Dr. Pamela Pike, Associate Professor of Piano Pedagogy at Louisiana State University, has been using the Disklavier as a distance-learning and pedagogical tool for as long as just about anyone. Last year (2016), she had the idea to incorporate these technologies into her graduate students' service learning requirements, and she monitored the activities with a properly empirical study of the efficacy of the idea. Her findings were recently published in the International Society for Music Education (ISME) Journal, and we spoke to Dr. Pike about the process.
DEN: What prompted you consider the Disklavier for the service learning element of the degree program?
PP: Our graduate students are spread pretty thinly, honestly, and they are often older with more and more adult responsibilities. So we wanted to try and offer them a way to fulfill the requirement without putting too much additional strain on their schedule or require extensive transportation, for instance. We had learned from an earlier study that pedagogy students put additional scrutiny on their actual PEDAGOGY skills (effective communication, positive reinforcement, organized presentation, etc), when they teach online and can't "cheat" by doing too much for the students. So it seemed like a worthy premise to try!
DEN: One of the interns was especially skeptical about distance learning in general. How did you address this in the program?
PP: I think he was mostly nervous about the lack of physical contact with the student, worried that he wouldn't be able to sufficiently address posture or hand position, for instance. When we kept circling back to the student-centered nature of pedagogy, however, he found other strategies to address this hurdle, things like effective vocabulary for communicating about the physical elements of piano-playing. He actually commented at the end at how being forced to think in this way proved helpful in his in-person teaching skills as well. He actually commented at how "empowered" his students were in having to be responsible for their own posture and hand position in approaching the piano.
DEN: This wasn't your first time studying a distance learning topic for scholarly research. How was this study different from your earlier research?
PP: My earlier study involved peer-teaching, and the students were more or less from similar backgrounds. This time, the students were from a pretty disadvantaged school, and had few to no resources for music education. The interns were both masters' and doctoral-level students, all of whom had enjoyed a great deal of family and institutional support as advancing pre-college musicians. So, not only were these interns getting experience learning a new technology, they were also learning to work with students whose lives looked pretty different from their own recent teen years. It was definitely a new combination of challenges for both me AND the interns!
DEN: It's fascinating how both of your studies have revealed some unexpected benefits of distance learning in terms of core teaching skills. How do you feel students most benefit from this component of the program?
PP: Well, of course it's important to keep students apprised of the latest teaching methods and tools, and in the 21st century, you can't afford to overlook the distance-learning model, which is becoming more and more prevalent. But we were truly surprised to find how the grad students became a LOT more student-centered in their teaching.
They became acutely aware of using language that students could understand clearly (it's hard to stare down a bored face right in your computer screen). They also learned to pace their lessons more carefully and to spend more time preparing lessons in smaller increments.
Distance learning becomes a magnifying glass for a teacher's skill set, and I have observed remarkable leaps in sheer attention to detail following experience in a long-distance teaching environment.
DEN: You partnered with a local music store, O'Neil's Music House, to host the other end of the distant connection. How did that work?
PP: O'Neil's has been a huge advocate for music education in our area for many years, and also a longtime supporter of the LSU music department. We wanted to be considerate of their time and space, so we put a strict time limit on this program: it was only eight weeks long. But they were fantastic and logistically everything just made sense: their store was within walking distance of the highschool the students attended, they set up a little space with a Disklavier, and helped make sure the computer, Internet, and MIDI connections were all solid before the students arrived.
DEN: What can your study show teachers who may be considering a long-distance teaching model for their own studios?
PP: First of all, it's easy enough that nearly everyone could manage the technology. We used Disklaviers with Internet MIDI software, which is so easy to set up and connect. Of course you don't HAVE to use something as sophisticated as a Disklavier, but having an authentic experience at each end of the connection certainly does depend on having a quality instrument to use. The most important tip I would share with teachers who are new to distance-learning is to always have equipment prepared in advance. Lesson times are typically too short to spend more than a few seconds on setup.
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