COVID-19 has forced teachers to quickly master remote learning. Here are the stories of five educators and their tips for online teaching.
Early this year, the world experienced something none of us were anticipating: A pandemic that essentially shut down society in pretty much every aspect.
This also meant that fitness studios, gyms, dance studios, music conservatories, and art schools had to shut their doors.
And in that moment, all of the community instructors that taught different courses and classes had to reinvent themselves overnight, literally and figuratively. They took their content and found ways to deliver it online. And astonishingly, in all of this chaos, all of these instructors dug in and figured out how to maintain some sense of normality.
Online Teaching Struggles and Best Practices
Fascinated by this shift to online teaching, I spoke to five instructors in the fields of dance, theatre, music, and fitness to find out how they managed this conversion, and what lessons they've learned from the entire experience. We also spent a lot of time talking about the technology that they ended up using.
Take note that these are people who have been training their entire lives to teach in a physical class. In a flash, they had to learn how to deliver all of this knowledge via the online space. And I think that overall, they did just an amazing job.
If you are interested in using online teaching methods for community instruction, this blog is perfect for you. Hopefully, you can get some nuggets of knowledge from them that you can apply in your own lessons.
Nicole Spinola (Dance)
“It was interesting,” shared Nicole, who lives in a small condo that currently serves as her makeshift studio for online lessons. “I spent hours and hours and hours sitting on my computer reading, you know, as much material as I could on Zoom and other platforms.”
Nicole uses an interesting setup for her classes: A tap board on the floor with a tripod holding her cellphone (which has a decent camera) and focused on her feet. She uses her Airpods for audio, and her computer supplies the music.
She also took preemptive measures so as not to annoy the people living around her. “When I knew this was gonna happen, I wrote them all a really nice note. And I laid out my schedule actually, like, to the hour I teach on, you know, Tuesdays from five to seven is tap dancing. And so I apologize in advance, and [tell them that] if anything gets too much, send me a text, and you know, we'll figure that out.” She even bought each of them earplugs and a bottle of wine!
On top of this, Nicole also had to consider the limitations on her students’ side of things. Some had to work with limited spaces that didn’t allow for much kicking or movement, for instance, so those needed to be taken into consideration.
One creative way Nicole handles larger classes, specifically for musical theater? Zoom Breakout Rooms. “I often will break the students up into smaller groups and give them either an activity or I'll say, you know, let's, let's go over scene two. And so in your groups, here's five questions. And I want you to discuss those five questions about the scene, and then we come back together, and we discuss and so I will float through all the rooms to answer questions or to chat with smaller groups. And then, we bring them back together.”
Nicole acknowledges that Zoom fatigue is real. “So I am finding that at the end of those days, I just, I have a glass of wine and I go to bed because I'm so tired.”
“I'm finding like I'm having to put on a lot more of a show while I'm teaching.”
Keri Minty (Dance and Theatre)
Dance and theatre instructor Keri Minty finds asynchronous teaching a lot easier. Using Marco Polo, a smartphone messaging app that works like Snapchat (but with conversations that last longer), she is able to film and post exercises, give feedback via text or video, and other important actions in real time.
“So I do a lot of, like, film yourself, watch yourself, fix it, film yourself again, and then send it to me,” shared Keri.
She added that while this new system required some getting used to, her students told her that it was actually helpful. Remote learning removed the sense of peer pressure and the anxiety that comes with having to keep up. Additionally, students could rewatch their performances as many times as necessary, taking note of how they can improve.
Stephen Robb (Music)
Stephen Robb of Delta Community Music School noted that back in the day, they’d do Skype lessons. “And I was very nervous about the technology because in those days of doing Skype, it was a little precarious as to what the connection would be, especially like four or five years ago.”
One observation from Stephen is that as kids record and rerecord their own performances, this allows them to pay more attention to the areas in which they need improvement.
“The online [platform] is just another tool in the toolbox,” said Stephen. “I don't think it's a compromise.” He shared that one challenge is in the way some people suggested paying less for lessons, not considering that this was actually more work for the teachers. He’s definitely not complaining, though: “The thing is, at the end of the day, because of all that extra, I feel that it's we're providing a better service.”
Stephen acknowledged that the pandemic is a tough, unsettling time for children and teachers alike. “I think music has been a nice thing and a great thing for them. Because through all this chaos, or not knowing that there's been this sort of consistent thing, that you know, I still have my lessons, I still have my music, I still have my art.”
“And I think that those kinds of things are, I don't know. My belief is that those sort of things are what keep us going as a species.”
Nikki J. Torres (Fitness)
“The first few days were were chaos, because you're not just trying to figure out ‘Well, what do I do with my business?’” said Nikki J. Torres of Folk Fitness. “It's like, ‘and how do I homeschool my children?’ and you know, all of the other factors as well.”
Interestingly enough, Nikki had been thinking of adding a virtual component to her business as early as March 2019. She was planning to offer online, live online classes to people stuck at home (like moms with small children or people who work from home). Unfortunately, it didn't really take off because she couldn't figure out how to find that market well. “Now, that market is everyone in the world.”
Challenges notwithstanding, Nikki finds this new way of doing things to be exciting. According to her, she has almost doubled her group and has even added a second class since she started using the Zoom platform for classes.
Mel Bridger (Fitness)
Cardio Central’s Mel Bridger manages to keep things organized during this pandemic. During her live streams, she uses a space at her place where she trains PT clients as her makeshift studio.
“So I set up the webcam on a little mini tripod and popped my laptop on the side. And I had a tiny little Bluetooth speaker that I put underneath the webcam because I've got the Logitech C 920, which is a great webcam. And I literally ran my classes like that for a few weeks,“ she explained.
Mel enjoys how her students have been approaching this new normal positively. “While I'm getting my shoes on, they all talk to each other about their day and how they've been getting on. And then at the end of the class, we talk to each other again, on Zoom. And then what they all do is they take screenshots and selfies. They're so good at this. I don't even know when they're taking them. And then they will pop that onto social media and tag their friends and tag me. And they'll just be like, ‘These classes are amazing,’ and my students have been pulling people in to come join our classes.”
“We're a community; we're a family.”
Online Teaching: Final Thoughts
There’s no doubt that these people play a very important role in their communities, adding a sense of normalcy to the lives of their students while encouraging them to further hone their craft and stay healthy.
The fact that they had to reinvent themselves in a snap, that they had to learn skills that wasn't part of the program, so to speak… I find that really impressive.
I admire how they've stepped up to the challenge, and how they've helped us weather this storm. Because if they can embrace online methods to carry on like normal, then we can, too.
You can watch my full interviews with Nicole, Kerry, Stephen, Nikki, and Mel here.
Oh, and if you’re interested in learning new skills as well to help you keep up with the rapid changes in technology and society, join our Webinar Wednesdays by signing up here.
Have fun storming the castle!
Community Teachers: Shift to Teaching Online
- In early March of 2020, we universally experienced something which was completely foreign to us all. Almost overnight, we shutdown our society pretty much in all aspects. And in a part of that shutdown, literally millions of fitness studios, and gyms, dance studios, and music conservatories, art classes, had to shut their doors, and in that moment, all of the instructors that taught those classes, the community instructors that taught different courses and different classes to our community, they were tasked with reinventing themselves and taking this content, which their community relied on, and converting it into online delivery. And what a time. It was chaotic, it was depressing, it was concerning. There was so much going on, but in all of this chaos, all of these instructors dug in and figured out how to maintain some sense of normality, at least they tried to for their students. Some were more successful than others, but overall, I would say that they did a phenomenal job. Today, on Dotto Tech, I am interviewing a whole bunch of different community teachers asking them how they managed this conversion, and what lessons they've learned in the hope that we can all learn from the different ways that they put together their systems and converted their own content into online delivery. So how community teachers reacted to converting to online and the tips that they can share with us today, on Dotto Tech. Steve Dotto here, how the heck ya doin' this fine day? And today on Dotto Tech, as I mentioned in the opening, we are gonna be talking to a variety of different community teachers. Dance instructors, fitness instructors, music teachers, people who had to reinvent what they do almost overnight, and deliver the content that they have been training their entire life to teach in a physical class and learn how to deliver it in this space, in the online space. And I think overall, they did just an amazing job. And they did so, I think, with a lot of grace and good humor. They really kind of dug in and embraced the opportunity, embraced it as an opportunity rather than as a task. I think we would all agree with that. And they've learned all sorts of really cool ways, because since there was no playbook for them all to follow, they all had to figure out their own way of doing things. And so, in this video today, I interview a whole series of them, and I basically asked them how they invented themselves and what they've learned from the lessons. So if you are interested in using online for community instruction, teaching any community sort of classes, today's video is for you, because you're gonna get, first of all, the insight on what it was like for them doing the transformation, but also the tips that they've learned, which you can perhaps glean some nuggets of knowledge from for your own online instruction.
- It was interesting. I spent hours, and hours, and hours, sitting at my computer reading as much material as I could on Zoom and other platforms.
- I hope you were watching good videos on YouTube by Steve Dotto about how to use Zoom.
- I love all my Steve Dotto videos.
- We will spend a lot of time in this video talking about what they learned as far as being educators and teachers and dealing with their students, but we are also gonna spend a considerable time talking about the technology that they ended up using.
- In the old days we'd do Skype lessons. And I was very nervous about the technology, because in those days of doing Skype, it was a little hari-kari as to what the connection would be especially like four or five years ago.
- You live in a small condo, don't you?
- I do, I live in an apartment.
- So, how did you setup? So, take me through your setup.
- So, I have a piece of floor, tap floor on the board, no, tap board on the floor, and then I have a tripod setup where I sort of invited my own camera into my Zoom class. So I have my cell phone that's setup with the tripod and then I have my computer that I do my music and actually chatting with the kids during class.
- So you really, you have very little additional gear. What are you doing for audio?
- Audio is just my AirPods.
- Okay, oh wow, so you really had to buy nothing. Well, you had to buy a tripod. Did you buy some extra lighting?
- I bought, I had a tripod already. I bought a ring light, and I bought a wireless, a wireless remote for my phone so that I could start and stop.
- So your setup now is you've got this computer here which we're talking to you on now which you use for administration. So you have all of the kids registered there, you can see them in gallery view all that sort of stuff. You've got your phone setup close to you on a tripod, and you're using the camera and the microphone on the phone, or I guess you're using the mic, but the camera on the phone. It's a pretty good camera. It's probably a better camera.
- Yeah, it is. It's better quality, and the kids can see me better.
- And you're teaching tap, 'cause you teach other classes. But I gotta ask ya, does anybody live beneath you?
- I have people that live all around me. So, when I knew this was gonna happen, I wrote them all a really nice note and I laid out my schedule, actually, like to the hour. I teach on Tuesdays from five to seven is all tap dancing, and so I apologize in advance, and if anything gets too much, send me a text, and we'll figure that out. And I bought everybody that sort of lives below me, and beside me, I bought them all earplugs and a bottle of wine to say I'm sorry and thank you. So, but thankfully they're all very understanding.
- On one side of my neighbor, my next-door neighbor's an oboe player teacher, on the other side it's a tap dancer . All of the instructors that I talked to for synchronous lessons, preferred using Zoom by and large. They had a variety of different setups usually just a basic Zoom setup, sort of what I have right now. A webcam with a decent microphone. Although, what we saw from Nicol was, I think, a really creative use of some existing technology that she had, using her smart phone as a second camera bringing it in as a participant in the Zoom call and then having it focused on a small area on her feet in her particular case. And for if you're a community teacher teaching art or some other topic, that's a great option rather than doing screen sharing and having to work out switching back and forth with cameras from your main feed, but having a second feed using that smartphone camera which we know is an excellent camera. So I think that that was a very cool option for Nicol to look at. But by in large, almost all of them, or all of them did prefer using Zoom for synchronous. But what surprised me is how often they taught asynchronously. They would use other tools, chat-based tools, to teach asynchronously rather than a synchronous class.
- Yeah, so I found asynchronous teaching a lot easier. So, I filmed exercises that they did and also I found exercises to post. We were using Marco Polo, which I really liked in terms of it being efficient and fast, and I could grade anywhere. So I could give them feedback. I really liked that I could also give them either text feedback or video feedback. So I could, like, there's a little bubble that pops up, but I could be like, okay, so,
- So, what Keri was talking about there, Marco Polo, it's actually a messaging app that you can use on your smartphone that's sort of like Snapchat, but the conversations last longer. I think the videos are left up for a month on Marco Polo, but it's like a text messaging app. You go back and forth, but you're recording video clips to have the communication go back and forth which I thought was genius.
- So I do a lot of film yourself, watch yourself, fix it, film yourself again, and then send it to me.
- These kids are recording, then rerecording, and then rerecording, and going oh no, I still can't play that part, and rerecording. There was a lot more attention to detail, because you know what, they had to listen back to themselves and go, oh, I thought I played that well, but I didn't.
- Well, one fact that started to come clear to me is teaching this way, teaching skills like music or dance, there's not an equivalency as far as the amount of time that it takes for the teacher, because they aren't in a classroom environment, they have to go over the same content maybe multiple times with multiple different students. So time is not equitable. It takes them longer to convey the same information to a group of students as it would individually. But overall, there's a balance to that, is the level of instruction, the level of detail in most cases, sounds to me like it was superior.
- The online, it's another tool in the toolbox. I don't think it's a compromise. I think, at first, that's the discussion that's come up, what I've discussed this with other community music schools is like, some people feel that this should be paying less or something, and it's like, this is been a question. There's actually more work for us.
- Teacher side. Because there's way more prep that has to happen, and et cetera, but the thing is, at the end of the day, because of all that extra, I feel that we're providing a better service.
- For the term, and a lot of them said it was great to be able to have that time to take it away without that sense of peer pressure, without that sense of needing to keep up and to watch it as many times as I needed. So that was really cool to hear.
- Now obviously, there are some serious limitations as well. There are just some things that we do when we're teaching face-to-face that we can't replicate in the online space.
- The thing they miss from me is I'm also a pianist, so I spend a lot of time accompanying students and playing with these students. So I've had to do a lot of work ahead of time to create tracks.
- 'cause my students can't do, you know, I have some kids who can't do a full kick in their room, because they're only in their room and they have a desk and a bed and chair, and so, having limited space myself and having to restrict what I do, makes it easier for them, because then I know well, if I can't do that then they definitely can't do that.
- Lots of trial and error, because when you're teaching online, not only are you in a different environment where you're doing the instruction from, but your students are in a different environment. Sometimes they're in their bedroom, as Nicol was just saying there, where she's teaching dance and maybe her students don't have the room to do a whole bunch of the moves that you would be able to in a studio. But other times, you have family members or parents looking over your shoulder and judging everything you do every step of the way. So recognizing the environment not just for the instructor but the environment for the students, that was a big learning process that all of our teachers went through. Now the fitness instructors and the trainers that I talked to had an entirely different challenge in the early days than did the dance instructors, and the music teachers, and the martial arts instructors that I chatted with. And that was that the fitness classes that were being replaced, they were trying to replace the social environment and the energy that came from being in a room of people working out, because the goals and objectives, of course, of fitness are to have a good hard workout as opposed to develop a skill. So they faced a whole different series of challenges as they entered the transition.
- The first few days were chaos, because you're not just trying to figure out well, what do I do with my business? It's like, and how do I homeschool my children? And, all of the other factors as well.
- On the Tuesday, I shutdown all of my classes and told my community that was it, we're done. And then by the Wednesday, I was live streaming. So I was very lucky. I have a space here that I train PT clients from anyway. So I setup the webcam on a little mini tripod and popped my laptop on the side, and I had a tiny little Bluetooth speaker that I put underneath the webcam, 'cause I've got the Logitech C920 which is a great webcam. And I literally ran my classes like that for a few weeks.
- But an interesting fact occurred. Every single fitness instructor who I spoke with said the same thing. That they had either already started and dabbled with or were planning to transition part of their business to online prior to the outbreak of Covid-19. In other words, they recognized that their industry was already moving to online delivery as part, if not all, of the delivery services of the service that they were going to be delivering to their clientele.
- A year ago, or I think in March of last year, I decided that I wanted to try to start a virtual component to my business. And offer live online classes to people who were stuck at home, like moms with small children, or people who worked from home. And it didn't really take off, 'cause I couldn't figure out how to find that market. Well, now that market is everyone in the world.
- The common theme that I heard from every one of the instructors when I talked to them about the future of their online business is they all were excited about the breaking down of barriers, the local barriers where previously they would only have local students in their dance school, in their music school, in their fitness class, but now they've discovered that they can indeed reach the entire world and they're now starting to come up with different techniques as far as marketing. Some of them they're coming up with themselves, and some of them their community's coming up with for them.
- While I'm getting my shoes on, they talk to each other about their day and how they've been getting on. And then at the end of the class, we talk to each other again on Zoom, and then what they all do is they take screenshots and selfies, they're so good at this. I don't even know when they're taking them. And then they will pop that onto social media and tag their friends, and tag me. We're a community, we're a family, and they'll just be like, "These classes are amazing," and my students have been pulling people in to come and join.
- Oh, isn't that great?
- So, it's pretty exciting, I think, that you are now, you've been doing this for however long you've been doing it and you've been reaching this community, and they've been loving you, and now you just get to do that to a wider audience. Since I've been on group, I'm sorry on group, on Zoom, I've almost doubled my group, and I've added a second class.
- Without doubt, the fitness community has benefited from the fact that fitness instructors can niche down and concentrate on a specific demographic as opposed to concentrating on a specific geography. That's ended up being a real benefit to the ones that have figured it out. Now I wanna spend, before we wrap things up, in my conversations I came across a few gems that don't necessarily fit everywhere else, one of which was shared by Nicol about the use of Zoom rooms.
- Yeah, the breakout rooms. I use them often. I often will break the students up into smaller groups and give them either an activity or I'll say, you know, let's go over scene two. And so in your groups, here's five questions and I want you to discuss those five questions about the scene and then we come back together and we discuss. And so I will float through all the rooms to answer questions or to chat with smaller groups, and then yeah, we bring them back together.
- Specifically, Nicol was talking about theater games for her musical theater class, but the fact that the kids can break into small scene groups, work on individual scenes or exercises, theater supports type exercises and then come back to the overall group, I think, is a nice creative use of those breakout rooms. Without fail, every instructor who I talked to said the same thing. They believed that this experience has made them better instructors, better teachers. They all felt they did a good job before, but because of the nature of going into a class and teaching or into a studio and teaching, they could coast a little bit, they could rely on their experience as opposed to their preparation for that particular class, 'cause often they're pre-recording things and just the amount of control that's required to deliver effectively into this environment. They all felt that they will come away from this experience as a better instructor than they were before.
- And so, I am finding at the end of those days, I just, I have a glass of wine and I go to bed, because I'm so tired .
- My god.
- Yeah. Yeah I'm finding the Zoom fatigue is very, very real. I am expending a lot more energy just talking at my computer and also I'm not getting that two-way interaction as much. And so, I'm finding I'm having to put on a lot more of a show while I'm teaching.
- I think it's really a tough time for everybody, and very unsettling time for everybody. Kids, teachers, doesn't matter. And it's been, I think, music has been a nice thing and a great thing for them, because through all of this chaos or not knowing there's been this sort of consistent thing that I still have my lessons, I still have my music, I still have my art, and I think that those kinda things are, I don't know, my belief that those sort of things are what keep us going as a species.
- We are, what, 18 minutes or so into this video and this is the result of about six and a half hours of interviews with these instructors and with other instructors. Now, if you'd be so kind in the description we have links to each one of the instructors who shared with us, those that were in the video as well as several others whose comments did not make it into the video, I encourage you to drop by, visit them, take a look at what they have to say, and thank them if you get the opportunity for the effort that they put in. And I personally wanna thank everybody who contributed so much time to helping me understand a lot better about what the community teachers have gone through and the different tips and techniques that you've learned in this process. I recognize how important these people have been to the health of our community as we've moved ahead with keeping a little bit of normal life for students, for kids that are in dance or music, those of us that rely on exercise in order to have mental as well as physical health, and the fact that they had to reinvent themselves, learn skills that they never enrolled for. They didn't, somebody that teaches clarinet didn't sign up in order to learn how to deliver the lessons over Zoom. That wasn't in the program when they started, but without fail, it seems to me that they've stepped up to the challenge and they've helped us weather this storm. So on behalf of me, and I'm sure on behalf of you, a big heartfelt thanks to one and all. And you can tell them that in the comments as well. Let me know if what you've learned from this or if there are other suggestions and ideas that you know about in order to more effectively deliver content and educational content through distance and through video conferencing tools, et cetera. Love to see your comments and I read each and every one even if I don't have time to comment back on every comment that is posted. Now if you found this video to be useful, a couple of favors to ask. First and foremost, is please give us a thumbs up. That would help tremendously in getting the message out about this video, and secondly, if you've not subscribed to this channel, what the heck are you waiting for? Click that subscribe button, ring that notification bell, and I will see you next time for more Dotto Tech. Until then, I'm Steve Dotto. Have fun stormin' the castle.
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