Teaching to the techno-test

Now if only I spoke French…

The other day the all-important official figures were released of the most-played tunes of the last decade.

1. Can’t Get You Out Of My Head (Kylie Minogue, 2001) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFx3WX4DES0
2. Toxic (Britney Spears, 2004) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOZuxwVk7TU&ob=av2e
3. Angels (Robbie Williams, 1997) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CCiLlNxSDY&feature=fvst
4. Superstar (Jamelia, 2003)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nbx0rY5uRKw
5. Just A Little (Liberty X, 2002) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOMFS0fGwuQ

Ever heard of any of these so-called tunes?

And any idea what’s Number One in the singles chart this week? http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/chart/singles

It’s hard to imagine that a track such as ‘Superstar’ will be being re-released in 50 years time as a classic Golden Oldie. Or rather I hope not. Especially as the unbearable ‘Angels’ (which I don’t think would have even charted in the 1960s) is already 15 years old.

Increasingly, most of these successful ‘techno-pop’ songs are written to something closely resembling a mathematical formula, closely informed by up-to-the-minute data analytics based on what the purchasing public are currently downloading and listening to on the radio. Other factors based on media exposure, celebrity gossip and what’s currently trending also play an important part. Meanwhile sites such as http://www.musicmetric.com/ provide real-time tracking through Facebook and Twitter, peer-to-peer and websites matched against related real-world events such as gigs, album releases and TV exposure. Each word of each song is carefully scrutinised to ensure it is suggestive enough, without being explicit, reinforced by the moderately seductive, if predictable videos. As a result there is very little creativity and limited melodic, harmonic, structural or rhythmical complexity. The lyrics are little more than banal.  It’s about giving the general public what they are most familiar with, without challenging them or opening them up to new sounds and musical experiences. And all to ensure that the record companies get the maximum payback from the minimum investment.

Now of course, something like all this couldn’t possibly happen in education could it? The idea of a mathematically derived series of on-line videos and multiple choice question assessments and scores informed by a global database of learner inputs and successes and failures would surely not appeal to anyone who truly understands that education involves more than formulaic learning with a limited range of repetitive techno-test predictability all done to get the maximum payback from the minimum investment?

When the long-overdue education revolution finally occurs, there’s no guarantee it will actually be an improvement. In our rush to embrace the exciting potential of new and emerging technologies it is more than ever important than ever to ensure that the potential to improve the quality of learning is not subverted by savings in the cost of learning that reduces it to a Toxic, mindless set of facts that you just Can’t get out of your head. We could be so unlucky. If we are going to make Just a little progress we’re going to need an Angel or a Superstar to guide and help us.

6 comments on “Teaching to the techno-test

  1. What a very grumpy All Change Please! Those are classic tracks, every one of them. Surely all pop is formulaic? I agree that pop is for making money but it is also still a soundtrack to being a teenager. If only educational resources could be a fraction as well connected to what students find interesting…

    I found the Kylie picture very interesting. It stimulated me to crank up Google Translate. Now that’s what I call education!

  2. Well, Grumpy is my middle name…! Up to about the mid 1980’s the pop formula was much more flexible, and allowed creative breakthrough artists such as Hendrix, The Sex Pistols, etc., to influence the soundtracks of their particular decades and push the evolution of popular music forward. If the current top 20 is what teenagers find interesting, then that’s a very sad reflection of their state of mind.

    Meanwhile, forget Google Translate, try this!

    And the please let me know why we still need to teach foreign languages in schools?

  3. Hmmm well, you may have a point. I just googled the top 20 for my birth month, November 1969, and it is a pretty stunning list. Though it does include, at number 17, the inspirational Rolf Harris and ‘Two Little Boys’!

  4. Although this still includes They’re Coming To Take Me Away Ha-Haa at the 70 spot. Together with Ken Dodd and Val Doonican. Not exactly cutting edge of any time. And I like Toxic. But I agree about Robbie Williams. Wasn’t most of the really interesting music not particularly high in the charts anyway?

    • Hmm – this seems to be becoming all about 60’s music! Great to know someone else remembers the classic ‘They’re coming to take me away’ (and the backwards B side?). What’s happened to humour in music? I would suggest that there used to be a rich mixture of well-written songs, even if Dodd and Doonican were not to my taste either. I’m not sure I agree that the really interesting music was not particularly high in the charts – OK maybe not Number 1, but it certainly had a significant and sustained presence through ’66 and ’69. Good vibrations?

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