I came to technology pretty late in life. Prior to 1997, any paper that I needed to work on was done at my best friend’s house (and she even typed them for me for about a year before I finally took a typing class in 10th gr.). In 1997, a computer finally entered my family’s home. We had a dial-up modem, and much like the movie, “You’ve Got Mail”, we heard that exciting computerized voice that let us AOL users know that someone out there sent us communication.
To create our 10 page American History papers (also known as “Cooper Papers”or much shorter but no easier, “Reim Papers”, We had to use card catalogues (Gasp!!), and list at least 5 bibliographic sources (only 1 could be a website). It was fun to cautiously click around on the AOL home page and read news, but even better then that was this mystery called, AIM. Instant Messaging took on an even deeper meaning to me when I realized that I could keep in contact with other kids in different parts of the country after I returned home from my teen bus tour around the continental United States.
For awhile, instant messaging was enough for me. It was a tool that I started to use to communicate with the new community of musicians which I was entering. I realized that this form of communication could be used for personal or professional use. It was through instant messaging that I started to have fun and deep conversations with my boyfriend (now my husband) in true Carnegie Mellon University fashion (all hours of the day/night in the CFA computer labs). Before I left for Peabody Conservatory, my husband gave me his old laptop which he fully loaded with double bass screen saver slide shows. Now I could im from the privacy of my tiny baltimore apt and watch movies after I was done practicing for the day. So now my computer became my digital music/movie/picture holder with email/instant messaging bonus. He also created my first website as I got closer to entering into the professional world. Besides being amazed at seeing my life and images of me flash on a screen, I know realize that this was my first digital footprint into the sea of technology.
As I continued in my relationship with my husband, I noticed that he did other things then just IM me. He paid his bills and did banking online, created websites for his students in class as well as personal websites, composed and arranged music for class , kept a library of all of his music and needed several external hard-drives to store all of his content just incase computers needed to be wiped clean and reloaded (this happened a few times). By the time we were married, I had pushed many of the technological bias that I had grown up with which basically boiled down to; banking, paying credit card bills, shopping online are all evil activities that could ruin your life and give your computer viruses. I happily bank online, pay bills online, shop online, complete paperwork for workshops online and it saves me time.
The next jump for both of us socially was Facebook. In 2008, after participating in an amazing summer music workshop (where we met people from all over the world), we kept getting asked about our Facebook names. We kept saying that we didn’t do Facebook because we were teachers and didn’t want to have our students finding us online.This was also after Facebook had just opened itself up to going beyond the university community. After much cajoling and discussions about how the privacy features worked, my husband joined Facebook. I joined about a month later. This was another digital footprint for both of us. We realized that there was a huge variety of uses for Facebook ranging from our peers that wanted to tag others in old school pictures (not suitable for future employers to see), to advertising for future performances and getting feedback on specific questions or testing new ideas. By now, the majority of my social traffic is done through Facebook chat (sorry AOL). Some of my old cautions still go through my head (the battle of personal vs public persona) but this is the price we pay for having information available at the touch of a key.
That was the beginning of my personal techie voyage. It is far from done. Now that I am an educator in a 21st century classroom, I must ask, “Why not try?”. We can’t afford to be scared or bias when it comes to educating students that are born with a Facebook account (complete with their ultrasounds from their mommy).
My last word on Facebook is that despite that many pitfalls, this can still become a class room tool or a fan-page for your business or hobby. Why not have a classroom fan page to use as a virtual wall to show off pictures of student posters in the photo section. Or you can use the ability to post student essays on the Wall or post about subjects studied, school trips and words of the week (coming from the elementary perspective).
Twitter, Skype, LinkedIn, Google Plus are all free programs that I have tried through out the last few years. Admittedly, I really don’t use Google Plus that much. Its like Facebook with a video chat feature (even though now Facebook is catching up with its new connection to Skype). But in a school building that can support the program, this can be used to contact other classrooms and educators. Skype and other virtual chats allow for having guests in the classroom.
LinkedIn is a free, PROFESSIONAL, social media network. You can build your resume, ask for recommendations, make yourself searchable by adding keywords and much more. I wish this was around when I was job hunting in grad school. More importantly, this gives me a chance to be in contact with other music educators, orchestra contractors, and peers without the distractions of potential employers checking out your vacation pictures.
Twitter. Why are other professionals afraid to use it? How can you afford not to use it? IT IS FREE ADVERTISING. Seeing my very humble beginnings into the world of technology, I understand that trying anything new is daunting. I have been actively on twitter for about 1 1/2 year. My oldest tweet that I can find today is about 418 days ago. Much like Facebook, Twitter can be used poorly (I don’t need to know what you had for breakfast). But there are so many different levels. One of my brothers realized that it is the fastest news source. You get news and sports scores as it happens. Any topic that you are interested in has a hashtag (#) and much like google, if you search a hashtag you can find information and links to articles about anything. So before I started tweeting, I found some friends and celebrities that I wanted to follow. Much like my Facebook use, I tweeted out some professional questions (now adorned with the appropriate #musedchat, #mpln and #mused) and I received (not every time) responses. Technical questions like, “How do you teach a 4th grade drummer to play 16th notes evenly?” Several educators from all over the country responded back with various tricks. They are complete strangers but they understand what being a music teacher in several buildings means and not matter what our current teaching assignments are, we are all musicians and educators that want to help our students in the best way possible. In my personal life as a gigging musician, Why wouldn’t I want to advertise where I am playing concerts and with which groups. Don’t you like a larger audience? For fun I have tweeted Kevin Smith and Kelly Carlin. Kelly responded back and Kevin Smith favorited one of my tweets. Yes, they have thousands or millions of followers that send stuff to them but for that 1 sec of time, technology levels the playing field and gives anyone the ability to be heard.
As human beings, we are always looking to connect with others. Through cave paintings or emails, the more we learn the more we can pass our ideas on to the younger humans (who will make our ideas even better). Incorporating technology into our classroom shows our students how easy it is to create and share our work globally. We can not afford to have negative reactions to social media because of a few people choosing a darker path. When I teach my students to read music and play their instruments for the first time, I do it in small steps with the hope that they will follow the procedure I show them until they understand. If you still aren’t sure about social media, no need to dive in. Try the shallow end of the pool, get used to it all on your own terms. It is a brave new world out there and as educators we must have our students ready to survive.
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