Good Golly Pedagogy – Teaching PBL in Media Education

On January 15, 2017

This term I’m leading a module that utilises a Project Based Learning (PBL) framework in the classroom – teaching this across the Audio Production and Music Business programmes and leading the students through their individual projects. I’ve decided to write about this as I go as a method of reflective practice as well as to construct a possible paper on pedagogy in media and music technology education.

Arts and Tech equals magic

Preparation and understanding

You may have seen Sir Ken Robinson’s talks about education and the industrial revolution. According to him, schools were constructed to a template that served the purpose of the workplace of that time.  Many schools still follow a model similar to that system, with teacher at front talking and students in rows listening. But is that really reflective of how we work today? How does (or should) the technological revolution play into the classroom? Many look to STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), believing children should have skills for a purely technical environment. In a recent report it was stated that there will be “142,000 new jobs in science, research, engineering and technology from now to 2023”. There is also an argument for STEAM not STEM, which brings the arts into play, incorporating critical thinking, visual learning and also drawing on the creative components of dance, music and art. Many argue that while STEM prepares people for the tech sector, it is hollow without art; eventually much tech work supports consumption of goods that includes creative works, such as the music and videos you stream, or this very article you are reading. Areas of meaningful work may be forgotten in a purely tech focused curriculum.

I could sit here and bash on about STEM vs STEAM and start putting up lots of articles and TED talks arguing the toss, but instead I want to just focus a little on the method.

And more importantly for me as a teacher – impact.

The tagline of this very website is “Don’t make a sound, make an impact”. There are two meanings behind that.

  1. Sound can be crafted by professionals to improve any visual element in post, in app design, in gaming or an album release. We improve your sound for you to make an impact.
  2. Sound can be meaningful and can cause a huge range of reactions and emotions. Use sound to ensure your project and message are being listened to, not just heard. Use music and sound media to bring awareness to important issues.

I like to work on a range of projects, particularly those with deeper importance and meaningful impact. I’ve done ad campaigns for Citizens Advice and for Love Food Hate Waste. I’ve worked long hours and trenched hundreds of kilometres around Music Tech Fest, knowing my professional skills bring are vital to the delivery of such an important event which in itself delivers huge statements of impact. I’ve done charity events, albums, documentaries – all things I truly believed had an impact. Sometimes I will trade my time for those important things and often I’m not rewarded in cash, but in other ways that I value. This is something I try to impart on my students.


Teaching upheavals…

As an educator in music technology for almost a decade, I’ve seen a lot of different approaches to teaching. Some successful, some traditional, some contemporary… some straight up terrible. It probably wouldn’t surprise you that I’ve fallen into all of those categories myself at some point, as I’m sure many others have. Teaching is incredibly dynamic – especially in HE – and needs a level of flexibility to meet a complex array of learner types. For teachers new and experienced, it can be hard to strike the right balance, especially in non-traditional subjects like music technology and audio production.

Stand and deliver teaching has become the ‘only’ method for so many of us. Many of us have had the same style of teaching through our own educational upbringing and our students have had similar experiences. We are used to having a teacher up top, giving out texts, showing slides and administering assignments. Lectures halls fill with glowing Apple logos and the tired (yet Red Bull laden) face of the early morning undergrad, glowing from an LED screen that flickers with YouTube videos as often as lecture notes. For several hours teachers hope the material is engaging enough to make that important connection – but sometimes fall into the trap of death by Powerpoint.

learn by doing

Learning by doing

Recently, our team has been thinking about how to engage our students more fully in the classroom – how to blur the lines between class and workshop. We have all been working on Project Based Learning (PBL) models and how we can integrate these into our HE media curriculum. We wanted to move away from 3-hour frontal teaching sessions and start working with a studio model that will allow students to explore their own learning needs, moving the teaching staff to become facilitators and the students to practitioners.

“Project-based learning is a dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge.” Edutopia

PBL has provided one of the biggest upheavals in my teaching activity. It is not traditional and therefore not easy just to jump in, for staff or for students. Learning and teaching are about rhythm. You find your pace, you discover the rituals that work for you and it becomes very hard to deviate or withdraw from that. But this can be a problem when students enter the workplace, where they’re not always left to write papers or record music on their own. They need to feel that project environment in the classroom, and PBL is allowing us to use our space creatively and put students in a position of greater ownership.

Although ‘learning by doing’ is part of our philosophy anyway, it had been reserved mainly for getting them hands-on with technical kit. The way we want to structure our modules as projects focuses on meaningful outcomes – but this is probably the most complicated part. Students sometimes struggle to understand how to make a technical topic meaningful outside of the typical classroom assessments to which they are accustomed. They don’t always see how an EP release could be a good project for local music industry outreach, or that a remix project could actually be a discussion on cultural hybridity and ancient trade routes.  Trying to shift students into a mindset that involves problem solving with the skills and tools they have will be an interesting challenge, but I have no doubt they will reap big rewards at the end of this term.

“The great difficulty of education is to get experience out of ideas.” – George Santayana

Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed are solely my own and not that of any employer or associated company

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