How to Teach Group Music & Art Classes Online
Through our experience hosting tens of thousands of live, interactive group classes, we have assembled this broad overview of how to approach teaching online group classes. To start, historic figure Antonio Salieri offers his perspective on the why and how of teaching group classes online at Lessonface in this video from 2023.
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How to Teach Group Classes Online
The Lessonface platform is integrated with Zoom for the live portion of your class, and has additional features for messaging students, keeping up with your roster, having class discussions, retrieving and storing the class recordings so they're easy for students to access after the live session, and uploading digital materials for enrolled students to view. Our support team is available if you or your students need help. We aim to make your group classes simple and professional for you and your students, so you can focus on teaching.
You will find additional help in our teachers-only forum where there is a wealth of knowledge from Lessonface staff and your fellow instructors. You may want to check out this example of a successful group class. We also have regular teacher webinars and training sessions which are listed in the forum and in our emailed teacher newsletters. We want to make sure you feel comfortable and confident in your online group classes, and hope this helps! We invite you to propose a group class.
General Concepts for How To Present Well Online
When teaching a group class, it’s very helpful to let students know a few class goals and the appropriate skill level for your class, especially if students need prerequisite knowledge, skill sets, or supplies. This information helps a student decide whether or not your class is appropriate for them, creating higher satisfaction for both the student and teacher while showcasing your clarity, organization, and professionalism. Include this information in your group class proposal so that we can add it to the class sign up page.
Be On Time
Log in a few minutes early to class. It's tempting to wait until the last minute with online classes, but making sure you have your glass of water, laptop charger, notebook, lesson plan, etc., all at hand a few minutes before the class time, and joining the session a few minutes early ready-to-go helps get things off to a smooth start. Take a few deep breaths and remember as soon as your camera turns on you are now in a teaching space, not just your home or office! The class recording starts immediately upon login, so be ready to be on camera right away.
Encourage Questions and Interaction
Remember students enroll in your class for a live, interactive experience online. It’s easy to find pre-recorded lectures or videos on almost any subject, but the chance to interact with a teacher (and other students if it’s a group class) is not something as easily found online. Aside from your skills and expertise, your willingness to interact with students and answer questions is a big part of the value you bring to online learning!
Practice, practice, practice, to be prepared and comfortable teaching your group class. You can utilize the Video Test Room (accessible via your Lessonface Dashboard or from the circular icon at the top right of the page where you see your initials or avatar), and invite a friend or family member to be your test student. Record, and review the recording to see how you sound and look on screen. Here are some additional notes.
Designing Your Class for Interactive Learning
How to teach your group class and involve students in the learning process is largely up to you. It also depends on the sort of material you’re presenting. Including a handout for the class, which you can send via a group message well ahead of time, and again just before the class starts, is a great way to keep everyone on the same page.
Here are three strategies for teaching online group classes:
1. Lecture Style
The teacher presents information and students stay muted as they absorb and practice it. The teacher leads students in working through new material and periodically calls on individuals to unmute, share their progress, and receive feedback. For a visual instrument like the guitar or piano, the teacher can keep an eye on students and help with technique even while the class is muted.
2. Masterclass Style
The teacher works one-on-one with players in front of a student audience. The idea is that all students in the class take the teacher’s suggestions and apply them to their own repertoire. This approach works great with serious students who are comfortable performing and receiving suggestions/critique in front of an audience.
3. Small Groups
Particularly in larger class settings, it can be helpful to utilize Zoom’s breakout rooms. The teacher might begin by presenting new material to the whole group, then have students break off into small groups to try it out. This encourages students to help each other and develop a sense of community with their classmates. The teacher visits the breakout rooms one at a time to check in on students’ progress. This can be ideal for students who might be shy playing in front of a big class but will benefit from individual attention.
Decide what approach works best for your teaching style and subject matter, and of course feel free to combine approaches to suit your needs.
As a general rule, production value is important! Higher production value makes things feel more professional and worth the cost to students. Good audio and good video will level up your online teaching studio to feel more professional. Here are a some tips to help with that:
1. Camera Height
Having your camera at eye level (use books or a box to create a taller base for a laptop where needed) looks far more professional to the viewer than if the camera is too low. Try taking a picture of yourself at eye level and then another one holding your camera down low. Which looks better?
Adequate lighting (it’s often more than you think) makes all cameras look better! Some good options: a light behind your camera, or if you’re a glasses wearer, one or two lights almost 90 degrees to each side, so that your glasses will have less glare reflecting to the camera.
3. Computer vs. Mobile Device
Teaching via a laptop or desktop computer is typically better for having enough screen to see both students and any documents or other supporting materials that you'd like to share or refer to. If your only option is a mobile device, here are some items to consider:
a. Camera stability: A shaking handheld camera gets distracting quickly for students. We recommend working from a laptop or desktop computer if you have the choice, but even with a phone or tablet, a tripod set at the right height (or a stack of books) can help stabilize your camera for a better student experience. You can find inexpensive tripods that come with a phone or tablet adapter mount starting around $20.
b. Level Up Your Camera Game: landscape mode makes every camera look more professional! We associate vertical with social media or video phone calls, but we watch more professional things (TV, YouTube etc) in landscape mode. So even if you need to teach on a mobile device, turn it sideways to film in landscape mode.
4. Additional Camera Views
We’ve found that having an overhead view of the piano is important for a lot of piano students in group classes, so this is highly encouraged. Other instruments or classes can benefit from additional views as well. This can be easily done by joining the Zoom session on a second device you already own (i.e. a phone/tablet with the audio turned off to avoid echo issues). If you have a second USB camera you can easily switch camera views in Zoom under Video Sources and then selecting the appropriate device. You can use a tripod for your second camera, or a music stand works well with a $16-20 arm mount intended for a phone. This works both for phones or a second wired webcam, and allows for flexibility in moving the camera. A spare microphone stand will also work well. Note: you can buy a USB extension cable for $6-12 if your webcam cord is too short to reach your computer in your additional view.
5. Audio Settings
Check out this tutorial for optimizing your audio settings in Zoom. Be sure to share the link to this page with your students so that their sound is transmitted clearly to you and the other students. Use the easy to remember link Lessonface.com/ZoomAudio
6. Sharing Computer Audio
Sometimes you may wish to play an audio recording from your computer, perhaps while sharing sheet music or an image on your screen. Zoom allows you to share computer audio. A simple alternative if your external microphone is easy to move, and if you are using adequate external speakers, is to point your microphone at your speaker while playing the audio file from your computer. Either way, it’s a good idea to do some tests to be sure your sound is transmitted clearly and at the desired volume to the listener.
Technology — Above and Beyond
OBS is powerful, free software that allows teachers to use multiple camera and audio sources, along with programs or PDFs to create really elaborate teaching views. OBS then connects to Zoom as a Virtual Camera. (There is a significant learning curve with this software.)
A Graphics Tablet - This allows you to draw/write on screen with more precision than is possible using a mouse or trackpad when using annotations in Zoom. They start around $30. A higher-end model such as the Wacom CTL4100WLE0 Intuos Wireless Graphics Drawing Tablet costs around $100. Find additional equipment recommendations here.
These items are a bonus! What students really find important is camera stability, orientation and height, and adequate lighting.
The Day of Your Class: Get Ready to Go
We’re all professionals here, but it’s easy to forget just how many little things can affect student perception in an online teaching environment. Here’s a quick checklist to make sure that you’re ready to go!
1. Dress For Teaching
It’s a good idea to dress as you would if you were teaching this class in a classroom or other public setting. It’s great to be comfortable, but it can be harder for a student to appreciate you as the professional you are if you are dressed too casually.
2. On Camera: Your Background
Make sure that your background environment is appropriate for teaching! By teaching online, you’re sharing your camera view as a virtual classroom. We can all get a little messy sometimes, so double check to make sure your environment presents well!
3. Is your laptop charged?
It's always good to have the charger handy, or already plugged in, if you're teaching on a battery powered device.
4. Watch out for Extra Sounds
Mute any extra sounds on your computer, and silence your phone, just as you would mute device alerts while teaching in a studio.
5. Documents and Files
Open any documents or files that you intend to refer to or share before the class starts, so you don’t have to search for them during the class.
In the Class: Time to shine
Just like an in-person class, it's a good idea to start by greeting your students, and checking in on the goals and levels of the group. Ideally, your class page clearly states the recommended skill level, but it's easy for people to miss that. Acknowledging your students, and meeting them where they are is a must. If the group is too large to greet individually, it's still a great idea to ask students to enter information in the chat about who they are, where they are, and what they are working on. Not only does this break the ice, but it helps you to better understand their goals, and how you can best guide them. In the case of a very large class, Lessonface may provide a teaching assistant who can help manage this.
2. Student Tech Issues
Most people are quite adept at Zoom at this point! If you do encounter someone experiencing tech issues (typically no sound) they can check their microphone/speaker (the up arrow next to the mic icon). If that doesn't work, encourage them to leave and rejoin the session. If that doesn't work, ask them to re-start their computer. This usually fixes the issue, while allowing you to keep your class going for all of the other students. If a student encounters persistent tech issues, you can ask them to reach out to us!
3. To Mute or not to Mute
If there are more than 4 or 5 students, you will almost always have to ask everyone to mute. It's good to ask at the start of the class. Most people will mute themselves without being asked, but there are often a couple that don't. Sometimes people accidentally unmute themselves without realizing it. When this happens, you can scroll through the participants on the screen and find the person who is unmuted, and mute them yourself. Do encourage people to unmute to converse when it's appropriate. If there are too many for general discussion, there's always the chat. It's a lot more fun for everyone when there's live interaction, but some students will be distracted by others' background noise (you may be too), so it's a good idea to anticipate how you will handle muting and unmuting.
4. The Big Moment
You teach. You engage. You are wonderful. You've got this!
5. Next Steps and Review
Preview what you will cover in the next class. If there isn't a next class, suggest next steps for the student - another class, private lessons, or other materials for them to further their understanding. Sum up what you covered in the class to underline the progress made. Students are able to review the recorded videos of the group classes - encourage them to do so!