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Great Googly Moogly

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I have a new favorite author and blogger, Jeff Jarvis. My first introduction to Jarvis was watching him as an analyst on one of my favorite “new tv” shows, This Week in Google, on the TWiT network. A couple of weekends ago, I drove from East Lansing, MI to Kansas City, MO and back for a friend’s wedding. On the way back, I listened to the audiobook of Jarvis’s What Would Google Do?. (Get it.You’ll thank me later.) It is instantly clear when reading either his book or his blog, BuzzMachine, that Jarvis “gets” the internet and new media as much as anyone. His book discusses Google’s philosophies about business, customers, publicness, creativity, and community, and how they all might be applied to other institutions.

Jarvis does a really excellent job of distilling some principles of Googliness (one of the many fun, Google-related words he invents) in a way that makes them meaningful while being general enough to apply to a lot of different circumstances. Here are some of my favorites:

  • “Give the people control, and we will use it.”
  • “The link changes everything…Do what you do best and link to the rest.”
  • “If you’re not searchable, you wont be found…Your customers are your ad agency.”
  • The mass market has been (or is being) replaced by the mass of niches.
  • “Atoms are a drag.”

…and, perhaps his most radical proclamation…

  • “Free is a business model.”

My favorite sections of the book, however, are after Jarvis has explained the basic tenets of Googliness. He goes through several hypothetical Googly institutions. Near then end of these is “Google U,” a hypothetical university. Appropriately, Jarvis has made this chapter available as a blog post on his website. He wonders why, in this world of seemingly infinite communications technology, why do students have to be limited to taking classes at a single university? Why can’t they take classes a la carte from programs around the country?

I’m not sure I think this is practical. How do you control the curriculum in such an institution? How do the institutions control their enrollment numbers and standards? I don’t have answers to these questions. However, one thing I do like about the idea is that a degree-holder (would they even have degrees?) would have to be evaluated on something other than the name-brand familiarity of the institutions they attended.

One of my favorite websites seems to be working toward this idea already, and best of all it’s free! You can watch videos of lectures from many courses at top institutions at Academic Earth. However, when you look through the available lectures, you might notice something missing: the arts (now we’re back to my neck of the woods). There are a handful of offerings in creative writing and a course in Roman architecture, but there are no classes in music (not even theory or musicology), and no classes in artistic “practice.” Courses that are so basic to art programs(life drawing or color theory) and music programs (counterpoint and aural skills) seem to defy the model.

I’ve been wracking my brains since reading and listening to this chapter. I really want for the arts not to be an exception to  the Google U model. I really want arts education (and the arts themselves) to flourish in the Google Age. Is it the art that has to change or is it the way its taught? Or, do the arts simply defy our current communications technology? It’s probably a little of both, and of course the combination of the crusty academics and curmudgeonly classical musicians means that music programs will probably be the last parts of their respective universities to make such a change.

Is it possible to start a “free” university-style music school for the internet? I don’t know. Who wants to help me try?

I know there are a LOT of question marks in this blog post. I don’t normally like writing that way, but there are some many questions and so few certainties. If you have any thoughts on the matter, please share away in the comments!

  • I follow Jeff Jarvis on Twitter and he mentioned your post above, asking who wants to help establish a free music school…So, here I am. It seems to me that social media is the answer. The question is broadband density. I can see millions of people participating in an online symphony via live, Internet video streaming, but some entity has to have the resources to receive those millions of streams (a Google sponsored recital?) to broadcast the symphony, right? Bear with me, please, I like to reverse engineer.

    We’d also have to consider the capabilities of the instructor(s?) in charge of the class. Either through videotaped lectures, with students being able to email follow-up questions (and video clips of performances for critique)–or through live, streamed webinars–I can believe your goal is sound…if you don’t have to sell the instructor on the merits of lecturing by distance. Unfortunately, I am not the expert on this, but I know a few at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development. I’m pretty sure that they would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to help you solve this conundrum. :^)

  • I’m in.

  • David MacDonald

    Thanks for stopping by, guys.

    AMamiMus, I think the biggest problem with digitizing a lot of what we do in music school is synchronization. In my class, I might ask all of the students to sing something together. If there are a bunch of students joining the class via some Skype-like webcam system, the delay would be too much to handle. The delay between one student’s singing coming in and getting back out to another student would make the exercise fall apart. Alternatively, having the students just sing on their own while “passively” watching a live video feed, I can’t hear them to see if they’re doing it right (and you might be surprised how many can’t hear that for themselves.

    To be fair, we can work around these limitations for a lot of music classes. Written music theory can be taught effectively without group singing (though I still like it), and of course most musicology could be taught online as effectively as most other academic courses in history or anthropology.

    As I’m typing this, though, another issue popped up in my head. Teachers play recordings in class all the time. After all, who cares if you can tell me that Bach was born in 1685 and died in 1750 if you can’t identify what his music sounds like? Playing these recordings in class is obviously “fair use,” but “broadcasting” them on the web and archiving the lectures might be a legal gray area that would have to be addressed.

    Right now I’m finishing my doctorate in music (hopefully to be done in May 2011). The job market is just as tight, if not tighter, in my teeny-tiny field of art music composition/teaching. If I don’t land a university job for next academic year, perhaps this web music school idea will be the way to go?

  • I find this proposition very interesting. I agree that Free is a valid business model now – just look at what Google has done. I’m a recent graduate with a degree in music education and currently unemployed, trying to find a job in the public schools teaching music (I don’t get it – they told me music was where all the jobs were!). I think bringing music courses to the web is long overdue – and it is probably due to the reasons outlined by David that it hasn’t been accomplished yet.

    The biggest limitation for me (not necessarily the biggest limitation) is the listening portion of many music history classes, and how important that is – how would that be transferred to a FREE course online? (just thought of something – YouTube! there are tons of performances on there). This would be the most difficult part of the process, I think – getting licensing, streaming capabilities, etc.

    Obtaining scores for works for study and listening purposes would not be a problem – the IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library is a wonderful source of public domain scores and parts.

    I agree that the classroom experience would be difficult to emulate in an online setting – such as singing with your classmates for working on solfege or aural skills techniques – but perhaps this does not need to be emulated in order to be effective.

    Music theory courses would probably be the easiest. Something like creating MIDI examples of chords to listen to would be fairly easy to accomplish.

    All in all – I’m very interested in this idea. I’m a huge proponent of advancing technology and bringing the world to the “cloud.” I’d like to see how this idea develops!