Moving your classes online

Online learning

With many schools closing due to the COVID-19 virus and many more likely to follow suit in the near future, we are all being asked to prepare to teach online. If you’ve never done it before, this probably seems to be a daunting proposition.

But don’t panic. If you’re already using your school’s LMS you’re halfway there. And even if you’re not, help is on the way. George Hess, music tech educator and founder-director of online course provider Musitex, explains.


At Musitex, we’re lucky to have taken and taught many music classes online before, so we’re a little better prepared to face this.

Over the next few days, we’ll be sharing what we’ve learned and will also provide tips and lesson plans that will make the transition a bit easier.

Take a step back

The first thing you’ll need to do is assess the current goals of the class and come to a realistic conclusion as to what you can and cannot do online. You’re going to need to be a little flexible. Some things will be easy, but others, impossible. Most classwork can be moved online with just a little effort, but performances and projects requiring equipment will be a problem. One thing to keep in mind is that it isn’t possible to do things that require precise, synchronized timing.

Low-hanging fruit

Next, plan the things you can do fairly easily. You should be able to adapt existing lesson plans with only a little tweaking. If your school has an LMS, post your materials there.  If not, ask your

IT department to sign up for the free Google Classroom. Classroom is easy to use, integrates directly with other Google Apps and there are lots of tutorials online to help you get started.

Flip out

So you’ve got everything ready, so now what? We suggest you consider a flipped classroom model for your online class.

To do this, post your lesson materials online and assign them to your students to view on their own. Then run a real-time class to expand on the material and help students complete activities and answer their questions.

Let’s look at some of the options.

Get real

Most of you are probably aware of Zoom. It’s a great option as it allows for conferences with up to 100 participants. The free version limits calls to 40 minutes; paid versions without limits start at $15 a month. It’s also the only program that can stream stereo audio.

While Zoom is the best option, there is a potential downside. With so many schools shutting down, it’s very possible that the Zoom servers will be overwhelmed. So it’s a good idea to have a backup plan.

There are plenty of paid video conferencing apps that include most of the bells and whistles you’d need for teaching, some of the best known being WebEx and BlueJeans Network. They tend to be pretty pricey, but a lot of schools have subscriptions. If you are lucky enough to be at one, then, by all means, take advantage of it. They aren’t that difficult to use, but a little training would be very helpful.

There are also quite a few free options. Facebook Live is the easiest to use. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles of Zoom, but there’s no limit to the number of viewers and students comment while the video runs. You can then post the video to your site. It’s a good idea to create a closed Facebook group for this for privacy and security.

Google Hangouts is another possibility. As with FB Live, it supports an unlimited number of viewers and all can comment. It also allows up to ten to participate in the call via video. Hangouts also includes some nice teaching tools such as sharing your screen.

Facebook Messenger, Skype and Whatsapp can also accommodate group calls, We’ve found these are better for small group tutorials, so we suggest you limit them to ten or fewer participants.

If you’ve never taught using video conferencing, you should understand that it takes some practice. Start small. It’s not a good idea to have 50 participants for your very first session. In fact, plan on using the first session just to get things working. Some things will go wrong, students will have difficulty signing on, apps crash and so on. Just be patient and don’t let it bother you too much. If a session truly isn’t working, let it go, and then look for a solution to the problems before the next session.

Chat it up

Finally, don’t discount real-time chats. They aren’t nearly as demanding as video conferences as you can take a little time to think about what you want to say and you don’t have to dress up. Set up a weekly chat time to answer students’ questions or just, well, chat.

Let’s do this

Switching to teaching online is a challenge, but you’re teachers, so you’re used to challenges. Try to maintain a good attitude, don’t lament about what you can’t do, instead try to enjoy learning something that could open up new ideas for your classroom. So get started, choose your first lesson, post the materials online and schedule your first real-time class. We’ll be offering more tips in the next post.


About the author

Dr George Hess is an educator, author, performer and composer with over 40 years of professional experience with over 25 years as professor of music at major universities.

  • Author of Create Music with Notion: Notation for the Busy Musician (2015, Hal Leonard)
  • Professor of Music at Central Michigan University and the National University of Singapore
  • Apple Distinguished Educator
  • Award-winning educator in jazz, technology, theory and pedagogy
  • Graduate of prestigious jazz programs at Berklee and Northern Colorado
  • Producer of MuseScore in Minutes video series
  • Groove 3 video library producer
  • Performances with the Osmonds, Myron Floren, Ryo Kawasaki, Jim Nabors
  • Over 100 clinics and workshops presented on four continents
Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Coronavirus, Guides, Learning & teaching, Music education, Music technology, Online resources, Technology, World

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Flipping out

When doing direct instruction online, the best method to use is the flipped learning model. Most of you have probably heard of it. At its most basic level, you provide students with materials that substitute for your lecture to view at home and then do activities based on that material in the classroom where you are available to help. The premise is that students don’t need help during the lecture, but are more likely to need it when doing homework.