Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cyber-lessons, Skype

As I've said before in this blog, technology offers many powerful ways to enhance education. Cyber-school, Virtual Academy, online education, blended learning, distance learning, we're all familiar with the terms.  Never before has so much information been available to so many individuals who are motivated to pursue it.  

One of the things that I would like to look at today, is how the internet is helpful in teaching the arts.  As most people nowadays, I have taken several 'online courses' to try to fit continued learning into a busy schedule.  As I participated in these classes, most were of the 'chat-room' format. Students were given material to learn in a 'direct instruction' format, meaning that we had to read, watch, or listen to a body of information on the internet, and in some cases, in conjunction with a textbook.  There was then an interactive component where students worked with, and manipulated  that new information in some way to demonstrate understanding (basically - online homework).  This was followed by an online test, or quiz to test comprehension, and a 'chat' session with the instructor and the online members of the class to discuss the weekly material - including the quiz, or to preview upcoming material.  In these classes that I have taken, there was also a weekly one-on-one  'chat' session with the instructor, to answer personal questions, and to provide as much of a 'personal' touch as possible. 

This is one of the models of online learning that has been, and is being used today.  As I've discussed in another post, (High Tech, and High Touch), there are a great many aspects of learning that technology addresses quite well, but learning how to use it effectively is a constantly changing situation.  Again from my own experience, I have used the above type of teaching format in a 'mentoring' format to some degree of success.  Not being totally satisfied with the process however, and being located geographically near the students that I was teaching, I combined the online contact with monthly personal sessions, where I could meet, and talk with the individuals in the program face-to face.  To me, this was a much more satisfying method of teaching, since it combined  the ease of the internet, with the direct contact and communication that allowed me to observe and assist the students in a personal way.  

As I experimented with this format however, I ultimately modified the online component to one that was more to my liking, and I believe much more effective in the teaching of the arts.   Having used video-conferencing, or teleconferencing in my work with the arts in the State of California, I was familiar and satisfied with that format for conducting long-range meetings.  Partly because of that, I moved away from the 'chat' component of the online sessions, and began using 'Skype' for the weekly contact sessions with the students.  Most of the students already were using Skype, and for those who were not, it was an easy installation and transition.  Skype allowed a much greater degree of  communication and observation to occur in what I was teaching than did the chat sessions, and while I don't feel that they replaced the personal sessions completely, they certainly were a significant step in that direction, and the video-chat sessions became a meaningful part of the teaching process that I was engaged in.  The use of Skype also allowed the personal sessions to be spaced further apart. 

One of the links that I provide on the sidebar is to that of a music educator named Thomas West.  If you have followed his blog at all, you will note that he offers online music lessons anywhere in the country using Skype.  He has done this for some time now, and though he has experimented with other formats, he has settled on Skype.  Though I have not talked to Mr. West personally, he states that he is quite satisfied with the results that he is achieving. I am including his promotional video below which describes the process and give some details.  I've not gone to this format yet for giving private lessons, but with some tweaking, I certainly might consider it at some time down the road.  Cyber-lessons connects students with expert teachers in a one on one way that is not possible in institutional schools.  It is cost-effective, time-efficient, and interactive.  Besides providing an alternative to public schools, it provides an alternative to high-cost, private lessons.  It is seemingly a remedy, or at least a part of a remedy for schools who have no solution for teaching the arts other to deprive our children of them,  thus impoverishing our culture as a result.  Next week I'll talk about more methods of alternative education that seem to me to show promise, both from an educational stand-point as well as a financial one.
Til then - Ron Zell
(c) 2011 by Eduarts4us. All rights reserved.

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