Hip-hop pedagogy promises to turn tables on traditional teaching

Open University report suggests using rap lyrics as texts and explaining content like an MC

January 7, 2021
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After a year in which lecturers tried their best to keep students engaged with their education in difficult circumstances, help may come from a surprising source: hip hop.

The latest edition of the Open University’s (OU) annual Innovating Pedagogy report tracking trends in teaching, published on 7 January, says that bringing the New York-born artistic and cultural movement into the classroom can promise “greater student engagement, motivation and social and emotional learning; increased literacy development and critical thinking; and improvement in teacher and student relationships”.

Examples of its use include using rap lyrics as texts or taking elements such as DJ-ing or MC-ing and using them as a way “to describe or explain content [and] develop classroom activities”.

The trend may also help to engage students from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds in courses. The underlying idea is that if students are already immersed in a culture, they can bring elements of their experiences and traditions into the classroom and incorporate them into course materials and curriculum.

Student co-creation of teaching and learning, highlighted as a broader trend in the report, can lead to “greater empowerment of students and better relationships among students and between students and teachers”, the paper says.

“Educators, scholars and students involved in hip-hop education challenge traditional educational systems and structures and attach particular value to the power of youth voice, culture and agency,” adds the paper, produced in collaboration with researchers at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

However, the authors caution that it is important to avoid “gimmicky” strategies, such as “implementing hip-hop terminology out of context or showing a rap video that has nothing to do with the course subject”, and acknowledge that academics “may not have experience or in-depth knowledge of hip hop”.

It is also important to critically examine negative aspects of hip hop that encourage sexism and violence, they add.

Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, professor of learning technology and communication at the OU and a co-author of the report, said hip-hop-based education connected with another trend in the report, equity-orientated pedagogy.

“By widening the scope of what’s possible within the classroom, you are also potentially widening participation. You are giving more opportunities to people of different backgrounds to be included in the educational experience,” she told Times Higher Education.

The report references a study which found that students “appreciated…teachers’ acknowledgement of a lack of hip-hop experience and their ability to prioritise students’ perspectives and voices over their own”.

“If a teacher or instructor lacks (and can acknowledge their lack of) experience, then both students and teachers can explore and enhance their understanding collaboratively,” it adds.



Print headline: Hip hop to it: rap goes new school

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