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On building learning playlists

On creating learning playlistsWe create them on Spotify and YouTube and iTunes. Before music went digital, some of us made CD or cassette mixtapes and shared them as gifts.

With our ability to ethically curate content and unglue it from its containers, and a growing array of digital tools and open education resources, many of us are engaging in a creative new form of the remix.

Learning playlists are a thing, and that thing is emerging as a subgenre of digital curation in a variety of flavors.  As a librarian, I can’t think of a single Shared Foundation–Include, Inquire, Curate, Collaborate, Engage, Explore–we wouldn’t address in introducing and building playlists.

Playlists can be powerful.  They can address multiple purposes.

I create little magazines of continually updated outside reading beyond our texts for my grad students offering them opportunities to explore and contribute. I have a YouTube playlist of workouts I use when I travel. Some of my colleagues use to gather playlists from specific elements selected across the hundreds of offered courses.

More powerfully, we can use playlists to differentiate and individualize learning and allow students to work through content at their own pace as they return and review at the moment of need. They may be intentionally sequenced or designed to inspire choice. They can include interactive elements and assessments of progress. Students can contribute to building their own playlists. And it is super easy to include them in any learning management system or website.

Let’s explore a few playlist possibilities.

Differentiation: Imagine creating instruction (face-to-face or flipped) using Google Docs or Slides as your major platform. Some of the resources/readings/viewings you select may be the same for most students. But to address the needs and interests of different learners, curated resource lists connected to individual students or small groups might vary in the form of embedded or linked customized playlists. It would be a simple task to make multiple versions of a document with different playlists inserted.  The teacher or librarian can easily customize and adjust playlists to meet each student’s strengths and needs and pace.

Student choice: Within the realm of some project guidelines, engage learners in collaboratively discovering and suggesting background readings. For one meeting of our Gay/Straight Alliance, students were interested in exploring how gay people were represented on television. We decided to create a sequenced playlist to discuss. Students searched YouTube and found clips dating back to the show Soap. A rich student-led discussion ensued. I can envision AP United States History students organizing their primary sources on collaborative playlists.

Update/amplify the text: Task students with creating playlists to enhance various chapters (or missing resources) from most any textbook. Have them create original content and assessments as well.

Current events: Within any particular content area, students might rotate in creating news of that discipline by adding, annotating and defending the choice of news items on a current events playlist. In one of my RU courses, my grad students keep us updated on a regular basis of news in the world of search.

Course tutorials: You can create or gather video instruction that will support learners for a course or a project. YouTube playlists might be a good way to gather material from Khan Academy or Crash Course or Flocabulary and mix them with locally grown instruction and a few provocative questions.

Containers for inquiry/research/presentation/personal interest: In addition to a more formal bibliography, students can easily squirrel away and organize sources in all media formats. This no-click display of sources can be both visually engaging and motivating. Resources can be sequenced should the student choose to use the playlist for presentation.

Passion-driven playlists: Of course, playlists might also be created for passion-driven interests. You can encourage and support students as they develop lists for those interests–perhaps on mindfulness, veganism, jazz piano, street art,  coding or martial arts.  A former student once gave me a gift of a learning playlist progressively arranged for me to improve my two-step moves before a conference in Texas.

Professional development: Playlists are excellent vehicles to drive those technology lunch-and-learn experience. They offer busy teachers more than one instruction solution to explore and can attractively present petting zoo options that support those instructional solutions.

Support for parents: You can create resources to support parents and your PTO/PTA, and perhaps present them first at meetings. Consider sites to support remediation, reading choices, college search, digital citizenship, student inquiry, translated materials for families for whom English is a second language, or playlists of trailers and other materials to support school reading lists.

Here are a variety of platforms ripe for playlist creation. Search them for inspiring examples as well.

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Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


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