NBC Learn Higher Ed Subscriber Spotlight: Teaching the Media Generation

Posted on 01/10/2017 09:45 AM

It’s a conundrum that professors and instructors wrestle with daily: How do you reach today’s college students when they are so accustomed to consuming information in bite sized pieces? Be it a tweet, a posting on Facebook, or the latest viral video, students are exposed to a plethora of information, but it isn’t always aligned to the way information is presented in a college classroom. The teaching methods of yesteryear, whether a classic lecture or a basic PowerPoint presentation, simply aren’t engaging students the same way they did a mere decade ago.

“It’s the media generation,” says John Kennedy, a music professor at California State University, Los Angeles. “A lot of people hate that, because they like to think of themselves above it all. But this is the reality of the situation.”

Kennedy, a 22 year veteran of the California State University system and musical composer, has grappled with this issue for some time. He tries to reach today’s digital natives by ditching the stale lecture and instead incorporating more technology, including video, into his classes.  At first he relied on links he found from popular search engines, but quickly discovered that those videos didn’t always meet his instructional needs.

“When I use a YouTube link, who knows what the quality of that link is going to be, both in sound and video,” says Kennedy. “But when I go to an NBC Learn link - it’s multi-camera - it’s all of the stuff that you get from a professional news organization.”

Short, engaging and thought provoking - the video news reports from NBC Learn’s extensive archive has helped to revolutionize his world music class. Beyond simply keeping their attention, the video resources have also helped Kennedy find ways to connect his students with the history and culture of the music that is in their own backyards.

“I teach in an environment where I am just north of the largest Latino population in the United States and just west of one of the largest Asian populations in the United States,” says Kennedy. “So it is really important to me, especially when I am teaching general education, that I kind of try to reach these kids to not only understand their own culture, but for the people around them to understand the cultures that represent the class.”

To help bring some of these issues alive for his students, Kennedy has relied on Nightly News’ in-depth profile of Lalo Guerrero, the father of Chicano music.

“His sons actually live in this neighborhood,” says Kennedy. “So a lot of the students are familiar with this guy. In that interview he talks about his plight. He calls himself a brown musician trying to work his way through Hollywood and trying to create a reputation professionally in a very white industry and white world.”

Kennedy uses the video to help drive home the point that some of his students’ predecessors had to go through a lot in order to bridge racial divides. It was only through music that their ancestors were able to start building those cultural bridges.

“Since I am dealing with a general education topic, it’s not just about the music,” adds Kennedy. “It’s about other things like socioeconomic conditions, cross cultural conditions for mass consumption. That’s what makes [the stories] useful.”

To exemplify how socioeconomic conditions impact music, Kennedy points his students to a video about how local California schools are getting creative to save arts programs. At one elementary school, located in the Bay Area, the principal was able to get a grant to bring in a traditional Japanese drumming instructor after the state defunded their other music programs.

“It kind of brings in all of these issues,” said Kennedy. “Why does music need to be in the schools? How was the neighborhood able to solve the problem? And again because it was on a national news source, it raises the relevance of the topic in the mind of the students.”

And it is that relevance that helps John Kennedy keep his students from the media generation engaged while they are attending his classes.

Looking for more videos to help teach world music? Click here to see some of the videos that Kennedy uses in his instruction.

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