To Swarm or Not to Swarm: What an Interesting Question.

Last week, I described myself as a unicorn. In my teaching assignment, I’m the only one who teaches AP Music Theory (APMuTh). With that said, I strongly prefer to work collaboratively. I think I teach more effectively and am a better artist when I can connect my subject matter to disciplines other than Music. In 2014, the National Standards that guide our instruction moved us from simply creating, performing, and responding to include connecting. The developers of this document recognized that it wasn’t enough for our students to develop, recreate, and reflect on their music making. Now, we challenge them to find connectivity between their work and that of musicians who came before them, as well as greater society. As I view it, our students are now challenged to reach past their personal bubble of music-making. I don’t doubt that this could cause some insecurities…even anxieties. After all, our musicianship (to whichever degree it is expressed) is a personal quality.

Kelly’s (2016) discussion of filters as means of guiding our connectivity moves from the traditional (determined by degrees of gatekeeping, commercial specialists, marketing, civic legislation, cultures, relationships and to an extent, self) to the more personal (strictly individual taste, influence of our friends, items on our “bucket lists”). I rather like the concept of using those three filters as a means of determining what will be included on my “to read/to do” lists but, in reality, I realize that ship has sailed. Once I’ve begun to poke through the internet for new composers or authors to consider for my personal library, Google has collected that information and will begin to seed my online reading with related marketing. YouTube does it. So do J.C. Penney, Royal Caribbean, and Amazon. These days, our keystrokes are far from secure. Still, I appreciate what connectivity has given to me.

Even though I don’t like working in a silo, I recognize that it is part of my reality. I’ve made my peace with that…to an extent. When given the opportunity to break out of my silo, I take it. There are certainly enough resources available to me through research I conduct from the comfort of my study. In fact, that is the way I obtained materials for my university students and those from my earliest years of teaching APMuTh. The missing ingredient was/is the opportunity to network and the richness of intellectual exchanges. While I choose to network whenever possible (preferring face-to-face engagement), I know that I need to be more understanding (read, patient) with those colleagues who don’t share that mindset.

Definitely not my preference.

Over the past 11 years, I’ve been able to observe a close friend while he’s worked as a project manager for the tech side of a big pharma. I’ve found it quite interesting to watch as his workplace evolved from his desk at home to a return of an office-based environment, each of which serves a global network. As I read Schwabel’s projection of 10 trends in workplaces, I recognized more than a few in the evolution of my friend’s organization and his specific assignment, as well as agencies with which I regularly engage. (1) 1 face-to face engagement = 34 emails (2) No more remote-working for IBM (3) 2014 study: Gen Z’s and Millenials preference of face-to-face engagement vs. technology; corporate offices vs. telecommuting (4) Artificial Intelligence (AI) viewed as efficient partner for HR… (5)Not to mention, customer service (special shout-out to online library support) (6)Technology’s extension of the regular workday leading to employee burnout (7) HR’s absence from the executive table As I look back at this list, I’m seeing a mix of positives and negatives. I am able to recognize at least 5 in my own school community (impacting my students as well as myself).

This week, my questions are: (1) How can we prepare our up-and-coming educators for the impact technology and its accompanying networking will have on their classroom environments, teaching, and personal life? (2) Is it too soon to prepare our K-12 students for the same? The readiness needs described by Prince for K-12 and post-secondary education pressed my “up button” (thank you, Dr. Goodrich), so here is how I’m viewing them: For pre-service education majors (regardless of discipline): * Nurture the whole student. Help them discover their inner leader while training the future educator within them. * Offer internship/student teaching experiences that are comprehensive in nature. When possible, cross grade levels, seek diverse settings that will demonstrate “plenty” as well as “want”. * Encourage collegiality, especially in disciplines that are breeding grounds for competitive natures. * Tap into alums who can speak to the reality of life after college (even if that includes having to find a “plan B.” * Ensure that faculty will have ample opportunities to get into out into the field. Truly knowing school districts and cooperating teachers will be mutually beneficial for them and their students. For K-12 environments: * PLEASE do not hesitate to include social awareness (including Emotional Intelligence) in our classrooms. * Provide students with collaborative opportunities that will suit their learning modes while challenging them to move outside their individual comfort zones. * Be open to changing the flow within our classrooms to include more than “book learning.” * At first glance, interdisciplinary learning looks labor intensive. Not going to lie…it can be. On the flip side, it is well worth it when a student has connected the dots during a class discussion. * Take the time to find members of the community who have the skills/life experiences to enhance even the simplest unit of instruction (Build a bridge). * Don’t be afraid to find learning experiences off-campus.

While this might seem like quite the shopping list, (IMHO) it aligns with Prince’s 3 Levels of Readiness (self, societal, and emotional). In reviewing this theory, I was struck by the contribution of each constituent’s role towards the success of the others.

Now, about those bees… I’m fascinated by the impact of a single bee versus that of a swarm of bees on the production level of a honeycomb. Since I have friends who are beekeepers, I’ve become familiar with the importance of keeping the hive and its occupants as healthy and functional as possible. I found Schachter’s comparison of the beehive with the workplace to be especially relevant in discussing how the internet and its resultant networking has impacted where (and how) I work. It would be too easy for me be the single bee. After all, I am able to get my work done on my own (albeit slowly and with less yield). I hold firm to the belief that networking with others (including through the internet) enables my colleagues and me to strengthen our efforts while recognizing the value each holds within our community.

If you’re looking for me, don’t bother checking the silo.

References Kelly, K. (2016). The inevitable: understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future. NY, NY: Penguin Books.

Published by Just call me Nan.

A musician/educator who is sustained by the love of a great family and wonderful friends. Lover of peace and animals.

8 thoughts on “To Swarm or Not to Swarm: What an Interesting Question.

  1. The graphic you present is a powerful depiction of what is required to prepare students for the future. Do you think that there is a conflict between online/distance learning and any or all of the individual and social emotional skill development? It seems that not interacting face-to-face would require some unique approaches to working on those two areas, in particularly.

    Separately, your idea of bringing back alumni to talk about the “real world” resonates with my industry, as well. Do you envision that being most effective with a fresh/recent alum, a seasoned veteran, or some mix?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m more than happy with my choice of doc program and the online format certainly made it that much easier (a relative term) for me to complete. With that said, I don’t know that I would have been able to complete it without the extra effort made to develop a support cadre of fellow students. Collectively, we needed to develop those non-academic elements you described. We represent three different time zones. Is it always easy for us to connect? No. Are the benefits from our connections worth the effort? yes. When we speak to students just starting out on their online journeys, this is always a big part of our advice to them. Online/distance learning is great, but I don’t think it is for everyone. In honesty, I have advised high school seniors against choosing it for their college experience.

      If I were to put together a “dream team” to work with pre-service educators, it would include a mix of experience. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve told a first-year (and sometimes second-year) teacher that “It will get better.” There are some things that present themselves that we never imagined we’d see/hear/feel during our early years. We are so immersed in the completion of our coursework, not to mention the extra pressures of our lessons and any ensembles we’re in…the “real world” is pretty far off of our radar. Seasoned veterans have their own truth to tell. Some of them will have served decades in their classrooms. Others will have opted to become administrators or even pursued certification in other academic disciplines. Still, others have left the profession. As an example of what we see, here is some research on Texas teachers (not always the same for other regions).

      Liked by 1 person

    2. At least at the graduate level, it has been interesting to see how the addition of Twitter to classes has raised the level to which online students now feel connected to their classmates. Some classes more so than others, but it is a frequent comment in end of class evals.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve used Twitter for a while, now. Still startled a bit when someone outside of my known network responds!


  2. Another beautifully written post this week! I love your notion of challenging students to get outside of their personal bubble. I am constantly trying to do this with the athletes I work with, hoping that they can develop the capability to be more comfortable with the uncomfortable. I am a firm believer that it is within this uncomfortable space that true growth, learning, and self-awareness occurs. When I think of collaboration within the world of music, “synergy” is the word that comes to mind as musicians play with each other. The authors from the readings this week call for the need to enhance human attributes and increase human interaction alongside the improvements of technology (e.g., Schawbel, 2018). And although I also understand that in-person collaboration cannot always occur, do you believe there is a way for technology to facilitate or create this sense of synergy (that is felt when musicians are collaborating in-person) if musicians attempt to collaborate from different locations? Lastly, Davies, Fidler, and Gorbis (2011) and Prince (2019) mention the need to cultivate more emotional intelligence in the future workforce, as do you with students in the classroom environment. However, I have always been skeptical of emotional intelligence as a construct. How do you see this being developed in the classroom? From what I understand, emotional intelligence is rated based on a self-report scale, and it is rare that I come across anyone who believes they are not emotionally intelligent. This, of course, has much to do with cognitive biases that we all fall subject to, and I tend to think the above-average effect or illusory superiority bias makes the notion of emotional intelligence a little suspect. Hence, not only are we typically inaccurate about predicting what information will be useful in the future (Weinberger, 2014), but we are also wildly inaccurate about ourselves! Kelley (2016) also indicates that improvements in technology and artificial intelligence will someday be able to make us more aware of who we are and what we want, but I can’t help but also feel skeptical with this notion – that technology will one day be able to help people become more self-aware of themselves or become more emotionally intelligent. Thoughts?


    Davies, A., Fidler, D., & Gorbis, M. (2011). Future work skills 2020. Institute for the Future. Retrieved from:

    Kelley, K. (2016). The inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future. New York: NY: Penguin Random House LLC

    Prince, K. (February 17, 2019). Preparing all learners for an uncertain future of work. Getting Smart. Retrieved from:

    Schawbel, D. (November 1, 2018). 10 workplace trends you’ll see in 2018. Forbes. Retrieved from:

    Weinberger, D. (October 22, 2014). The power of the internet. YouTube. Retrieved from:


    1. And, another great opportunity to engage with you, Dan. Thank you! I’m considering Kelley’s (2016) prediction about how technology and AI will help us grow in our self-awareness and it makes me a bit apprehensive. Perhaps it is just me being the baby boomer that I am, but I can’t help but think that we need to be more intentional in the ways that we maintain our human connectedness (yes, I am focusing upon Emotional Intelligence).


  3. I am not a musician but can carry a tune and play a little guitar. I learned from watching my friends in college and more recently you tube. My kids hate when I make up songs or change the words or sing a non-existing harmony. Through exploration, the opportunity to discover unknowns is in the hands of the explorer because the explorer decides to move forward and accept the consequences. I enjoy exploring music and the criticism from the kids is to be expected. I found Kelly’s discussion of filters contrary to exploration. I think Kelly chooses the word filter to mirror the digital process but forgets that our individual processes, driven by our culture, our personal interests and our education (previously guided exploration), are actually blinders. Remember we substitute knowledge with experience all the time (Trafton, 2019). We complete narratives with what we believe. We rarely seek unknowns or unknown unknowns. When looking through music at an actual store, you can discover things you did not know exist; I find it harder in the iTunes store online. Between filters and blinders we can miss very important clues to actual discovery and stifle our efforts. What impact does filtering have on imagination? What impact do blinders have on imagination? Is it possible that our preconceived notion on how knowledge and information will be delivered prevents us from discovery? If we completely adopt a tech future world, is it possible that our ability to experience information and knowledge becomes a finite cold experience unlike exploring?


  4. Karl…
    My apologies, but I think my response to you is floating around someplace other than on this blog. I love the way you’ve described your musicianship and truly hope that you continue tapping into it. We develop richer musicanship in our learners if we give them a nurturing environment…one that is deeply grounded in trust and is an absolutely safe place to be. One of the rules I state in my classroom and rehearsals is that we don’t use the word “hate” to describe an artist or genre. On the other hand, it is ok to say, “You’re not likely to find _________ or _________ in my iTunes library.” Subtle difference, maybe, but my students get the message. Mind open, please.

    I supposed we can look at trust as a filter. I’m more than ok with trust in that role. There is a place for having iTunes recommend listening to me based upon past purchases, but I don’t want to become lazy and relinquish my choices to Apple. I’m very grateful for the chance to access music etc through iTunes but I don’t want to give up my chance to explore.
    p.s. I miss vinyl.


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