Online Learning Tools for the Music Educator
Making the Most of Your Time Online
The Internet’s become the first place many of us turn for information. We can effortlessly look up facts about our favorite actors, read the latest news, and get compelling content in thousands of other areas. While you may already use the Internet as an important part of your everyday life, you may not be aware of how online tools can help you learn and develop to your fullest potential as a music educator. Online learning has played a huge role in my personal professional development and I would like to share how I use podcasts, RSS feeds, and social media as learning tools.
I started listening to podcasts in 2005 and this medium was one of the first resources I recognized as being both educational and entertaining. One of the great things about podcasts is that they can serve very small audiences and specific interests in remarkable depth. I first started listening to audio recording and technology podcasts and loved that I could listen to programs at a time of my choosing. At first, the conversations were over my head, but I found that as I kept listening, I started to understand more and quickly developed the ability to speak intelligently about current technological trends. This helped in the classroom and let me better interact with my students as I knew about some of the technologies they were using both socially and academically. It was a fun realization to see how something I enjoyed listening to paid dividends to me professionally.
As I listened to podcasts I noticed a number of different websites come up during the discussions. I would make it a priority to visit as many of the recommended sites as possible. Eventually, as my list of resources grew, it became somewhat laborious to check sixty to seventy sites for new content. Fortunately, I discovered RSS, short for Real Simple Syndication. RSS allowed me to subscribe to any website that produced an RSS feed, and fortunately, most sites now do offer this option. All I had to do is use an online RSS client such as Google Reader and enter in the feeds of all the sites to which I wished to subscribe. I now never have to visit a site to check for new content; my RSS reader delivers it to me!
The impact of RSS has been huge for me. I now spend less time looking for content and more time reading about the things I enjoy. I have a special area of my RSS reader dedicated to music education sites where I receive updates from sites by performers, composers, music educators, and periodicals. Now, instead of going from site to site when I am online, I turn to social media to direct me to new content.
Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools can be great for content discovery. One of the features of Twitter in particular is that you can constantly expand your learning network by examining who other people follow and retweet. A retweet occurs when someone you follow decides to send something that another person has written to everyone that follows them. In your feed you would see a tweet from someone you do not follow with an annotation of who retweeted it to you. Through retweets I have started following a number of different people and broadened the sources from which I get information.
All of these technologies work together. For example, I can see a link to an awesome brass website on Twitter, visit the site, and if I find that it has content that interests me, subscribe to its RSS feed. Podcasts can work the same way. I can start subscribing to a new podcast after being referred to it by a Twitter post, or following a new person who was recommended in a specific podcast. By using these technologies, I have an efficient system for getting all of this information.
At this point you may be wondering how to get started. I could provide a list of sites I subscribe to, people I follow, or podcasts to which I listen, but that wouldn’t necessarily be relevant to you. Those would be the resources I enjoy and one of the great powers of these technologies is the ability to personally discover and seek out resources relevant to you. As one of my music professors often said, “the joy of discovery is far greater than the joy of the discovered.” You should explore these technologies with the sites you already visit and the interests you already have. I would recommend starting with a free Google Reader account (reader.google.com). Visit some of your favorite sites and start subscribing to their feeds. Gradually, using the RSS reader will become natural and easy. Do the same on Twitter, Facebook, and in a podcast directory like the iTunes Store (all podcasts are free, but you have to go through the “store” to get them). Do a search for topics that interest you and don’t limit yourself to music education. Cast a wide net and start enjoying as many different topics as you can. This is a great way to make these tools work for all of your Internet usage and have them affect as many areas of your life as possible. As you get more comfortable, you can move from consuming content to creating content.
You will quickly find that there are great online communities for nearly every topic, including music education.
If you want more information about these technologies, check out some of the links below:
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