Is Your Student's Tech Transportation Up To the Task?

By: Blink Lesson

When you schedule in-person students, you assume they have transportation to get to the lesson. With virtual lessons, the proverbial "transportation" is your student's Internet connection and device. But, to ensure success, you must not assume your student's video tech "transportation" is up to the task.

Driving to Lessons

Would you drive without a license? Would you drive on a road knowing that the other drivers don't have a clue how to drive? Sounds crazy, but when it comes to video conferencing, many do just that.

Approach virtual lessons like an studio you and your students both must travel too. The different types of transportation are your different devices and Internet connections. If you are both going to arrive at the studio, both of you have to know how to utilize and/or operate your "transportation". Plus, both of you need to know how to trouble-shoot things like a flat tire.

A Little Preparation Goes a Long Way

First, prepare yourself and or your teachers. 99.99% of online music teachers will not have an IT person assisting them for every tele-lesson. Therefore, the onus is on them to have a good understanding of the software they are using, and video conferencing in general. They must know: 1) what to expect, 2) common things that can go wrong.

Second, prepare your student. Your student might know how to drive to your studio, but that doesn't mean they can "drive" to an Online lesson. Most students will approach an "Online lesson" like they do a FaceTime or Skype call with grandma. Certainly, there are similarities, but the two are not identical.

Stop Making it so Easy

Most students will believe an Online lesson is as easy as pulling out the phone in their pocket. Can my kids talk to grandma that way? Sure, but that isn't what you should be aiming for.

In the real world, our FaceTime and Skype calls with grandma have all kinds of problems. Dropped calls, three kids yelling, and grandma's camera pointed at the dog. This will not work for learning an instrument Online.

Many tech problems can be avoided by giving clear instructions. The problem comes when we are half-hazard about preparing our students for virtual lessons, because we are worried they might feel burdened by too much information. Resist this feeling. You don't have to make it "easy" for your students to want to do it. Driving to your lesson space is not easy. Students and their parents do it because they want to.

Give your students clear instructions and expectations. They might not think it's "easy", but they will be a lot more comfortable and confident.

Qualifying Questions

Develop a few qualifying questions. Here are some samples:

1) Do you have a computer or laptop with a webcam? We require you to use a computer because we have a lot more success that way.
2) How good is your Internet Connection? How was the video quality?
3) Do you have a quite place to do the online lesson? During an Online session, it's important to have a quite place because your mic will pick up surrounding noise.

Develop an information handout. You might even preface the handout with the sentence: "Getting to your Online lesson is like having transportation to get to our studio. We want to make sure you can make it on time each week." However you design the handout, make sure to include tech requirements and other aspects needed to ensure a successful session.

Roll With the Punches

Most of us forget how land-line are compared with mobile phones. Everyday, I have at least four calls on my mobile phone. ~20% of the time, the call drops or breaks up. We all live with this because we learned to roll with the mobile phone "punches".

If you have a qualifying processes for Online students, you will have far less punches to roll with. Imagine going back to life without mobile phones simply because we all became fed up with their unreliability. Remember, with Online music lessons, you can provide services in a new way. For some students, it might be the best or only way.

Learn What's Involved

There are three main tech areas you need to learn to successfully run Online lessons.

1) The Internet and how we get there. The number one tech question we receive at Blink Lessonis: "What is the minimum bandwidth required". That is a good question, but sufficient bandwidth isn't the only issue.

Today, most people's Internet connections, even mobile, have enough bandwidth to handle video conferencing. Problems tend to arise with upload speeds and latency. For an extensive discussion this, read our article Your Guide to What Affects Video Call Quality.

2) Devices you and your students are using. Almost any computer, tablet, or phone purchased in the last year will have video conferencing ability. Remember though, ability does not mean sufficient.

The following can help you determine if their device fits the bill:

a) Be extremely hesitant about allowing students to use their phone to connect for lessons. The screen size of a phone is so small it can be hard to share anything. It just makes things harder, but to mention to poor mic quality.
b) If you want to allow students to use a tablet, make sure it is 9.7 in or larger. Bigger tablets tend to have more power. Good tablets are any iPad except mini, Microsoft Surface, Galaxy Book, Tab, or View, or other high-end Android tablets.
c) A laptop or desktop is always the best option. That said, ask your student how old their system is. Old computers can work, but if it's a low-end laptop they bought eight years ago for $300, that will certainly have issues.
d) You, the teacher, should never use anything other than a laptop or desktop computer, and it should be sufficiently powered. You should also invest in a good webcam, mic, and audio interface if you need it. If you use Blink Lessonyou can stream up to 3 audio sources at up to 300kbps, so no need for a virtual mixer or DAW.

3) The video conferencing software. Think of software like a tool. I want to buy a new keyboard. Tried any modern keyboard like a Nord Stage Piano? Its not something you sit down and understand how to use in 5 minutes.

Don't approach your video conferencing platform like kid's Casio keyboard. As marketing genius Seth Godin recently wrote about computers, "It's possible that the I'll learn it later shortcut you took a few years ago is now a significant time tax on your day, every day."ref Your platform probably didn't come with a paper manual, but it likely has help articles, video, or other resources to help you get started. Commit time to learn the platform well before you need to use it.