The power of music

Music

Reading about the ways in which music can affect the general well-being of people is making me realise just how powerful it is. It’s perhaps obvious that music benefits us socially; it brings people together and encourages a sense of community. Listening to your favourite music or playing one of your favourite pieces alone or in the company of others can be spiritually uplifting and enjoyable. You only have to look around you to witness these effects; people are listening and feeling happy everywhere.  It’s clear to see music affects us psychologically.

However I was not so aware of the extent to which music can affect our physical health. Participating in musical activity on a regular basis can lower your blood pressure and increase melatonin levels which reduces stress. There is a lot of research about singing in particular and among the findings it has shown to; exercise muscles in the upper part of the body, strengthen the lungs and do wonders for the heart.

“Just as certain selections of music will nourish the physical body and your emotional layer,
so other musical works will bring greater health to your mind.”
~ from ‘The Healing Energies of Music‘ by Hal A. Lingerman ~

Social Networking and the Presentation of the Self

facebook

Bouvier’s (2012) paper ‘How Facebook users select identity categories for self-presentation’ examines the ways we self-categorise (consciously or not) to express who we are on the social networking site ‘Facebook’. She delves into the relation between social networking and identity using Machin and Van Leeuwen’s (2008) concept of ‘relational identification’ and in her study of this she found that UK citizens have a tendency to communicate with their local connections and cultural groups on ‘Facebook’ most frequently.

The images we’re tagged in, friends we accrue on our friendlist and the people we habitually exchange interactions with via ‘Facebook’ all give insight into the kinds of social groups we are members of and thus the kind of person we are. However a concern I have is that all of this can promote narcassism, especially amongst younger people who are commonly concerned about how they are perceived by their peers and the impressions they convey. There is the potential to become obsessed with projecting oneself as appealing and popular; being tagged in photos surrounded by lots of people, gaining lots of ‘likes’ on posts and increasing the friend numbers by the day feed this obsession.

The informants of Bouvier’s study were concerned about being seen as ‘cool’, ‘busy’ and ‘fun’ through their interactions and this was feedback from only a small sample of people. Some of these ‘Facebook’ users (and of course millions of other ‘Facebook’ users out there) probably aren’t even aware that they are self-promoting which can make it difficult to distinguish the real-life narcassists from the non-narcassists.

Either way, people are drawn to ‘Facebook’ for different communication purposes and will present themselves the way they see fit; in the process some will show attention-seeking traits and others will not.

Bouvier, G. (2012) How Facebook users select identity categories for self-presentation. Journal of Multicultural Discourses, 7 (1) 37-57.

Machin, D., and T. Van Leeuwen (2008) Branding the self. In Identity Trouble, ed CR Caldas- Coulthard and R. Iedema, 4356. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

‘The small ways we engage with older people make a big difference’

According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of centenarians in the UK and Wales is rapidly increasing, rising by 8% per year and it is estimated that by 2033, 64,000 people will be 100 years of age (Creech et al, 2013). For some, the later stages of life can be a distressing time. Older adults are more likely to lose loved ones so become more susceptible to loneliness and physical decline can generate restricted mobility and feelings of helplessness, which can adversely impact self-esteem and the ability to interact with the rest of society. During a time where we are witnessing this major increase in the amount of people who are living longer,  it is essential that older adults are supported in overcoming the challenges of ageing so that they remain as positive, active and communicative members of society with an optimistic outlook on life. There is therefore a recognised need for initiatives that support older people’s well-being as they progress through their latter years and this is something that I have come to feel very strongly about.

old people 4

Among the organisations that are making it their mission to improve the quality of life for older people are Engage-Events; a wonderful new charity with the aim to ‘help older people and those living with dementia’ feel ‘engaged with their wider local community’. Based in North London, the dedicated team work closely with care homes to deliver free services including; conversation collages, ipal sessions and yoga classes. These stimulating activities assist older people in (re)engaging with their identity, allowing them to reconnect with their past skills, hobbies and interests in a supportive environment.

A friend of mine is the founder of this organisation and on Thursday I was given the opportunity to assist her with an intergenerational project at a care home in Islington. We were accompanied by a small group of children and two members of staff from a local school and it became very clear throughout the session that everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Each child was paired with an older adult to converse and find out about one another’s likes/dislikes, interesting facts and memorable events from their past and this information was documented by the children and residents in a ‘rosy glow’ book for them to look back on. It was a pleasure to hear the conversations unfold; one gentleman recalled his days of working in the Welsh coal mines, a boy explained his passion for beatboxing and one lady reminisced about her vocal performances at the Royal Albert Hall. Every partner listened intently and what they wrote provided a rich understanding of their partner’s life. To finish, an interactive quiz brought everyone together and by the end the children didn’t want to go back to school!

For me, this was a very rewarding experience. I was really happy to see the children and residents interact with such enthusiasm and by the end of the session they had each made a new friend. If every community  could make these kinds of opportunities available and easily accessible for older adults I think it would be a very big step in the right direction towards improving their life satisfaction.

old people 2

Creech, A., Hallam, S., Varvarigou, M., McQueen, H. and Gaunt, H. (2013) Active music making: a route to enhanced subjective well-being among older people. Perspectives in Public Health 133: 36.

                                                                                                                                                       

The Digital Divide and Education

Research demonstrates that social and economic factors remain as barriers to the technological utopia that policymakers envisage. Neil Selwyn (2006) examines these widely documented factors in relation to young people and their use of technology in his article ‘Dealing with digital inequality: rethinking young people, technology and social inclusion’, but he also questions whether digital exclusion is a result of individuals actually choosing not to engage with technology purely because they feel it is not essential and enriching to their lives.

He asserts that there is a need to downplay the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and as Loader (2006) suggests, foster a practice that is ‘based upon the views and values of young people and their everyday life experience’ in order to attract interest and increase young people’s engagement with technology. However he is equally sceptical, highlighting that the majority of young people are wanting to use ICT for trivial purposes, not to address significant matters such as political affairs and of course it is the latter kind of engagement that the Government aims to increase. Data from online petition writing and signing (Rheingold, 2008) demonstrates that youth are using the internet as a platform to form arguments and express their opinions, but contestation is primarily cultural related (entertainment/media) as opposed to political. This is due to a lack of self-efficacy; younger people are not participating as much in online political activities as they feel that their view will be undervalued.

There is therefore a need for teachers to assist students in deepening their understanding of worldwide issues and how ICT can be effectively used as a tool to demonstrate their knowledge and engage with others; perhaps then the ‘non-users of technology’ that Selwyn refers to might feel more inclined to use ICT if they see it as more conducive to empowerment. However schools remain to see technology as a means to augment learning; it is not replacing other activities and resources, but is used as a way to reinforce these. Students who are frequent users of technology in their homes are therefore not provided with enough opportunity to utilize and enhance their skills in the classroom and in contrast, those who have limited access to technology are not being shown how to use it to its full advantage (Buckingham, 2007). Thus it can be said that schools are contributing to the digital divide.

Buckingham, D. (2007) Beyond Technology: Children’s Learning in the age of Digital Culture. Polity Press: Cambridge.

Loader, B.(2006) Logged on but disaffected: young people, citizenship and ICTs. Routledge: London.

Rheingold, H. (2008) ‘Using Participatory Media and Public Voice to Encourage Civic Engagement’, in Bennett, W. (ed.) Civic Life Online Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth. The MIT Press: Cambridge.

Selwyn, N. (2006) Dealing with Digital Inequality: Rethinking Young People, Technology and Social Inclusion. Invited paper presented to Cyberworld Unlimited?: Digital Inequality and New Spaces of Informal Education for Young People  9th to 11th February, Bielefeld, Germany.


Exploring London

Until now I haven’t taken the time to write about how I’m adjusting to London life. I had visited the city very few times before making the move here to study and felt slightly anxious beforehand; I’m navigationally challenged which makes getting from a to b quite a tedious task and with the vastness of London, let’s just say I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about finding my way around! However, I must admit that so far I’ve managed to explore with great ease and even if I have taken a wrong turning here or there, the roadside maps soon help me get back on track; they are a blessing! Obviously the tube is also a huge convenience, but with living so central I do try to walk to places as much as I can.

My parents and sister visited for a few days this week and we have had a wonderful time seeing the sights and sampling some of the culinary delights of the capital. The copious amount of restaurants to choose from sometimes made deciding on a place to eat very difficult, but in the end we always managed to choose! Lamb flat breads and fruity cous cous at ‘The Real Greek’, pulled pork, slaw and bean stew at ‘Joe’s Southern Kitchen’ and Venetian meatballs at the lovely bacaro, ‘Polpo’ made us a very happy (and full) family. As food lovers, we had a particularly good time meandering through Borough Market and found ourselves in the large queue for a ‘Hobbs’ meat roast which was very much worth the wait. We each had the classic pork, apple sauce and stuffing baguette which was only about £4 so I would definitely recommend a lunch stop at this place.

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During the evenings, we often wandered from Covent Garden to Leicester Square. It’s a pleasure to walk through London during the day, but it is at night that I feel you really sense the buzz of the city. The brightly lit sidewalks, illuminated theatre signs and window displays, street music and general hubbub altogether bring a vibrancy to the place and we relished the atmosphere.

lONDON

Blogging: An effective tool for education?

Stephen Downe’s ‘Educational Blogging’ review explores the motivational and social affordances of blogging in an educational context. The benefits he suggests are; ease of use (for both teacher and pupils), the incentive to write and be heard by an audience that extends beyond the walls of the education institution and the opportunity for more reflective,deeper learning prompted by feedback from readers. In contrast, he also argues that schools can be intransigent in their views about the use of blogging, referring to pupil disengagement and prescriptive curriculum as setbacks to widespread usage among schools.

I share the view that blogging is a wonderful social practice that can inspire pupils to think in new ways and experiment with their writing. However, I am not inclined to believe that blogging holds the key to transforming education (Downe alludes to this at the end of the review). Young people are not a homogeneous group; not all will be excited by the prospect of putting their ideas ‘out there’ for everyone to see; in fact for some the sheer concept may bring about feelings of anxiousness. This may seem a bit extreme, but in a learning space where ‘students post the results of their work’ for students and others to comment on, subsequently highlighting ‘weaknesses and talents,’ I think it’s quite realistic. It is therefore logical to assume that a possible reason for why some students lack the enthusiasm to post is due to social comparison, or more specifically the results of their ‘frame of reference’ (Liem et al, 2012). Students who possess low academic self-concepts may see posts written by their peers who they perceive as more articulately able and lose the motivation to write, as their own ideas may not seem adequate. I am aware that social comparison happens offline in classrooms too but I would imagine blogging increases the amount of times students evaluate their work against others’.

Of course, this problem is inevitable and might only be dealt with in the way teachers intervene. This brings me to Anne Bartlett Bragg’s article; ‘Blogging to Learn’ which conceptualizes blogging as a ‘5-stage process’ and (out of the two articles discussed here) is an account of blogging I have an affinity for most. I think these steps portray her (the writer) as very aware of the different mind frames people may approach the act of blogging with. The temporal aspect of each stage is not mentioned, however it is easy to interpret from the details of the stages that she sees blogging as a gradual process. She is sensitive and shows empathy towards the needs of the learners by allowing them to document their emotions and by giving them the freedom to make their blog open or closed to other members of the group. Where as Downe assumed that making blogs interest led would enhance student motivation to write, Bragg found that as soon as learners were given autonomy and the responsibility to choose what they wanted to write about, for some it extinguished enthusiasm to proceed. Perhaps this means that self-directed learning should be introduced at an earlier stage of the blogging experience?

I have realised that conditions for blogging in schools are optimal when teachers adopt the right attitude. It is not just about having the right software to facilitate publishing online; the tactics teachers use to instruct are just as important. Students need to be instilled with the confidence to record their thoughts and feelings openly, but the learning atmosphere is key to achieving this.

Liem, G., Marsh, H., Martin, A., Mclnerney, D., and Yeung, A. (2012) The Big-Fish-Little-Pond Effect and a National Policy of Within-School Ability Streaming: Alternative Frames of Reference. American Educational Research Journal, 50 (2) pp 326-370.