- Coetail Course 3 Week 6: Remix Culture
- Assignment 6: Describe, in a blog post, how can you use the concepts behind remix culture in your teaching.
- Definition of Remix: “Generally speaking, remix culture can be defined as the global activity consisting of the creative and efficient exchange of information made possible by digital technologies that is supported by the practice of cut/copy and paste.”
Re-mix, mash-up, parody—whatever you want to call it—our students are doing it. If not in the classroom, then definitely outside it. They’re entertained by them. They entertain themselves by making them. It’s an unstoppable force.
Software, hardware, and publishing tools that were only for professionals a decade ago are cheap and easily accessible to this generation. The Pandora’s Box is now opened and this is the new literacy that has emerged. It is called Transliteracy. Teachers who aren’t in denial of the changes are going to harness this new literacy and bring it into the classroom. We’ll teach with it. We’ll allow our students to bring the contents of the Pandora’s Box (Transmedia) into the classroom as a vehicle for learning and as a new medium to show us what they’re learning. We can allow them to bring it to us. Or, we can shut it outside the school while our students wait impatiently for each school day to end so that they can turn on their cellphones & laptops and start their “real lives”.
Transmedia is the use of multi-media, multi-platforms, multi-devices to communicate. (Multimedia: text, images, sound effects, puzzles, games) It is often interactive with the audience; it’s an on-going, asynchronous dialogue or storytelling between author, audience, and medium. In our media-rich laden world, it’s something we have to come expect from credible communicators. A black & white, typed, letter-sized essay isn’t gonna cut it anymore.
I found this example of a transmedia story to be extremely fascinating. It is Inanimate Alice in China from the website, Inanimate Alice. While I was watching it, I felt like I had fallen into a video game. It was a very compelling experience. Where have I been? (Discovering new things like this has a way of making me feel old and out of touch).
In the Classroom
I really enjoyed reading this essay about a classroom teacher whose class was reading the novel, Weslandia. The students branched out in all these ways in order to “experience” the novel: digital storytelling, blogs, wikis, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and Youtube videos etc. Heck, the students are experiencing life through these things. It’s a small step for them imagine, create, and communicate about how the protagonist of Weslandia (Wesley) would experience his life through these forms of media.
This week’s assignment is to describe how we would use the concepts behind remix culture in our teaching. Well, Inquiry Learning is about allowing students’ desires and questions drive the direction and the course that their learning will take. Certainly, their desires include the connected world and the connected tools that are intrinsically a part of who this generation is. The problem is when the students wonders, “How would Wesley’s Instagram have looked on that day?”. Will the teacher say, “Cool! Let’s look at that! Instagram isn’t blocked at our school. We already have a class account. Should we use it, or should we create a separate one?” This is in contrast to the teacher who says, “Insta-what? What’s that? Hmm…I don’t really know how to deal with social media and all the security-issues that come with it, so let’s avoid going there.” (That would have been me pre-Coetail.)
Challenges to get there
Anyway, you get my drift. I actually don’t feel that most teachers are opposed to, or afraid of technology. You sort of hear people complaining on social media about Technology-Luddites or Technophobes. Lots of the complainers are technology coaches it seems. To me, the biggest challenge for teachers is having the time to learn these tools, to engage in these tools on a personal level, to keep up with the new tools and updates. I am quite aware that because I’ve been a part-time teacher lately, that I have had time to keep up with the technology curve. For example, I spent the morning reading and learning about the Inanimate Alice project. I can’t imagine any teacher not finding this a fascinating form of literacy. I had the time to study her though. I’ll probably spend the week imagining how transmedia is going to transform a look at one of my favourite children’s books. Maybe how about, Alexander’s Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day! by Judith Viorst? My class looked at that picture book in my very first teaching post. Fast forward 20 years….how will that book be examined and re-told using all these tools at our finger tips? To me, the problem isn’t engagement or motivation. The problem is that teachers don’t have the time to get a hook onto these type of engagements themselves. I can see why the 20% free project-time or Genius hour for TEACHERS is such an important concept.
Well, I’m not going to go over the points about remix culture and copyright in this blogpost. Instead, I thought I would share an example from my life of a 14 year old who has harnessed technological tools to re-mix, create, and publish music for his own pleasure. What he does in his bedroom music-studio, is not that different from what professional artists in recording studios did when I was a teenager. The difference is that he’s still a kid.
Case study of a Re-Mixed Kid
I’m talking about my 14 year old son. Now, most of you know that I am musical. Even though I was trained as an elementary school classroom teacher, I took graduate studies that qualified me to also teach as an elementary school music specialist. Indeed, most of my part-time teaching positions were music positions. I was trained through classical music. Yep. I’m old school. As such, there were many years when I gave little respect to what my son was composing in his bedroom. To me, it was a form of folk-art—transient, of little substance. Someone said that the audience to folkart are”hicks”. I’m not a hick. I’m a classicist. Classicists have–class! …and they are eternal. 😀
One of the influences of Coetail on me was the opening of my eyes to the transformative work that our students and children are doing right under our noses. I no longer ignore, wrinkle my nose, or roll my eyeballs at the music coming out of his bedroom. I take an interest in it. I listen. I ask questions. I learn new words and new genres (Dubstep genre, InHouse genre, compression, stems). I’ve had to finance a few gadgets and pieces of software for which I have NO CLUE what they do, but I know that having the right tools is so important to how far we can take our art. Thus, I’m willing to buy what he needs.
I thought I would share with you one of the projects my son undertook. Yes, he did re-mixing. I mean he REALLY did re-mixing (and not just cut and pasting together). The end product was a new song.
Brian Lamb: “In the field of music, pioneers in the art of modern music remix had to use predigital technology, laboring to loop and splice tape or to manipulate vinyl records on turntables to create new sounds and styles. Without question, the rise of digital media has pushed the practice to new levels of activity and imagination. The ease of copying and manipulating digital media naturally supports the sampling and recombining of materials… media production tools have gotten cheaper and easier to use even as they have become more powerful. The result has been a flood of work created by largely anonymous media artists who are reimagining the iconography of popular culture, unearthing forgotten artifacts and contextualizing them anew. One only has to spend an hour surfing YouTube.com to get a sense of the subversive fun being had by hundreds of thousands of culture mashers.”
Ok, Brian Lamb has explained better than I, the cultural context behind what my son does as a favourite past-time. I’ll just give you a snapshot of how my son created his song.
Re-mixing his Song
First, he learned of a Remix song contest that one of his favourite Dubstep artists (name is Protohype) was sponsoring. Prizes included having your song officially released on FirePower Records. The contest gave 4 “stems” that entries needed to incorporate (remix) into their new song. “Stems” are essentially short tracks of electronic sounds. One of the stems was a vocal.
Below Image: The different horizontal bands in the right-hand window are the different stems in the music timeline:
My son took these 4 stems and re-mixed and transformed them. In his words (I can’t explain it myself), he “….compressed them (has to do the with the audio levels), added effects to the vocal stems, added drums, and speeded the whole thing up….” He did more that I can’t even write properly about, since I don’t understand it fully.
See a short video clip of the music timeline playing in the software window:
Here is the end-result that he shared on SoundCloud (free for you to download too. Click the ‘buy’ link):
As part of his Design & Technology class, he created his company logo “Saerium” you see to the left. Saerium will DJ your dance for you—-re-mixing old and famous favourites on the spot, and also playing some original compositions of Dubstep songs. He’s been able to make a bit of money with his hobby now, by DJ-ing for birthday parties.
Augment the old with the new, Transform, Redefine
Now, young people are not abandoning the old classical tools or history. He is classically trained like his Mom. He plays piano and cello. He has added guitar and bass guitar, out of his own interest. Re-mixing may be random chaos, but it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t all have to be of folkart quality.
There’s that familiar archetype of the Prima Donna that falls ill and then a “nobody” from the side-wings steps in to substitute at the last minute. The substitute does an amazing job and is catapulted to stardom. That story sort of played out last year. He had asked to DJ the middle school disco (They call them Discos, here in Europe! I have to resist snorting aloud when he uses that word 😀 ) The student council turned them down. Then, the DJ they wanted couldn’t make it. At the last minute, “Saerium” was called to DJ the dance and the teens were so impressed that he isn’t short of gigs anymore. One of the teachers (with a musical background) remarked that it is obvious that my son has a musical background. You wouldn’t think so, but you can tell by his DJ-ing and digital compositions that he has musical training. He has an understanding of beat, rhythm, tempo, key signatures, style… and can combine them seamlessly in a ways that are musical and not jarring. So, in the world of Re-mix, there are different levels of quality. It’s not all rubbish.
My take-away from this is that students don’t abandon their old skills of reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic when they embrace new media. The new media is augmenting what is already there. My son has 9 years of classical music training. It laid the foundation for him to use these new tools to take song-writing to new heights (transforming) that I will never be able to obtain. Together, with his generation, he is creating new genres of music (re-defining) with new sounds that the analog generation never heard. Nowadays, I look at what he does will respect and admiration. I try to learn what I can so I can be relevant to my students. I’d look like an idiot trying to pidgeon-hole my students into the old Rondo or binary forms 😀 when they’re already multi-lingual and should go beyond what I did and can do, now.
So, when you hear words like new literacy, transliteracy, new media, transmedia—-it doesn’t mean we’re throwing away the old. We’re making it of a higher standard than we could have ever dreamed of, as children ourselves. I dreamed about songwriting and publishing. He’s DOING it. We’re making it more engaging. These tools are definitely more interesting (even to me) than pencil on music staff paper or blank paper. Most importantly, we’re making it relevant. If it’s not relevant to them, they’re not going to remember it. It works both ways. Now that I see the relevance of what he is doing to my studies in pedagogy, I “get it” about his Re-mix endeavours.
Now, he pulls out the cello to play with me in my world; I’ll dance to his music controller pads in his world. Both our lives are richer.
- Lovely read on Re-mix Culture, “The Ecstasy of Influence“. This essay has become a meme in and of itself. Tumblr has a #ecstasyofinfluence hashtag. The entire hashtag timeline is a re-mix of the original essay.
- Would you like to try to do your own Re-mix of any topic you choose? Check out Pipes.
Do you have a favourite example of a Re-mix (from Youtube or elsewhere) to share with me?
P.S. My son just said that he didn’t enter his song into the contest. He feels like he still has a lot to learn before being ready to compete. In the meantime, he’s learning.