A simple informal invitation brought musician Laura Ritchie and a few of her University of Chichester students to California two years ago to perform and teach a few impromptu music lessons. She returned last year with different students and is back this month with three undergraduate music majors, delivering more formal performances and workshops for students of a high school and an elementary school in Santa Maria as part of their study.
“We co-create the entire program, from writing the handbook, to deciding the hand-in dates, and planning the scope of the trip, and it’s different each year with each cohort,” Ritchie says, explaining that the students plan for the trip, raise funds for their transportation, coordinate lessons and performances with the schools and plan the concerts. This year’s students — a singer, a pianist and a clarinetist — are accompanied by Ritchie, a cellist. The public is invited to attend their 6 p.m. Feb. 20 fundraising performance at Congregation Beth David in San Luis Obispo.
The goal is to broaden her students’ experience, Ritchie says, adding that besides the free performances and school visits, the students will pursue their specific academic interests and tour the places that will help them gain more knowledge about those interests. “The students are final-year undergraduates and they want to learn about aspects of music archive work and how that ties in with recording studio work.”
That’s what we call connected learning. In other words, connected learning is when someone is pursuing a personal interest with the support of peers, mentors and caring adults, and in ways that open up opportunities for them. It is a fundamentally different mode of learning than education centered on fixed subjects, one-to-many instruction, and standardized testing.
Ritchie says her students’ connected learning goals have to do with reaching out beyond the classroom to other students, teachers and others, “and for us to go beyond the traditional roles of teacher and student, to begin to break down the walls and bridge the gaps between formal education and life in creative ways that relate to the people involved.”
She says it best in this video, produced after her first visit to the U.S. with her first group of students:
This isn’t Ritchie’s first venture into untraditional teaching. The professor, named a National Teaching Fellow in 2012, holds a Ph.D. in psychology of music from the Royal College of Music. Her doctoral research demonstrated that student self-belief was key to success in learning and performance. Her subsequent research has focused on innovative ways to unlock student potential. Read more about her and her open learning philosophy in Howard Rheingold’s interview for the Connected Learning Alliance.
Photos: Laura Ritchie and her students presenting a concert (banner image) and conducting a workshop (inset image)