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5 Things I Didn't Know About Teaching Skype Lessons

by David Birrow Birrow.David@Macphail.org


When I started teaching online, I expected that Skype lessons would feel pretty much the same as my in-person‚Äčlessons. But now that I teach four or five Skype lessons a week, I know that my initial expectations were inaccurate. For instance, there are a few limitations that you can't control:  the audio or video occasionally gets choppy, you can't truly play duets, and there is a one second (or so) delay in the conversation.  But once you get over the things you can't control,  you can focus on the things you can control. Here are some things that I've learned about Skype lessons. 

1. Look directly into the camera as you get closer to the screen

This creates a more personal or realistic impression on your student. For example:

If you look at the screen (aka at your student) while talking, your student will see this:












But if you look directly into the camera, your student will see this: 

It's a small difference, but in the second photo it looks like I'm looking directly at you, which is of course better. And yes, it does feel strange to talk passionately about music while staring at a tiny black camera on top of a computer. But put yourself in the position of your student: It'd be weird if it looked like you were always talking to your student's shoes. 

2. Anticipate when the student is going to finish playing/talking and start talking sooner than you think you need to

Remember, there is an extra one second delay. So if you wait too long the student will have finished playing or talking, there will be a delay......... and then they hear your response. Unless you want a dramatic pause every time you say something, you need to anticipate and talk sooner. This helps eliminate some of the lag that makes Skype conversations feel awkward. 

3. Be a moving target

Don't just park a chair in front of the camera and sit the entire time. It gets boring for the student. Think about it: Would you watch a TV show that only used one camera angle? Of course you wouldn't. That would even make Game of Thrones boring to watch. 

If you can play standing up, alternate between standing and sitting every few minutes. And while you're standing up, take the opportunity to show an up close fingering or detail that might be hard to see while seated. If you can't play standing up, then just stand up and talk for a second.

Move to the right and left of the screen and get up close(or far away). I've even walked the Skype cart into the percussion storage closet to show off some of our percussion instruments and change up the background for the student. 

4. Play more, talk less

This was advice given to me at the beginning of the M.O.R.I. project a few years ago and I think about it every time I teach online.  Good teaching, no matter what the setting, involves efficient communication. So overcompensate by playing your instrument often during online lessons. Also students feel more comfortable watching us perform than staring at our faces on a screen. 

Another thing about communication; You should be using an online notebook with your student. Don't trust that your student will write down exactly what you say to them in a paper notebook.  Microsoft OneNote Online is a free and useful option for MacPhail faculty. Evernote and Google Drive are other good options too. Any of the tech mentors would be thrilled to show you how to set up an online notebook. 

5. Have your student talk more

Since you aren't talking as much now thanks to #4, have your student do more talking. Ask them more questions more often than you might even with an in-person lesson.  Even if you know the answer to the question. Ask your student for non-verbal feedback such as "thumbs up, down or sideways" to gauge the difficulty of a passage. This will help your introverts who might not feel like talking a whole bunch.  

So bottom line: put yourself in the shoes of your student and imagine what it looks/sounds/feels like on their end. Hopefully by focusing on the things that you can control, you will increase the quality of student learning and reduce the irksome things that you can't control.   

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