There are understandably some significant challenges to keeping a music department in full swing during a school closure. With in-person lessons out-of-the-question, Shrewsbury International School Bangkok, Riverside is drawing upon its talented instrumentalists, tutors and music teachers as well as the school's robust online learning capability in Educational Technology to provide excellent classes.
As Head of Academic Music, and Shrewsbury-renowned tech whizz Mr Stephen Jackman explains, the music department has the tools, personnel, and skills to continue to produce the highest-quality learning available.
How can music learning be done from a distance when it really requires face to face contact?
Nearly all music produced these days uses digital technology, so in many cases, we are adapting our curriculum to focus on the development of those music production skills. Shrewsbury already owns a subscription to cloud-based recording software which allows students to collaborate and make music together from their homes around the city.
What is the department doing to engage our students?
Engagement is the most challenging area for online learning, students need to be much more self-motivated. We are trying to encourage involvement by listening to the students and getting feedback from them on how they are progressing. We are also giving them a lot more choice when it comes to how they should complete assignments. For example, some may prefer to make a music video, whilst others may take the chance to create their own "live lounge" performance, or make a multi-track recording and produce a song.
What feedback have you been getting from students and parents?
Students are enjoying the work but, understandably everything takes a lot longer than usual, and patience is required. Everyone is still adjusting. Personally, I think the main message is to relax because this isn't normal - it's not just about switching to online learning itself. It's shifting to online learning in the middle of a challenging global situation, and that is unprecedented.
What advice do you give to colleagues in all departments about how to create a good lesson?
My advice to colleagues is to prepare a mixture of live (synchronous) activities to build and develop their online classroom community but also provide asynchronous goals for students to complete in their own time. Learning doesn't really take place when students are watching an online live lesson, they might be engaged, but engagement is a poor metric for learning. Learning takes place when students have to think hard, so setting work for them to complete that they can then share back with the teacher for them to give feedback is an excellent way to proceed.
What are some examples of how you prepare your students during closure?
Basically, we are continuing the work we started in the classroom. For example, with Year 8, the students learnt how to sing and play a couple of songs (before closure) on guitar that led to group performances. Now, they are producing individual multi-track recordings in GarageBand in a remote-learning environment.
Are you working as a team in the music department? Is this useful?
Yes. We have an excellent team in the music department, and online learning allows our team to share their specialisms more. For example, Mrs Edwards, who is in the UK at the moment, is doing 1-1 performance coaching with our A Level students. I have been working across Year 9 and Year 10, getting them trained in how to use online music production software, while Mr Saw has been doing some great video tutorials with Head of Primary Music, Ms Debbie Tulloch.
Do you have a message for parents and the wider school community?
Yeah! Don't worry, we have got this! Across all departments, Shrewsbury staff are some of the most professional, hardworking people I have ever met. We will continue to work hard for your children. We will ensure that, despite the difficult situation we all find ourselves in, they all get the best education possible.