The Remix Culture: A Grade Six Perspective

We’ve all heard the question posed, “Is any idea truly original?”  Kirby Ferguson believes that everything, since the beginning of time, has been a remix.  He argues that biological evolution as well as social evolution occur due to a process of “copying, transforming, and combining.”

My students often share with me the digital content that they find amusing or interesting. Much of what they show me is a remix or a mashup of some  kind.  Most of my students are familiar with this idea of “remixing” or “mashing up”.  Some have created remixed, or mashed up content of their own, so I recently asked my students to define the terms.  Their responses were interesting.  This, I thought, was a great definition:

“To make adjustments to a song or songs that makes a version that is your choice and that you like.”  

Most of the definitions, referred to music and songs, but when I showed them this creation by Viktor Hertz, they all agreed that it, too,  was a remix.

Flickr by Viktor Hertz

According to Brian Lamb, in an Educause article entitled “Dr. Mashup; or, Why Educators Should Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Remix” , a remix is:

“the reworking or adaptation of an existing work. The remix may be subtle, or it may completely redefine how the work comes across. It may add elements from other works, but generally efforts are focused on creating an alternate version of the original.”

He defines mashup as:

“the combination of two or more works that may be very different from one another.”

Everyone is familiar with the Rebecca Black song and video, Friday.  There are so many parodies of this now infamous video on YouTube that it’s hard to find the original.  Under Lamb’s definition, a parody would be considered a remix. Tuesday, by the computernerd01 , is one of my students’ favorites.

This music mashup video by Kurt Schneider and Sam Tsui is another favorite.  It’s a combination of the top pop hits from major artists from the summer of 2011.

My students recognize that pop artists themselves frequently draw on previous works and create remixes and mashups of their own.  Norimasa Fujisawa recently recorded a J-Pop hit in which lyrics were added to a famous classical composition by Johann Sebastian Bach, Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring.

Hirahara Ayaka recorded a similar classical remix using music composed by Gustav Holst’s from his Jupiter Symphony.

Students experience this phenomena and interact with it in some form or another daily and, with the right spin, evidence abounds in support of Kirby Ferguson’s  contention.  I could argue that my sixth graders, in Writer’s Workshop, are remixing literary techniques as they learn to become effective writers.  When they begin a paragraph using a question as an effective lead, they are remixing a literary strategy that has been used countless times in the past.  Each time they use personification, or simile and metaphor, they are technically remixing with different content.  The beautiful haiku that they create during our study of Japan follows the age-old pattern of 5-7-5.  I can apply the same argument to Reader’s Workshop.  When reading non-fiction text to gather information, students technically remix the content when they summarize and paraphrase the notes that they collect.  When we use exemplars for writing assignments and projects, in a sense, aren’t we encouraging students to remix and create on their on?

Is everything truly remix?  It’s an interesting idea.

What, then, are the implications for my sixth graders?  As teachers, we can certainly embrace the remix culture that we all live in.  Mike Robb Greico outlines the following educational benefits of embracing a remix culture in our classrooms:

  • Practice skills such as juxtaposition, sequencing, multimodal expression
  • Develop media literacy skills including access, analyze/evaluate, create in a variety of forms, for diverse purposes
  • Develop and understanding of the media consumer and producer relationship
  • Use time and resources effectively
  • Experience immersion in a participatory culture
  • Work with personally meaningful texts
  • Raise ethical issues for debate including copyright, fair use, plagiarism and citation

He also points out some of the challenges and concerns:

  • Focuses on technical minutiae of editing, copy/paste
  • Synching texts and juxtaposition may not involve critical thinking
  • Engaging with content in this way is sometimes shallow
  • Remixing creates content of narrow cultural interest and scope
  • Celebrating  popular culture and trash culture
  • Remix sometimes confuses or ignores ethical issues

As educators, we are charged with preparing our students to be effective and contributing citizens of the 21st century.  Visual literacy and skills that will enable our students to effectively and responsibly consume and navigate different types of media are educational necessities that cannot be denied.  Giving students opportunities to explore and create remix with the caveat that they honor principles of attribution is another step in that direction.


About Jamie

I am currently a middle school Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at The American School in Japan.
This entry was posted in COETAIL, Remix, Transmedia and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Remix Culture: A Grade Six Perspective

  1. seedjoy says:

    Thanks Jamie,

    I like the way you included the definitions of your students and many examples of how educators can include remixes and mashups in their classrooms. I am looking forward to including more explicit discussions about visual literacy in my classroom. Thanks for inspiring me.

  2. One of the other COETAILers wrote about formal essays being a form of remixing as well, and I totally agree – though I had never thought of it in this way before. I guess we’ve been teaching remix culture for longer than we think. I like the idea of taking what I would consider “traditional” teaching and using it as a foundation for developing creative expression.

  3. Hi Jamie,

    I thought you might be interested in the particular, technology-related, mash up/re-mix:

    This is a parody on the children’s book “Good NIght, Moon” and was written by Ann Droyd – very clearly a pseudonym and possibly the author of the original book. (That’s my theory.) If so, she is sampling herself 🙂


    • Jamie says:

      Thanks Monna,

      Awesome! I loved the end when the two were using a flashlight to read Good Night Moon…very cool.

      Thanks for sharing this,

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