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like the back of your hand?

The question was posed to me:

How well do you know the back of your hand?

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 06.44.48It was a daily prompt in a project to get people connected through technology (that is a huge under-simplification of  the AGORA, web-associated activities connected to the University of Guadalajara (UdG) Student Centred and Mobile Learning Diploma). Although the Daily Try was created as part of the project, it is wide reaching and open to anyone. I have dipped in and out of it this summer and looking back at my collection of Daily Try entries, they form a positive scrapbook of reflectivity and storytelling.

So the back of my hand? I thought you would never ask. This is my left hand, and it is in shadow because it will never be classically beautiful like my grandmother’s (she was a hand model in the day when mannequins were live people). That is primarily because I have cello fingers. To play the cello, short nails are a must, and if you had a better view of my thumb, you would see a callus on the side of it from playing as well – If I play a lot the ends of my fingers look like little frog’s fingers. It sounds odd, but it’s not – promise.

Then there’s the ring. Well two rings. You probably can’t see them in the photo, but that’s ok- the story isn’t about what they look like. One has been there 18 years and the other a bit longer. The engagement ring was not bought (I am a very big fan of passing on/lending/giving things to others, and have been lucky enough to be on the receiving end as well). This was one of those stories- In short the ring was hers:


She was Laura Anne, some semi-distant ancestor of my husband. She was not a great woman in history, but we do have her story and she endured many things- including spending weeks on a fishing boat and giving birth at sea sometime in the mid 1850’s. The ring itself was falling apart (lost the main stone down the sink drain in the loo at the Royal College of Music!), but it got cobbled back together and I love that it was hers and that I can carry on that story. Someday some ancestor of mine might take it out of a box and say to their child – do you have a ring? would you like to have/give this one?

on the back of that story, I commend the Daily Try to you.

Connecting and reflecting with #tjc15

(3 min read) Yesterday I was involved with #tjc15, which is like a twitter book club except with journal articles. We discussed the 2011 article by Kop, Fournier, and Mak:

A Pedagogy of Abundance or a Pedagogy to Support Human Beings? Participant Support on Massive Open Online Courses

Typically I don’t do those things – but yesterday I did. I read the article during the twitter conversation and typed/tweeted as I read, and was instantly sparked by a number of things and how they related to me as a teacher.

In a couple of weeks I will run the second iteration of my own mini-mooc-esque class #MUS654. It isn’t officially sponsored by anyone, or advertised by anyone, and in truth I put it together for the students so they could have a better experience and get connected. I teach a physical class who are all encouraged to follow along… starts in the second week of September. More on that in another post. This is about the article.

There were a few standouts that were definitely worth sharing. Firstly the idea that:

one should question if all adult learners are capable of taking on this responsibility

This made me ask myself (and the twitter community) what about younger learners? I know the context of the article was that of higher education, but my 8 year old uses the computer, self-directs his learning, and dips into various tutorials (with permission and supervision). Why should engagement with this sort of learning not be about younger learners. There is not a magic line when suddenly you have a license to drive your own learning. It happens organically and as we integrate connectivity into schools and the classroom, it is something that should be in the minds of parents and teachers, because it is certainly in the minds of students.

the major challenges is to create a pedagogy that supports human beings

I agree. completely. and this applies to all who are engaged with pedagogy – those classically called ‘learners’ as well as ‘teachers’. The more I teach the more I find I am really a secret, or public, learner. I’m not sure if the traditional infrastructure in higher education regards established teachers as learners, certainly some places do, and there are others where there is still ground to gain on that point. I crave learning, and it is a real challenge to create something that honestly supports all involved. There are so many variables, and the important ones to me have to do with engagement – intrinsically motivated engagement. I tell my students that if there is no point, why bother. I certainly wouldn’t engage just for a grade. Maybe that is a brash statement, but it’s true (for me at least).

So back to the online learning model and connection. In this study there were many registered on the class (1500+), and rather fewer participated on a regular basis (40-60). That is not surprising or uncommon. There were various attempts for engagement and this sentence really rang true:

This highlights the need of participants for social presence, but in a self-determined way.

It reminded me of the classic psychology idea that you are responsible for your actions. (As in thought precedes action (see Bandura, 2001 esp p.4-5) I can advise, tell, direct, ask – but only you can do it. And in creating authentic doing, that aspect of self-direction and self-regulation (see Zimmerman & Schunk, 2001) is essential. It is the magic of achieving something that is truly student-led (forgive the edu-speak).

It made me think, because I don’t know how my open course will unfold, or who will join in, or even who will be interested – it is about making a music curriculum, but has almost mini-courses each week about various core components of music and music learning. We’ll see… and I’ll be learning too.

It brings me back to these two sentences, found at the beginning of the article’s conclusion section:

This research showed the importance of making connections between learners and fellow-learners and between learners and facilitators. Meaningful learning occurs if social and teaching presence forms the basis of design, facilitation, and direction of cognitive processes for the realization of personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile learning outcomes.

I am very glad Laura Gogia organised #tjc15 and hope very much that next month you will join in too. You can read the full article we discussed here.

A story of connection

A friend of mine asked for some stories of connection for an upcoming conference presentation he is giving… and here’s mine. (Alan, you’re in it!) It is yet another little glimpse into the #Musiqualiy story, and the stories keep folding and unfolding. Intricate as fractals.



Music and the soul

This morning a friend shared this, page 155 from the Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano, (it comes right after the Culture of Terror section and before Alienation). (photo credit: Anji Gaspar-Milanovic) I haven’t read the book yet, but it is on order. The passage struck me for several reasons. First it made me think of a story told to me by Marjorie Garrigue, who was a pianist I stayed with during my summers at Meadowmount. In her youth she was a student of Rachmaninov, and she was 98 when I lived with her. I can’t remember if this was her story, or a story told by a teacher, or just a sort of musical parable- but it stuck with me, and here’s the short version:

Someone had an audition (maybe it was a performance?) and there were only a handful of people in the audience, but what the performer learned afterward was that one of those listening was a very influential musician himself and because he had prepared like it was the performance of his life and still performed, really performed, despite the small audience – that night a door opened because of the impact the performance had on those two or three audience members. – I hope it was a true story.

and so the page from Galeano’s book struck me.

It also made me reflect on my own conception of performance, and how that has shifted and continues to shift. Sometimes people judge the success of a performance on numbers – don’t all paths in society use metrics? It could be height, weight, salary, grades, views, or any number of measurables. Can you measure music’s connection with people? probably, but I would prefer not to have to label it in those terms.

Some of my most meaningful performances have been in the most unlikely spaces. This summer during the Musiquality adventure we played in a racquet ball court and then at Yosemite I played on a giant rock. The best bit of that was that it was all beyond convention. In school we are taught musical conventions, and yes, these are important. Rules, manners, heritage, culture, and tradition are all important in performance, but at the heart of it all still is the music and when the music comes first and is able to transcend the situation then there is something beyond words. This can happen in many different settings – including a traditional concert hall with people neatly tucked silently in rows.

I am certainly not against that. There is not only one way to have a meaningful performance.

Lately though, I have moved. My perspective has altered and I find I am willing to ‘play’ more in music making. That is something that wasn’t necessarily schooled into me – we spend so much time ‘working’ that there isn’t often time to play. As a late starter, I was always trying to catch up to the others … how many thousand hours had they practised more than me??… It would be foolish to dismiss the work, but the play is still somehow necessary and essential. I am pleased to be finding it and beginning to share it with others.

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 17.38.51So on that rock, there was no concert hall and one little girl climbed right up next to me. The older students and adults assembled in a traditionally audience-shaped mass, but she didn’t know about that and just came by me.

And why not? 

For me there is a great value in that connection, and it is a continual journey – really the Musiquality journey is all about bringing quality and connection through music. It is about participating in the process and being aware of your own perspective and how interaction changes, challenges, or enhances it.

I still have many many stories to share from the California adventure. One of the best ‘happenings’ was when I visited my grade school friend Anji, and upon arriving at her flat in LA, I noticed that her husband had a guitar… and within a few minutes we were playing. I had not met him before, and it was so lovely to play – to have a conversation – and a connection, and the audience of one was perfect. My only regret from that evening is that we didn’t record the other songs we played.

Like I said, I am on a journey. One year ago I was asked to just play (improvise) on a live-streamed skype call, and that was a big step forward for me. This year I am comfortable inviting others to play with me. The thing is – it’s catchy, this making music with people thing, and I don’t think we (I) do it nearly as much as we could or even should. I know I am typing now, but sometimes it is nice to talk without words too.

Music . . . was bestowed for the sake of harmony. And harmony, which has motions akin to the revolutions of the soul within us, was given by the muses … not as an aid to irrational pleasure (as is now supposed), but as an auxiliary to the inner revolution of the soul, when it has lost its harmony, to assist in restoring it to order and concord with itself.

Plato, The Timæus, c. 360 BC

Reflections: My learning wall

(2 min read) This morning I woke up to someone posting one of those motivational phrases, or something that was supposed to be motivational about how ‘tomorrow is everything’ …and I thought, hang on, nobody ‘gets’ tomorrow, all we have is where we’re at, right now. I’ve been working on the now, my now for some time, (that in itself sounds like a paradox, but I mean over the past 6-12 months really) and I decided that this morning I would get stuck in to my wall. I sometimes do big DIY projects while thinking about academic writing.

This wall made me think about learning.

How does stripping wallpaper in ‘the hallway from hell’ make a good analogy to learning?

As a learner I have certainly been in the position of wanting to do something and really wanting to do something and plugging away at it and seemingly making no progress.  That was also how I felt a few minutes ago. I thought:

  • When learning how do we know we are making progress?
  • Where’s the evidence?
  • What do we use as markers?
  • Do we do this when we learn?
  • Do we help our students to do this when they learn?

Ah, there are in-built systems, you might say – with tutorials, and assignments, and feedback, and and and, but are these telling the students about what they are learning or how they are performing? Perhaps a bit of both.

The most important thing is that the student can recognise the evidence of their learning and know what they, personally, are aiming for.

This morning I almost got lost in the ‘wallness’ of my current project and couldn’t see what I was doing, why, or how far I had come – and for a fleeting moment it was depressing. IMG_4139


Then I looked down. It was that fleeting moment when the thought of failure crept in, but somehow it turned into an moment of enlightenment. IMG_4136When I looked down and I saw all the rubbish I had scraped off the wall – I saw the evidence of my progress. It had not been easy, scraping off this stuff, but I have made progress. (by the way who in their right mind wallpapers a wall, plasters over the wallpaper, puts *more* wallpaper, and then paints over that?!?! – this is no easy task.) That was when I started to think about learning and this process made me think about how learning works.


There is no machine that will do it for me, no quick fix. It
takes patience, and grind, and work. Not necessarily rambunctious effort or gung-ho enthusiasm, but gentle, careful, considered persistence. Learning is like that. Sometimes the dirt gets under your fingernails, and sometimes it seems you get nowhere, but then there are times when something goes right and where there seemed to be no progress, something happens.



Even if this is a slow process, I can see the value in completing it,

and I’m going to keep plugging away.