A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single strum!!! NLP Post #3


On my way to international ukulele super-stardom!

As part of our Master of Arts in Educational Technology Program from Michigan State University we were set a challenge. This challenge forms part of our Networked Learning Project.

My challenge, which started three weeks ago with my first Network Learning Projectwas to learn a song on the ukulele using only YouTube and Online Help Forums. I have always wanted to play the ukulele, but have been too busy to learn. As a primary school principal, I spend my days and evenings with the administration of a school and in meetings. I chose the ukulele as something completely different, for relaxation and pure enjoyment. I must admit that learning to play the ukulele was more challenging that I expected, but in the end, I did learn and play a song. Although, frustrating and quite challenging at times I feel pleased that a personal goal has been achieved.

It would be a gross understatement to say that my ukulele learning journey was a smooth one! The journey has been characterized by bumps and potholes and sharp, unexpected turns … but I was FINALLY able to play “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz on the ukulele (not well, but I played it!).

When I first chose the ukulele challenge, I thought it would be relatively easy and kind of relaxing – neither turned out to be true! After visiting numerous websites and YouTube tutorial videos I got my ukelele tuned.

Woo hoo – success! I’m on the way to ukulele stardom!

And then the trouble started…
My first hurdle was that I just could not get the rhythm of the strumming patterns! I thought it might be jetlag, as I had just arrived home to Australia from the USA, but even after two fairly solid days of practise I was still not great – it didn’t bode well for success. When I was finally what could only be termed ‘reasonable’ at strumming, I had trouble mastering the chords – my fingers seemed too big for the small spaces between the strings and the chords never sounded ‘sharp’! I practised for another 2-3 days and I could play several basic chords ‘mostly proficiently’, but I was still struggling to change from one to another quickly. This problem was never really rectified despite a LOT of practise. I believe the term for this is “musically challenged”!

I went around in circles for days with competency of strumming OR playing chords but not both mastering together …and I jumped from YouTube clip to YouTube clip looking for a song that I would be able able to play with the time frame. I had little success!

Then my hard drive failed AND two days of storms left our entire town with sporadic internet availability! So, well behind on work and assignment commitments I did not play the ukulele for three days. Aaaargh!!! When I picked it up again, it was like I was right back at the beginning! I could still laugh about my incompetency, but my ukulele assessment was looming closer and I had to be able to play a ukulele song ON FILM! FOR THE WHOLE WORLD TO SEE! The frustration set in! The harder I tried, the less capably I seemed to be able to play. So I did the only thing I could do …

I reverted to the song with the least complicated strumming pattern and the chords that I could ‘mostly master’ (“I’m Yours”) and decided to make the best of a musical catastrophe!

Although I do not rate my actual ukulele playing as a resounding success, I did learn a great deal …

  • I learned to tune a ukulele, strum and play chords – and I learned to adapt what I learned to make it easier for me to succeed.
  • I learned to value musical talent – it’s not as easy as it looks!
  • I learned that practise doesn’t make perfect, but it does make progress!
  • I learned that there are different sizes of ukuleles and I need a ‘man-sized’ one!
  • I learned not to chew your thumbnail right before you have to video yourself showing strumming proficiency.
  • I learned that experiencing true difficulty in a learning situation, despite a desire to succeed and despite practice, helps us understand the frustrations of our students who find it difficult to learn.
  • I learned to enjoy small successes and to re-establish goals so that they are attainable.
  • I learned that there are MANY YouTube ukulele clips and each one holds some parts of the key to success.
  • I learned that it’s OK to be completely incompetent, even if it goes viral!  But …
  • I’ve also learned that it is infinitely better to be a primary (elementary) school teacher than a high school teacher when you have to post your ukulele performance online for your students to see!

Positives of online network learning.

– I could learn at a time that suited me – not everyone can fit into a teacher/tutor’s time scheduling.
– I could keep replaying the clips without fear of frustrating a teacher/tutor.
– I could jump from one site to another to get different viewpoints if one or other strategy wasn’t working for me.
– I found that having the person in the clip playing with me helped me to keep the rhythm.
– I found that some skills are easier to grasp if you’re being shown rather than being told how to do it, or having to read about it. This is particularly pertinent for visual learners.

Negatives of online network learning.

– Although a couple of sites offered some feedback on recorded playing (guitar) most YouTube and online clips do not offer personalized feedback.
– A teacher could have tailored learning to my ability (or lack thereof).  Instead, I had to do trial and error to adapt the learning to suit my needs and I wasn’t always sure I was on the right track (or just teaching myself bad habits!).
– When the internet is down, you can’t use online forums to learn.
– Things that I had to work out and struggle through would have been easier (and possibly more accurate) if I had been able to ask someone who knew the answer, instead of checking a multitude of sites and possibly not getting my question answered.

Network learning and online accessible resources definitely have great value, but also limitations. There are many types of learning that would be suited to this forum and would benefit from online accessible resources, particularly any kind of skill development or proficiency that requires visual or oral learning. The volume of information is mind-blowing and depending on the type of learning, reputability of the site would need to be validated. I also believe that the effectiveness of networked learning potential increases when coupled with access to human resources. Stehlik (2003) states that, “learners still need a certain amount of human contact and social interaction not only with teaching staff but with other students, and that the virtual online community does not always satisfy this requirement” (p.1). If students are able to access network learning and follow it up with face to face contact with someone who is knowledgeable about the subject, who can address particular issues and or questions, then learning should increase dramatically.

In planning ahead with my staff in mind, and having lived the positives and negatives of network learning first hand, I can see great value in this type of learning. As we are a country school, three hours away from the closest major city, getting staff to and from professional development is a time consuming and costly process. By encouraging staff to undertake online professional development and accessing Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC), I would be able to provide strong, current, relevant professional development at a fraction of the current cost and teachers would be saved time away from their families (often overnight), travel time and frustration. Friedman (2013) writes, “I can see a day soon where you’ll create your own college degree by taking the best online courses from the best professors from around the world ….It will change teaching, learning and the pathway to employment”. This will also be true for teachers with their ongoing professional development.


Duhring, J. (2013). Cutting the Strings: MOOCs and the Unbundling of Online Education. Moocnewsandreviews.com. Retrieved from http://moocnewsandreviews.com/cutting-the-strings-moocs-and-the-unbundling-of-online-education/

Friedman, T. L. (2013). Revolution Hits the Universities. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/opinion/sunday/friedman-revolution-hits-the-universities.html

JustinGuitar. (2013, December 12). Get started on Ukulele! Easy chords, strumming and songs! (Uke Beginner Lesson UK-001) [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Qh2JQwkhjk

Live Ukulele. (2009). How to Play ‘Ukulele – Beginner Lessons. Retrieved from http://liveukulele.com/lessons/for-beginners/

Stehlik, T. (2003). Professional development in online learning and flexible delivery in the VET sector–Issues for assessment and evaluation. Paper presented at the ATN Evaluations and Assessment Conference. Adelaide, South Australia, Retrieved from http://www.unisa.edu.au/evaluations/Full-papers/

The Ukulele Teacher. (2013, March 6). How to strum a ukulele! [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eqH_jZp1Ow

ukulenny. (2011, July 23). Ukulele Tutorial – I’m Yours (Easy Version in C) [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=172YdK_zkpo

ukulenny. (2013, January 22). Easy Ukulele Songs – Stand By Me (Uke Tutorial) [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKDghk6cDQM