Rhythm and Rhyme: Sona Chong Jho
Sona Chong Jho, Ed.M.'97, still considers herself an educator first. Although she left classroom teaching long ago in favor of television and video production, she is firmly focused on the medium's potential to inspire learning. In fact, it was her interest in the marriage of education and media that led her to the Ed School.
"I came to the Ed School because the idea of educational television originated with researchers like [the late Professor] Gerry Lesser who imagined in the '60s that the medium could be a force for learning," Jho says. "My goal was to explore how television and new media could be used to engage and inspire children to learn."
Now, as owner of Sockeye Media, the company she founded in 2001, Jho works to produce high-quality content across platforms — from video to print to new media — that is both educational and entertaining. One result is the Mother Goose Club, a series of one-minute videos aimed at preschoolers in which six colorful characters, including Little Bo Peep and Jack B. Nimble, promote early literacy through the recitation and singing of nursery rhymes.
"Rhymes and songs introduce infants to language, rhythm, and music [and] encourage bonding between caregiver and child," Jho says. "Because they are silly, funny, repetitive, and rich in vocabulary, nursery rhymes are a natural vehicle for stimulating early literacy."
Mother Goose Club has amassed quite a following, both online and through airings on the Nashville public television affiliate, becoming Sockeye's most recognizable brand. Its most popular video, "Itsy Bitsy Spider," has more than 22 million views on YouTube, and the first DVD collection, Nursery Rhyme Singing Time with Mother Goose Club, has won several industry awards.
The growth of Mother Goose Club and other Sockeye products is due in large part, Jho says, to the company's social media presence. (In addition to YouTube, Mother Goose Club has a website and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.) Keeping up with the constantly changing Internet media industry, though, does pose a challenge for Sockeye's small team.
"Thanks to technology, we have been able to reach a global audience directly," Jho says. "At the same time, the pace of change is so rapid that we have to work really hard just to keep up. … It is tremendously rewarding, but can also be overwhelming."
A mother of four, ranging in ages from 5 months to 8 years, Jho stays in the loop with her target audience from right at home. Still, she finds the ability to stay connected via social media to her larger audience, both children and their caregivers, is her biggest advantage in producing good work.
"I believe it is important to interact with the target audience as much as possible and to keep learning about what they find joyful, engaging, and worthwhile," she says. "They are a great source of material and inspiration."