Talons: A Case Study in DIY Educational Technology

On June 9, 2011, students in the music program at Gleneagle Secondary School, a high school in Vancouver suburb Coquitam, BC, played its spring concert to a packed house in a 450 seat auditorium. A first in Gleneagle history, the performance was broadcast live over Internet radio to listeners all over the world. And while  that might sound like a huge undertaking requiring serious AV and IT infrastructure, it was not. Not at all. In a brilliant feat of do-it-yourself EdTech (or what some folks might have once called edupunk), the concert was streamed live by Bryan Jackson, a Music and English teacher in the school’s TALONS program, and graduating senior Olga Belikov, with a Macbook, some free software and a USB microphone. That’s it. That’s all it took to broadcast the spring concert to anyone anywhere who wanted to hear it. And it sounded great.

Gleneagle’s Principal was aware of what was going on but wasn’t entirely clear on the details. During one point in the concert, he  walked backstage where Bryan explained all the moving parts: the unremarkable laptop and microphone, the free software, the web radio station (DS106Radio — read about it in my last post and herehere, here, herehereherehere, and here), how he and Olga used Twitter to build a live audience of listeners from from all over the US and Canada, and  that the broadcast was being recorded and would be posted for posterity to Soundcloud, a free audio sharing site, so that anyone in the Gleneagle community or anyone else anywhere could listen to and respond to any part of the performance. Bryan also explained how he had been using various other social media tools at Gleneagle including YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, blogs, and web radio to enhance lessons, to share performances, and to communicate with students and colleagues. His Principal was duly impressed. The administration had been aware of and supported Bryan’s and other teachers’ use of social media but had never up to this point fully engaged their potential to increase engagement, promote programs, and share and interact with parents, teachers, students, and district administrators or anyone else. While they had an inkling of what teachers were doing with free web tools, this broadcast, its recording, and the new interest at the school in webcasting were, according to Bryan, probably the first tangible outcomes of Gleneagle teachers’ experiments with creating and sharing on the web. Here is a one minute audio clip of Bryan describing the Principal’s visit backstage:

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I love the irony here: Bryan tells us that he was able to experiment with various social media and web publishing tools and explore how their use might benefit his program and school only because one of the school’s IT people gave him his computer’s administrative password, which he really wasn’t supposed to have. It’s fairly common practice for IT departments in companies and educational institutions to withhold admin access to computers from end users for fear that they will go messing where they shouldn’t and damage the computer, contract a virus, install unauthorized software, or do things on their machines of which the IT department or the institution does not approve. This also ensures that end users have to rely upon IT personnel to perform simple maintenance tasks, modify configurations, and to update or install software. This is the traditional model where IT is in control of who has access and who does not while the end users are disempowered and must rely upon IT to make any changes to their machines. Here’s a wonderful example of a teacher who was trusted with full access to his computer and was able to use it to break new ground without hinderances imposed from above. When creative teachers have the latitude to experiment with the technology that’s readily available to them, wonderful things can happen. If there was ever an argument in favor of rethinking the model of how and to whom administrative access is granted at educational institutions, this is it.

I don’t know much about the general feeling at Gleneagle toward the privacy and security implications of web publishing and social media in instruction and for promotional purposes so I can’t speak to that. But it seems to me that, generally, there’s still quite a bit of trepidation about such things among educators. That trepidation, I’ll argue, tends to grow out of 20th Century notions of public exposure and our relationship with mass media and their roles in our lives. Privacy and security are certainly real concerns (FERPA exists for a reason), but it does appear that the discourse around them is often animated by outdated ideas about the production and consumption of media. It used to be that if you appeared on TV or radio, or in print, you had done or were involved in something a small group of editors and producers felt it was their imperative to broadcast. It had to be fairly remarkable, for good or for ill, to make the papers. Having your image or story broadcast to the world via a mass medium like radio or television, was special — something fairly unusual in the “look, Mom, I’m on TV!” sort of a way, unless you were among the relatively few who made a living in front of a camera or microphone.

Now, when anyone can shoot a video on a mobile phone and upload it immediately to YouTube, where it can potentially be seen by thousands, if not millions of people within just a few days, there’s a real banality to this sort of exposure. Most of our students share their lives on the internet in some way  every day. More and more of them live their lives in both physical and virtual space — this is something that those of us in their 30s and 40s who teach and administer programs are just now getting our heads around. Whats more, the means of media production, it has been said again and again by new media thinkers like Jay Rosen, Clay Shirky and a host of others, are now in the hands of everyday people, no longer just media professionals. With relatively little effort and technical expertise, anyone can publish to the web. Anyone can broadcast audio or video to the internet on a mobile phone and an application that costs almost nothing. Heck, a bunch of us edtechhers built an open community radio station out of nothing more than a $25/mo server and a desire to play radio DJ.

Bryan Jackson and his colleagues at Gleneagle understand this well and are making amazing use of it. Thanks to a leadership that seems to appreciate the possibility the new media order offers educators, they have been empowered to use a combination of social media to do on their own what once was the province of AV professionals and marketing departments and required substantial infrastructure. While we’re by now used to seeing inklings of this sort of thing on the post-secondary level, it is encouraging and inspiring to see in happen in K-12. Bravo, Gleneagle Music! Bravo!

[This post is cross posted at my personal blog, thisevilempire.com]

Comments

  1. Josh 619 says:

    Your post about how the teacher created the concert is amazing. I being an elementary teacher I still see the need for privacy and security for our young people. As educators don’t we have a responsibility to “protect the innocence” of children. While it may not always be possible should that be our goal? I do agree that the thinking of the “Wow, I am on TV” is not carry as much weight as it used too. Has there been any response from the school district for the IT person giving out the IT passwords?

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