Good Golly Pedagogy – Session 2 – Finding Meaning

On January 23, 2017

Last week we threw caution to the wind, sought out as many crazy and wonderful ideas as possible and began our students on their projects for this term. After some initial research, our students return to us this week with some refinements and we start to shake out the good from the bad.

Return to rituals

The first part of the day is a return to our 7Qs ritual, making the students refine their previous poster presentations. The 7Qs give them a chance to update the class on their progress and build on the work from previous sessions. It also forces them to keep in mind the important components for working on such projects, such as challenges, risks, possible outputs, and also ensuring they are still excited and passionate about what they are doing.

As a reminder, we are asking students to work with their posters to answer the following questions…

  • Explain your idea in one sentence
  • Why does this excite you?
  • What are you trying to solve?
  • Who will benefit from this idea?
  • What are your challenges? Tech, skills, time?
  • How will the final project look?
  • How will you exhibit/publish your work?

Meaningful involvement

It doesn’t take a psychologist to tell you that we are more engaged in work that means more to us. We thrive on meaningful work and will often see it as more important than pay, promotion or other benefits (Cascio 2003). In a research paper compiled in June 2016 (“What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless”), Catherine Bailey and Adrian Madden broke down several factors that made the difference in people feeling like they were doing meaningful or meaningless work.

Meaningful work was:

  • Self-transcendent – when it may matter more to others than oneself
  • Poignant – coping with harder moments that are not always purely euphoric
  • Episodic – short bursts of reward rather than a continuous feeling of meaningfulness
  • Reflective – meaning often comes through reflection and not a spontaneous emotional response
  • Personal – when work can relate or cross into personal lives, people often realise its importance

Once students. Then graduates. Now colleagues.

In trying to convey the importance of this, I couldn’t help but reflect on how I find meaning in my work. As an educator, I often work long hours, can sometimes feel like I’m talking to a bunch of Apple logos and occasionally walk out of a room wondering if that session really mattered. Yet I also have days where students are giddy with the things they are learning, running around campus gathering sounds, throwing them into Pro Tools and amazed at the process of sound design. Maybe they are learning about music publishing for the first time and suddenly want to work as a music supervisor. Or maybe we’ve got their little Arduino board working for the first time and a Pd patch is starting to sing. Eventually we see them cross a stage in a cap and gown, posting their next adventure on Facebook and being all kinds of amazing in the real world. As an educator, I hit all of the above points from Bailey and Madden; I know what we do matters to our students. I often have to work through that which is poignant to find that which is great. The bursts of rewards are in small, rapid doses which can often pass by too fast. It takes time to reflect and see what has been accomplished. And it certainly seeps into every part of my personal life.

Music Tech Fest Wall

#MTFCrew is LIFE!

Another part of my life is Music Tech Fest, a little technology retreat we hop off to once or twice a year. I could copy/paste most of the above and it would also fit – except that MTF is something many of us do as a labour of love. Nobody is getting rich, nobody is making massive lucrative gains, but everybody is getting access to a community of some of the best, brightest and friendliest nerds on the planet. An MTF weekend can break the mind and body, leaving you exhausted in every way. But those moments when you reflect on this epic group effort can be moments of pure joy – when you realise the new people in your life, when you watch kids hack for the first time, when someone creates something new and presents it at the hack awards, when someone lights up knowing they’ve found their new thing. When you can take a kid like Talulah (below), teach her some new skills, watch her beat out a room of adults and academics at a Stephen Fry hack camp and see her beaming!  No pay-check can do that.

HackCamp with Tallulah

Tutoring Talulah: YourFry HackCamp winner

So it only felt right to look into the MTF community to seek out some of the projects that brought such meaning to my work there. The obvious one is first – it makes me blubber every time I see it (DAMN YOU MATAN!!).


DisCoTech was the first-ever event in Tel Aviv dedicated to creation of music technology for people with special needs, which was produced in collaboration with the Israeli NPO Imagine and Matan Berkowitz’s company, Shift.

Independent Venue Week

This session happened to fall on Independent Venue Week, so it was only right we also introduced students into meaningful industry engagement.

Alive Inside

One last example was a documentary clip about a project in the USA which helps engage people with severe mental health issues buy supplying them with music.

Task: Oxford outlook

For our students to really get a sense of their environment and what’s going on, we asked them to go into the city to get more information. Facilitators were set up in a central meeting point and students had to conduct some basic research on who is important to their potential project. This included charities, startup-hubs, record stores, businesses … anything or anyone that would help them connect the Oxford community with their projects.

We asked students to spend 3 hours in Oxford, getting to know local issues and identifying key places that might be important for their project. They had to take pictures for the poster, get flyers, make contacts…

Within the time students had:

  • visited sound design studios
  • visited mental health and homeless charities
  • met with local record store owners
  • visited startup hubs and hack spaces
  • gathered contacts, pictures, flyers

Everybody met back up for a coffee at 5pm and discussed the people they had met and the issues they had discovered, and gave updates on where they now think their project is heading. We discussed music, charity work, social issues, technology, startup hubs; they were buzzing – and not just off the coffee.

Need to know whiteboard

“You need to know…”

Need to know

After the fact finding mission, the group had the evening to reflect on what they had found; in their next tutorial, we would define things they needed to research in their associated learning time. This is something they can track and keep building on week by week, while also using it to complete their learning contract. It would also feed into a pitch presentation they need to do next week. The “Need To Know” board is becoming another one of our rituals and helps to put the larger project day into perspective for their own projects. Each week, we facilitators will tutor students through the types of research they need to return with the following week, updating their learning contracts and project charts as they go.

Session summary

When students are given “tick the box” assignments too often, they get into a rhythm and have a level of expectancy both of themselves and what we as facilitators want. By challenging them to create their own projects, we have started to see sprouts of independence forming in their learning. As each has begun filtering their crazy and wild ideas in to formal projects, a sense of ownership is taking root. The hope is they will begin to see how to create things that are meaningful and not just going through the motions. We are set up for an interesting collection of pitches ahead.

Cascio, W.F., 2003;  “Changes in Workers, Work, and Organizations,” vol. 12, chap. 16 in “Handbook of Psychology,” ed. W. Borman, R. Klimoski, and D. Ilgen (New York: Wiley).

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