Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Online Teaching Adventure

Who would have thought that something as forbidding, obscure, and seemingly incomprehensible as chant notation could become accessible - and easy - in a virtual classroom? Centuries ago you would have had to travel for days, over hill and dale to some far flung, mountain top monastery to learn it. A hundred years ago, if you were fortunate enough to be able to read at all, you might have been able to get your hand on a book or two or learn something about the chant at Mass or school.

These days a handful of people are learning about the chant at Mass, and some are attending workshops and classes, but for most, and this includes the majority of parish musicians, the strange squiggles and symbols remain one of the great Catholic mysteries.

I've been teaching a basic course in Gregorian notation for the past couple of weeks...and things are going well! Some technical glitches can be expected...and there have been a few. The first time out my microphone wasn't working at all. Let me be more clear: my microphone worked fine, but the software that was trying to access it could not find it. So, before the next time out, I switched computers. (The lesson learned there was: use a Mac if at all possible.) The last time out there were some echo problems, and after consulting with the software developers, we realized it is a hardware problem. It's best if students turn their mics off locally. Otherwise the virtual classroom becomes a vast echo chamber...which, despite what it may sound like, is not the ideal acoustic for an online class dealing with chant reading specifics.

I've also learned that even though teaching is teaching, every venue presents its own challenges. In the case of the online classroom, even if the hardware problems are sorted out, there is still a lot of admin that a teacher has to be on top of in order to get things going and keep them going.

I have to make sure all of my slides and Youtubes are uploaded and functional. I have to be up to speed on all of the gizmos and buttons on my screen, and proficient at clicking and dragging things where I want them to be, etc. And students do, too, because they're looking at almost the same interface as I am.

Then there are the students themselves...I almost have to take a virtual roll call to see if they are all there. And there are the differences in student personalities, just like in a physical classroom: some are chatty and want to be up front, or in this case, on air; others don't want to be seen or heard...like those that sit in the back of a classroom. They don't give their real names and hover somewhere in the dark...you don't really know if they are there or not...it's an odd feeling!



But it is terribly gratifying and teaching is, as always, a joy. I've gotten some great feedback so far, and I've scheduled more classes for the coming days and weeks. Everything from the basic course, to a second installment of the basic course, to courses on Gregorian modes.

And this can all be learned while you're sitting at home with your cat on your lap! No coach rides or long trudges through muddy fields in hand-sewn shoes; and, imagine, tonsure haircuts are not required.

Specifics about upcoming courses can be found here.