone who submitted the assignment, and marked three others, was a good one. That way, the score may give some indication of the degree to which an assignment met the criteria, but didn't determine pass/fail. Perhaps we could also (up/down) mark people's feedback...
Freezepop: I am not your gameboy This song suggests that we shouldn't treat people like gameboys. I agree. It also sounds a bit like a gameboy.
Chateau Flight ft. Nicola Kramer: Connected I enjoyed the short film, 'Inbox', in which two strangers are connected. The way it parallels online communication was cool. I won't spoil it for you though.
Ugly Duckling: Dumb it down I don't think that EDC MOOC represents dumbing down; I found it pretty difficult. However, in taking the course, I did consider whether certain aspects of e-Learning might be leading to 'dumbing down' of learning. For example, in my artefact, I tried to explore the extent to which 'personalising' content to users was narrowing their experience - perhaps in a bad way. Limiting what information someone might want, based on guesswork, seems bad to me. However, some limits have to be made in order to create a useful learning experience.
Aphex Twin: IZ-US The title of the video, 'The machine is us/ing us', made me think of this track (IZ-US). I also see Richard D James (Aphex Twin) as one of the pioneers of modern electronic music, so is perhaps an example of man and machine working together.
Freezepop: Emotions and Photons Emotions and photons, like Communication's lost later on, suggests to me a relationship between the mind (emotions) and physics (photons). We know that the two coexist, but emotions seem more mysterious. I also thought the lines, 'Six stories above / I watch the world creep by' reminded me of the video 'Thursday'. You should see why if you watch/have watched it.
As One: Freefall The idea of technological determinism was pretty new to me. Does technology determine society, or the other way around? I think the two both create forces and interact with each other. Just like the movement of a whale falling towards Earth is not determined by only one of the items, but a force arising from both (and more).
ELO: All over the world One of the first things I saw of EDC MOOC, before the course opened, was this Google Map, where participants could add their (or any, to be fair) location. It showed that there were participants all over the world...
Disclosure ft Sinead Harnett: Boiling I like this track. I've included it for that reason. In the same way, my original artefact was a creative experiment, not all of which was directly related to the course.
Shameboy: Attention Spam Is the current way in which we use technology and the internet - and therefore much of the way we now learn - a result and/or cause of diminished attention spans? I like this track because it evokes for me ideas of infomania (which you might call attention spam), short attention spans, but also excitement. Is having a long attention span virtuous anyway? I'm bored of this paragraph.
Cocosuma: Communication's lost I wanted to include a largely acoustic track over a largely electronic one, to represent the mix of 'digital' and 'analogue' in the world. I don't think the two can physically be delineated, but exploring the differences has been really interesting, along with similar topics such as human/machine. 'Communication's lost' seemed like an extra-appropriate song, what with communication also being a theme in 'digital cultures'.
Lamb: Small This track, to me, is about how small one person can feel when they think about everyone - and everything - else in the world. I found myself having some thoughts like this while taking EDC MOOC!
Peace Orchestra: Who am I This track, featured in the Animatrix (a series of short animated films, inspired by The Matrix, which I think all depict a technology-driven dystopia), seemed appropriate to the mix, and the title, 'Who am I?', also suggests the question of identity in a complex world.
Teebee: So high I included this for the flow of the mix. If you really want a link, it describes the vertical extent of the space lift in Thursday (above). But really, it's just a link track.
The Futureheads: Robot Could a robot write a track about how it feels to be a robot? I think so, by emulating humans imagining how it feels to be a robot. But could they mean it? I don't know. Am I a robot? No, a robot would have better mixing skills.
Chris Millson was a participant on the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC. He works in technology-enhanced learning for careers and employability at the University of York, and is also interested in social media. Find him here: http://www.thisischris.co.uk/
James Lamb writes: We began Elektronisches Lernen Muzik by inviting students and tutors to share personal playlists that accompanied or inspired their learning. The compiled soundtracks, and accompanying liner notes and cover artwork, provided fascinating insights into the different ways that music can influence learning.
What this first exercise lacked however was a focus on musical styles or songs that promoted specific learning activites, rather than studying in a more general sense (which of course is the sum of varied and contrasting activities). As a result, the assembled sound, words and image of each artefact offered a glimpse into the creator's learning space, without necessarily producing a soundtrack that might be synchronised with a single dedicated learning task.
In our second exercise then, it is our intention to collect music that can promote individual learning activities. We are going to be begin by inviting suggestions for music tracks that assist the task of academic writing. By academic writing we are talking about activities such as drafting an essay, report or paper, making an entry in a blog, preparing a script for a lecture or presentation, and other examples of what might be seen as 'essayistic composition' (and I acknowledge that traditional notions of the essay are problematised in digital learning spaces).
You can nominate tracks by replying to this post. Feel free to suggest as many tracks as you like, just as long as you listen to them whilst engaging in some form of academic writing. When replying, we would like you to indicate your area of academic study, research or teaching. You can also add a commentary or rationale as desired.
We will do our best to (legally) acquire the nominated tracks before compiling them within a 'music for writing' extended soundtrack which will be made available on this site to assist other learners. Depending on whether this proves to be a useful exercise and resource, this could be followed by 'music for reading', 'music for reflection' and so on.
We look forward to hearing the music that accompanies your writing.