If you had said a year ago that I would be happily teaching online, I would have laughed in your face, I’m fairly sure! I had absolutely no intention to do so, and I love teaching my classes face to face, so why would I need to? (Insert your own hollow laughter and sarcastic reply here.)
Quite soon into the lockdown, it became clear that if I wanted to carry on teaching, online was the only way. I’m a firm believer that if change is inevitable, then you might as well embrace it and make it work for you. As I work for Surrey Adult Learning for my day job, as well as doing all my teaching through them, it made sense for me to follow their route, so during the Summer term, I have been teaching my regular “Farnham” and “Guildford” classes on Google Meet. I even set up a separate private class for some of my past students.
What I’ve learned:
- Students are *really* happy that we can keep dancing. We all know it would be nicer to be together in the studio, but this is where we are, and at least we’ve all got something nice to do once a week (or for me as the teacher, three times a week).
- You can manage with really quite minimal tech. I’m using my ancient laptop with its built-in webcam/microphone, and my smartphone to play the music. I’m using boxes and books to make sure the laptop is set up at the right level to show me full length, including my feet.
- I’m conscious that students aren’t necessarily very techy, so for the initial sessions, I’ve opened the lesson early so that anyone who is having trouble logging in can message me or phone me, and I can talk them through. It’s also been a nice way for students to be able to chat together before the class.
- I’ve had to ask students to mute themselves when we are working, mainly to avoid everyone’s background noise coming through. That includes the music I’m playing, coming through their own laptops/tablets on a very slight time delay. This does make it a bit different from face to face classes, when anyone can ask a question or make a comment about what we’re doing, at any point. We use “thumbs up” gestures for quick communication without them needing to unmute while we’re in the middle of working, but at the end of each section of the class I do bring everyone together to check they are ok with it, and give them the chance to ask questions.
- Because the students are only getting a small picture of me, rather than seeing me as a whole 3-D person, it’s been super-important to make my physical demonstrations and verbal descriptions/talk-throughs really clear and obvious. I’m talking and demonstrating a bit more slowly, and asking for those “thumbs up” as we go along, to check everyone’s ok.
- Where I’m bringing in new technique, I’ve had to break it down much more, and practise the individual elements more, before trying to put them together.
- The main drawback to teaching online is that I’m not able to provide the same level of personal feedback and adjustments for students as I would in a face to face class. I know there are some learners who prefer it that way! I can only see what they are able to show me on their own device, so this often means I can’t see their feet. If I can see them from the thighs up, I can usually work out what’s going on, but it’s harder.
- So far, I’ve focused my teaching attention on Technique, with a bit of Improvisation, as a way of practising the technique we’ve worked on, and to get some of the less experienced, less confident students used to just bibbling about. I initially decided against trying to teach choreography, just because mine usually involve moving around in space, and none of us have a lot of space to work in for these home sessions. Now I’m more used to working this way, I’m planning a short easy choreo that stays more or less on the spot.
Even as lockdown is easing, it’s still obvious that face to face dance teaching will be very limited, and in September I’ll only have one live course, at Guildford, with one online Beginners and one online Improvers course (we’ll be moving to Zoom, rather than Google Meet, though). I wonder if I’ll remember how to teach live!