Schools, colleges, universities, and workplaces had to adapt quickly to the changing landscape that COVID-19 brought upon the world in March. Suddenly the world was faced with delivering education remotely and managing teams from home. We were delighted to catch up with Rhona Johnstone, Music Development Officer for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Instrumental Music Service on how they adapted to continue to deliver music lessons to pupils across their geographically dispersed local authority in Scotland.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CnES) is a local authority covering over 3,000km2, including all the islands from Lewis down to Barra and has 4 secondary schools and 22 primary schools. Prior to lockdown, like many schools most of their music lessons were conducted face to face however, piping tuition was taught both face to face and online. In this case, the music tutor would visit one school each day to teach to face to face, and could then connect to other schools through Vscene to deliver the same teaching over high quality 4K video. Every school would still have at least one face to face lesson every month.
When lockdown happened, Rhona says they were in a fortunate position to have access to the right tools to allow music tuition to continue to pupils in this area. Stating that “the move to online tuition was relatively seamless”. The music service had previously hosted around 30 classes per week using Vscene and quickly scaled up to delivering over 500 lessons a week. The only real challenge they encountered were some connectivity issues with some rural communities who rely on satellite broadband or 4G networks.
Some teachers may be apprehensive about online teaching and feel concerned that their teaching pedagogy would have to change when moving from face to face to online teaching. However, Rhona advised that the adaptations have been minimal for their music tuition and staff have adapted well. For example, some tutors set up multiple cameras to show different viewing angles to children which has helped show correct posture, finger and bowing techniques. Rhona added, “Naturally, you have to apply strategies to engage all the pupils throughout the lesson as we will only have one pupil play at a time to give the best learner experience, but the teaching methods have not changed”.
Discussing the tangible benefits of teaching music over Vscene, Rhona emphasised the huge benefits for teachers not travelling to multiple schools. Not only does this reduction in travel time have a significant saving financially for the local authority but it also gives the tutor and pupil more contact time, which can only be beneficial for pupil learning. Delivering tuition to multiple schools over Vscene has allowed the music service to teach to groups of students who are all of the same ability albeit from different schools. This would not be possible with face to face teaching. This will also be useful in the transition phase from primary to secondary school where pupils have already met virtually and have a shared common interest. The increased use of digital skills for pupils, and teachers will also be beneficial for the future.
Rhona concluded by added that she believes there will continue to be a change in the delivery of some education, and also a change in working life as the pandemic has shown us how quickly we can adapt and how well it can work.
During the pandemic, the music service was delivering in region of 500 lessons per week when schools remained closed. It is hoped that the benefits shown through this model will allow a more blended approach to music tuition moving forward.