Let’s Sync: The Challenges of Synchronous Remote Learning for Music Students
Online remote learning has forced many teachers out of using a chalkboard and into presenting notes via notation software tools. On lessons conducted via video-conferencing, the teacher has the option to share their screen. Watching the notes as they’re being written on the notation software live on the screen simplifies the explanation and helps students get a clearer understanding of the process. In some ways, studying music in this format may improve the student’s skills and their mastery of both music software tools as well as the learned material. The reason is pretty simple: When the professor teaches while using the software, students simultaneously get acquainted with the tool while learning the material they are officially studying. Oftentimes, professors have vast experience using the aforementioned software, and so students get to learn not only the basic functions but also shortcuts that might help them use these tools more efficiently in the future.
The main challenge using video-conferencing for teaching music is the poor quality of sound. Usually, the importance of sound quality while remote learning is only as it pertains to how well students can hear the lecturer. In music studies, however, the quality of sound has a crucial impact on the course of the lesson and the lesson’s efficiency.
In order to overcome these difficulties, many professors have upgraded their home gear and purchased more sophisticated microphones, which filter background noises more effectively. This isn’t an end-all-be-all solution since the sound quality is impacted by the 2 directions - both the quality of the recording and the quality of the speaker on the other side - and as many students listen to lessons through a run-of-the-mill laptop or smartphone speakers, the impact of improved quality of microphone on the teacher’s side is minimal at best. The issue becomes more complicated when students are required to record themselves playing or singing, and more often than not do so via their smartphones. No matter the quality of the professor’s speakers, they’d still struggle to fully judge the students’ performance.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Taking a moment to look beyond technical aspects, we cannot dismiss the issue of social interaction (or lack thereof) - one of the most prominent advantages of frontal learning, an advantage significantly diminished on video lessons. Interview subjects across the board have unequivocally indicated that online lessons are a far more alienating experience than that of a frontal lesson. Student participation is often lower in lessons conducted via video-conferencing. Although this issue isn’t unique to music studies, it seems it is amplified for music students since they find it tough to participate when they can’t hear the music well. However, some professors saw this as an advantage, since lessons resemble a lecture rather than a conversation as a result of the above, which allows them to fit in more material in each session. Still, reviewing the outcomes, it seems that professors indeed feel more productive, having spent more time talking and diving into the subject matter, but students have a hard time concentrating and keeping their focus for long.
How was your experience teaching via video-conferencing? We would love to hear your stories - share them in the comment section.