A Teacher’s Guide to Virtual Instruction

Many of our classes and events have been postponed or cancelled, but your training shouldn’t have to stop.

Virtual instruction is not new, by any means; it’s more important than ever for artists to dip their toes – or dive head first – into the world of on-line instruction.

Here are some tips to help you create a sustainable and engaging virtual experience for your students, as well as yourself!

Keep It Simple
Instructors and students are no longer in the same room, and that is a challenge. Students and instructors alike will miss the human connection that is cultivated in the classroom, and the opportunity to ask questions as immediately as they would in a physical classroom setting.

Instructors, it’s important to design learning experiences that have concise instructions and use one or two external resources. It’s also best, if and when possible, to provide resources that students can access at a later time (pdf worksheets, links to videos or articles, etc.).

Even the most basic of class structure will still require work: Tasks with few instructions often lead to the greatest amount of higher-order thinking, as students figure out how to orient themselves within these new classroom surroundings. Virtual teaching should push instructors to consider how they can be more concise with their delivery of new information.

Create a Virtual Classroom or Studio
Keeping it simple, and to avoid confusion, it’s important to have a virtual home-base for your students. This can be a popular meeting platform such as Zoom, Facebook Rooms, or Google Meetups, or it can be a self-created class website, YouTube Channel, or Facebook page.

Students benefit from a platform they can easily visit for the most recent information. It can be tempting to jump around between all the applications out there—especially as so many of them are offering free services right now—but simplicity and familiarity are invaluable. Students need to feel comfortable going to the same place to access the same tools. The farther away you are from your students, the more important it is to cultivate stability and practice norms.

Students need a place to go when they fall out of the loop. Filling in gaps is only going to get harder when the teacher cannot quickly engage in individual or small group instruction. Your students are going to need to take control of their own learning, so the goal should be to create a clear framework that allows them to do that.

It can be tempting to focus on content solely within your virtual videos, but creating external learning opportunities and resources in the form of video messages, Facebook/social media posts, etc., can show students that you are invested in them.

It’s important to keep in mind that cultivating an engaging distance learning experience is hard. It takes time and an incredible amount of patience. If you are new to the experience, you’re probably going to feel like a first-year teacher again. That’s OK! Tackle the challenges step by step, keep your students updated on your progress, and stay positive.

Setting Up Your Digital Classroom
There are a few factors to consider when setting up your virtual classroom/studio:

Physical space – do you have enough room to move around and properly demonstrate movements and combinations? Is the space clear of clutter?
Are you able to set your recording equipment up in a way that shows your whole body while you dance? Camera placement is critical to ensure a great learning experience for your students.

Lighting – is there sufficient lighting in the area to highlight not only the movements but also your face? Avoid recording in front of a window, as the back-lighting will wash out the entire video making it difficult to follow.
Sound – is your voice and music clear on recordings? Have you remembered to mute participants to avoid background noise, while still allowing them to ask questions?

Equipment – many laptops come with a built-in webcam and basic recording software, but the quality may not be the best. There are many web camera options available online with higher resolution and built-in microphone options for clear sound. Wireless lavalier microphones are becoming popular with dancer teachers, as they can ensure excellent sound quality for vocals.

Is your laptop screen large enough to allow you to view all students at once to monitor their progress? If not, please be sure to address questions with your students in between drills, or allow them to send messages that you may respond to at the end of class.

The following images were taken with two different kinds of cameras (a webcam and a cellphone) and demonstrate the importance of a quality camera as well as proper lighting control.

The image on the left, as well, had more back-lighting, which will wash out an entire scene.

(screenshots courtesy of KCDC Studio/LaDonna von Stoetzel)

A note about technology:
You may have a great internet connection and top-notch equipment (which is important), but your students may not. One of the biggest struggles with live instruction is connectivity – video may become pixelated or glitchy to one or more group members, making it difficult to follow along.
I cannot recommend enough recording a lesson, simultaneously, on a separate device for later upload onto YouTube or in a Facebook group. If you opt to record your students, please ensure that you have received explicit permission to post videos.

Author: LaDonna 'Adara Din' von Stoetzel

LaDonna 'Adara Din' von Stoetzel is an American belly dancer and member of Al-Bahira Middle Eastern Dance Theater.

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