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Michael Lipset, Ed.M.'16

Q+A: Michael Lipset, Ed.M.’16

On Sound Practice, a new audio project aimed at helping people doing equity work get centered and off of screens

Michael Lipset, like many people during COVID, knew what remote learning looked like: people in front of screens in Zoom meetings and classes. Even social gatherings had moved online. But as someone with a background in the recording arts, including the creation of a podcast when he was a student at the Ed School, Lipset started to wonder: What could remote learning sound like?

This past summer, Lipset decided to find out. Teaming up with Sam Seidel (the son of Senior Lecturer Steve Seidel, Ed.M.’89, Ed.D.’95), Jessica Brown, Louie Montoya, and DJ Mickey Breeze in the K–12 Lab at Stanford’s design school, Lipset launched a project called Sound Practice.

Part podcast, part audio albums with tracks, Sound Practice is geared toward people doing equity work. “It’s always been my intention to produce things that support people seeking a more socially just world around them,” he says. “The work is emotionally and physically taxing, so it’s important to consider how we take care of ourselves and what we need to be centered.”

Sound Practice poses questions to listeners, such as, “What are you actually committing to?” or “Of all the challenges you face in advancing your equity work, which is the easiest and what’s stopping you from tackling that one?”  Listeners are then guided through exercises that will help them work through their answers. As Lipset says, “If mindfulness and education met, this would be the product.”

This past fall, just as Sound Practice was being released online, Lipset talked to Ed. about the benefits of stepping away from screens, his background in the recording arts, and the need for reflection.

What do you think audio offers that's different from learning in front of a screen?
I think audio has the ability to engage more learning styles than screen-based learning opportunities. For example, for students who may be visually impaired, audio has been a more suitable medium for quite some time. Screens tend to root us to a physical location, whereas audio allows us to press play and move while we engage in our learning. In this way, audio-based learning experiences can produce more embodied experiences.

Do you use audio to learn?
Yes! I love podcasts and have even produced a couple of my own — The Palette from my days at HGSE and RUDE: The Podcast. I also listen to audio books, both for work and leisure. Some of my favorite podcasts include NPR's The Daily, Still Processing, CBC's Uncovered, and Pod Save the People

Did you personally go through all of the albums and “participate” as a user might?
Yes, I've done each a few times over at this point! I really had to do these exercises in order to make the audio versions. Each audio exercise is based on an exercise originally designed for in-person use. Given the pandemic, we can’t be in person as we once were, so the audio version is meant to support the work people are doing around equity and social justice at a time when we can’t be as close to one another as we might like. In order to make that switch to audio, I had to adapt each exercise. We ended up recording a podcast episode discussing this transition process for each exercise in order to give the listeners more background on what the project is about and how it came to be. 

This type of format (audio tracks) seems perfect for using with high school students around issues like stress or how to get organized, especially now that so many teens are taking classes online.
Absolutely! One of my motivations for engaging in this work was to explore sound-based learning generally. Given the need to root education in social justice, the need to support people engaged in social justice during one of our nation’s most trying times in recent memory, and the need to get off screens, we wanted to explicitly root this project in equity. But, social justice as a lens through which educational experiences get produced can be applied to any audio-based exercise, whether the focus is on organizational skills, stress, or something else.

Are the tracks on Sound Practice meant for group work or individual listening?
Only one of these exercises is designed for group work and that’s the Critical Lens Group Protocol. The rest are meant for individual use. 

You left extra space at the end of each track. I assume this is intentional?
This extra space has different uses for each exercise. For example, on the Equity Self Care Embodied exercise, yes the extra space is meant for self-pacing. During the Critical Lens Group Protocol, however, everything is timed to run for a specific length. On the (In)equity Catcher, each question is followed by music to allow the question to hold space in the listener’s life, which could be space for reflection, action, or just time to enjoy the tunes.

You’re also a recording artist. How did this influence the project?
I would say that my background as a recording artist equipped me with the skills to record audio at a level of quality that won’t turn the listener off. I'm not the best audio engineer, but I can at least make something listenable! I was also able to use my skills in graphic design to put together promotional materials and branding for Sound Practice, which I learned how to do for myself and my fellow musical artists as a musician. 

What’s your hope for the project moving forward?
First and foremost that people use the exercises in their daily, weekly, or monthly practices. You regularly need to reflect.

• TAKE A LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/dschool-music-633966973/sets