Jazz Teaching and Open Pedagogy

Throughout my tenure as a professor, my teaching practice has become continually innovative, iterative, evolving, and messy, although messy in this sense means something more akin to the ideas underlying jazz music. “Jazz teaching” is less messy than “highly improvisory, depending for its appeal more on the skill, intuition, and experience of individual performers than on the written note” (Apel, 1975, pp 441). To achieve peak performance in jazz music requires an extremely substantive and well executed performance as well as an aesthetic buy-in from the participants (Fredrickson & Coggiola, 2003). The same is true for jazz teaching. Even within design-based educational research (my modus operandi these days), there is a word to describe this concept of jazz – emergence. Several practitioners have embraced the idea of jazz teaching as way to achieve productive chaos within the classroom (Ribbens, 2006; Mills, 2009), which often leads to learning gains (Bonwell & Eison, 1991). Yet jazz teaching really speaks to the form of the content delivery, not the other aspects of my teaching practice. Over the years, my underlying pedagogy question has remained the same – “How might I evolve my teaching practice to support the development of critical thinking within my students?”.

While I embraced active learning early on and even went back to graduate school to learn techniques to better assess and evaluate this question, I think I am evolving in this pursuit of the answer. And in the midst of evolving, I am becoming more and more the teacher I hope to one day embody.

In my becoming process, I have been pondering this excellent blog by Chuck Pearson for at least a day now, and I can’t seem to stop thinking about it.

There are statements in Chuck’s blog that resound so forcefully in my psyche that I cannot seem to get past them. Statements like this:

As the costs that are placed on our students become more and more oppressive, the work I do increasingly needs to be in the open. And other people like me who are working in their own corners need to be called into the open as well.

(BTW thanks for calling me out there, Chuck 😩)

and this:

All of this reinforces the concept that the knowledge the student is obtaining through their coursework is disposable and only exists to allow them to complete course requirements – not something that is permanent and can be carried with them in relevant ways throughout life.

which, of course, leads to this:

This flies in the face of my hope for education, as something that is genuinely empowering and that can be carried with the student not merely for the duration of the course, but beyond.

Chuck’s hope for education mirrors my own. And the need to provide authentic, collaborative and creative assignments that have longevity is a ridiculously important aspect of teaching to me. I realized this early on, but it became more clear to me when I read Karen Cangialosi’s article in Hybrid Pedagogy:

A student taking a journey into discovery, who is encouraged to pursue their own interests and take any pathway using any tools, assignments, practices, and policies that they want, may end up stumped or confused — but also intrigued. The desire to know more is the genesis of learning. And a wonderful synergy happens as a student figures out both what they are trying to learn and how they learn best. 

I thought for awhile that making my teaching materials available to students was more important than helping them create and sustain some product of learning that might be around after the class.

Again, Chuck’s blog took me to task…

So it is important to take the practice of education beyond simply the communication of free resources and the implementation of OER in coursework, to philosophies of open pedagogy (DeRosa and Robison, 2017).

(Argh, Chuck. Just argh.)

Open pedagogy is taking teaching practice beyond the classroom. Robin DeRosa defines open pedagogy in the excellent What is Open Pedagogy? and relates it synergistically to Critical Digital Pedagogy, as defined by Jesse Stommel.

DeRosa and Robinson (2017) discuss open pedagogy as a doorway for expanding student agency and assessing critical thinking using learner-centered techniques.

Open pedagogy uses OER as a jumping-off point for remaking our courses so that they become not just repositories for content, but platforms for learning, collaboration, and engagement with the world outside the classroom. (DeRosa & Robinson, 2017, pp 117)

And Karen (in her previously mentioned article) gave us a picture of open pedagogy so that we might be able to determine how we, and our students, fit into its practices easier:


Diagram by Karen Cangialosi, licensed under CC BY 4.0

I am also inspired by my friend Maha and her unending enthusiasm for not only radical hospitality in terms of students, peers, and the international community of scholars but also open and collaborative ongoing participative pedagogy, such as @UnboundEq (website here).

So remember when I said something along these lines – When major life stuff like that [my health stuff] happens, it seems like a complete waste to not gain renewed perspective?

I think my renewed perspective is quickly moving towards a more open pedagogy. My becoming is directly linked to both my presentation method (jazz) and my underlying reasoning for why I do what I do (open and critical pedagogy). My recognition that I can be both – jazz AND open – awakens my inner creative voice. I will continue to find ways to collaborate with my students rather than simply deliver content to them. I will continue to become.



  1. Apel, W. (1975). Harvard dictionary of music (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Quote on pg. 441.
  2. Fredrickson, W. E., & Coggiola, J. C. (2003). A comparison of music majors’ and nonmajors’ perceptions of tension for two selections of jazz music. Journal of Research in Music Education, 51(3), 259–270.
  3. Ribbens, E. (2006). Teaching With Jazz. Journal of College Science Teaching, 32(2), 10–15.
  4. Mills, M. K. (2009). Using the jazz metaphor to teach the strategic capstone course. In Proceedings of the 23rd Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management Conference (ANZAM 2009) (pp. 1–9). Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management.
  5. Bonwell, Charles C., and James A. Eison. (1991). Active Learning; Creating Excitement in the Classroom. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1. Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED336049
  6. DeRosa R. & Robison S (2017). From OER to Open Pedagogy: Harnessing the Power of Open. In: Jhangiani R. & Biswas-Diener R, Open. London: Ubiquity Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/bbc.i

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