Online Learning

We are now into Week 4 of Music Online Learning. They are calling our experience in China the biggest and longest experiment into online learning ever. Researchers will be examining this time for years to come. I am living a nomadic existence and am currently in Vancouver, Canada staying with friends. Like the majority of international music teachers I am just setting work once a week for every class, checking that it is done and giving as best feedback as I possibly can. I know this is what most people are doing because I am in a group with many other Music teachers in China and we are all basically doing the same thing. Some are trying to do video lessons but it is incredibly difficult to do this with music. We have one teacher trying to give MuseScore lessons using video but we are finding that so many students don’t have a laptop and are relying on an iPad. Their parents need to work and they are the ones that have the laptop!

The same kids give in the work every time and there are some that are giving in nothing. This doesn’t mean they aren’t doing the work – it just means that they are not uploading any so we can see what they have achieved. I guess it is to be expected in these circumstances but I was hoping for a better completion rate. We are using the app Class Dojo to set all our work and give feedback and that has been fantastic. We also are using SharePoint to save video and audio because the Great Firewall of China stops many people from using YouTube, unless you have a VPN. And we can’t insist on that!

The work we have given out is a mixture of practical and theory. The most successful work has been asking children to send in videos of them playing. My workbook on “The Sea” that I shared last month has been very well used with Year 4 and children are playing music on pianos, iPad pianos, recorders, flutes, violins, melodicas and singing with and without backing tracks. You get to see children performing with their toddler sister climbing on their backs, their parents shouting from the kitchen and sometimes in some rather strange places like the kitchen or bathroom. And yes, it is weird watching children playing piano in their pyjamas but that’s what we are getting! It is also interesting to see what they are playing. Some of our students have grand pianos in their houses – wow! The theory work has also been relatively successful as it is easy to set, complete and upload. I do worry that it isn’t very musical really but we need tasks with a concrete uploadable outcome. And we are starting to run out of more creative ideas under these circumstances. There is lots of sharing between colleagues and schools and that has been one great result from this difficult time.

Parents are communicating well with us and I have found that this version of online learning is very good for basic communication. I don’t think they like the situation but one of the advantages is that parents can see exactly what their children need to do and it is obvious if they don’t understand something. I have already made much better tasks because I learned very quickly that you have to make the content as understandable and clear as possible. It is also interesting how little parents know about music. Things I thought that would be obvious really aren’t, especially when you are dealing with an entire school of children and parents who don’t have English as their first language.

Is this something that will continue? I don’t think so. Parents are starting to understand how difficult our job is and I think we will be even more valued when we get back. They are realising how impossible it is to do a days work and look after children and make sure they are doing school work. I think that our homework provision will be better as a result of this period of time and I think our communication with parents will be better too so it has been worth it in that respect. It’s not been too bad for us in Primary but I do worry about my Secondary colleagues who must be getting quite worried coming up to exam time. They will be working flat-out now and in the weeks to come.

So lesson-flippers, robots, online tutors, IT specialists, app creators and those who are thinking romantic thoughts of homeschooling – your time has not come. You have a role to play but I think that the majority of children (and parents) need a teacher. Someone who can explain, help, encourage, coerce and have the expertise to move children on in their learning. Someone who can bring their subject to life and someone who can bring joy to the students they teach.

We’re here to stay.