The Facebook Music PLN
Connecting Music Educators Though Social Media
One of the fascinating things about social media is its ability to minimize the size of the world by bringing far-spread communities together in accessible ways. This takes time, effort, and a lot of hard work, but creating opportunities for discussion and community pays off in the end. This article is both a brief history of the online music education community as it relates to my own personal involvement within it.
2005: Although in 2005 there were a “hodge-podge” of music-related start-up forums and static websites. Each site with their own limited amount of resources, there was a noticeable absence of music teachers’ voices and they were often exclusive to their members only. I decided to start a freely-accessible, music, technology, and education blog, based on the WordPress platform, to help kick-start the conversation and open the discussion to include everybody. As time progressed, a virtual community of music educators began to form around these websites and blogs.
2008-2009: I wanted to help the online music education blog community grow and get more music teachers online discussing music. After a successful community campaign to get 100 music educators actively blogging, I started the Music Education Blog Carnival and the MusicEdNews.com website in order to help music educators easily find interesting and related topical information for their classes and students. These sites are both still active and continue to provide outlets for the works being generated by those blogging about music education.
2010: While many educators had started using Twitter as an additional source of sharing and engaging with information in 2009, it wasn’t until 2010 that a real shift in where the social music education conversation was started to make itself visible. On March 1st, 2010 Andy Zweibel (the originator of the #musedchat hash tag) and I co-moderated the first ever music education conversation on Twitter using the #musedchat hash tag. It was a huge success and the chat has been held every Monday evening since the launch.
As #musedchat became a useful resource for music educators, it started to become clear that dedicated social media platforms could play a significant and important role in online professional development. However, Twitter’s 140 character limit was a double edged sword. The forced succinctness could be a blessing while simultaneously being incredibly limiting.
In the summer of 2010, the MusicPLN.org, I launched a dedicated music education social media platform, was launched. Short for the Music Educators Professional Learning Network (MPLN), it was created to address some of the shortfalls of Twitter and all of “our” existing social media initiatives. As with everything that our music education community has worked towards, the mission of the MPLN was “to generate better, more accessible, information about music, education, and technology and to freely encourage dialogues from Music Educators through social media outlets.” The site was successful and was a home for many significant and important music education conversations and solidifying the idea of social media as professional development tool within music education.
2011: The MusicPLN.org was going strong, but towards the end of this year, I began to see a number of signs that pointed to a new, smore viable force within social media outlets: Facebook groups. In this year, many recent changes to Facebook groups made using these tools useful for online professional development. This became most evident to me when I noticed the radical success of the Band Directors’ Group on Facebook. This group was founded by Brian Wis, one of the original steering committee members of MusicPLN.org.
2012: This year in April, I, Amy Burns, Barbara Freedman, Richard McCready, and Thomas West, decided to evolve the MusicPLN.org into a Facebook group named the “Music Teachers” Facebook Group. I also made the bittersweet decision to close the MusicPLN.org after a very successful two year run. The MPLN, at its peak, had over 2,500 members, 37 forums, 1,000 topics, and over 12,000 user updates. These types of statistics demonstrate the effectiveness and ongoing need for these types of social media groups for professions and associations.
The Music Teachers Group on Facebook is a private group that any music teacher can freely join to read or discuss topics that are important to them. Despite the fact that Facebook offers less functionality than the MPLN, I absolutely see the move to Facebook as a positive one; given Facebook’s significant user base, the decision to move the “virtual music conversation” to where the people are made a lot of sense. This change also eliminates the need for members to have to periodically visit and follow “yet another website.” Facebook is also “mobile-ready,” which makes it easier to keep up with the group’s many conversations. The transition to Facebook went very smoothly and, in less than two months, there have been hundreds of updates created by the groups’ 1,600+ members.
I do not think the Music Teacher Facebook Group should replace the need for music education bloggers, our robust Twitter community, or any other social medium that music teachers may be using. We do not need to adopt one social media form of communication over another, but rather find ways to create effective opportunities for those already using them, whatever they might be. Many national music organizations such as NAfME and TI:ME are now very active with social media and it is exciting to see the resources and communities that they are fostering because of it.
Wherever the online conversation may go with regard to music and music education, it is my hope that all musicians and educators will adopt and embrace these amazing social media technologies for professional development, to support their own programs, and to glean from all of the opportunities that they afford when used effectively.
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