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Videoconferencing and Remote Music Instruction

 

The widespread use of computers and the Internet today has made distance learning so much easier and faster that now, in addition to virtual schools and universities, even brick-and-mortar schools are delivering more and more curricula online. Interaction with the instructor and other students can now take place via email and class message boards, as well as synchronous “live” interactive instruction, also known as videoconferencing. And the best part is that one doesn’t need to purchase expensive proprietary equipment in order to access these tools. Believe it or not, there are almost 30,000 video conferencing systems in U.S. schools, service centers, district offices, and departments of education. Many are used every day to connect students and teachers around the world.

Videoconferencing allows two (point-to-point) or more locations (multipoint) to communicate by simultaneous, interactive video and audio transmissions. An increasing number of schools across the country teach music technology classes via online classes locally and long-distance simultaneously.

 

Products for Videoconferencing Instruction

There is a wide variety of videoconferencing software programs to choose from. Some are freeware and others have a per-month paid subscription. Some are point-to-point, which are restricted to only two computers, while others offer multi-point connectivity for up to 100 users. Product features vary as well, but all of them give you a free-trial period, often 30 days, during which you can do actual field-testing. 

Virtual High School

The Virtual High School in Maynard, Massachusetts has enrolled over 63,000 students from 700 member schools with 500 teachers from over 31 states and 34 countries since 1997. Their online classes include composition, popular music, AP Music Theory, and others. For example, their AP Music Theory has gone from one section in 2010 up to five or more sections because demand for the course is so high. This year, they replaced a CD-ROM software component with a fully online, browser-based app. They also added collaborative activities through blogs and wikis and are in the process of switching to eBooks and re-mapping assessments to better match AP Exams.

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Fred Rees, chairman of the Department of Music and Arts Technology, at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, is a pioneer in videoconferencing with music education and technology. Since assuming his appointment in 1999, he is credited with creating their B.S. in Music Technology program. He and G. David Peters expanded their M.S. in Music Technology program by employing Internet-based video streaming technologies. He first began videoconferencing in the early 1990s at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), where he placed the M.M. in music education degree program over the then new Iowa Communications Network (ICN) interactive television system.

Rees makes a distinction between videoconferencing and videostreaming. “Videoconferencing, which I did when I was at UNI, is what you experience with Skype or FaceTime. However, in addition to seeing and talking to one another, the more advanced resources of a system like the ICN also allows the instructor to play music, share computer images, display printed material, and interact between the instructor and students at multiple sites and on campus simultaneously. Videostreaming also has these capabilities, but usually lacks the bandwidth to provide high quality audio and video. Also, a videostreaming session may be a one-way transmission to viewers, with limited or no opportunity for them to respond in real-time.”

The entire MS in Music Technology program is videostreamed to online students simultaneously with on-campus students sitting in class. “We use Adobe Connect, a videostreaming tool that is becoming common in collegiate institutions. It enables online students to see and hear the instructor or students in the classroom and to respond via a chatroom. Additionally, the instructor can share his or her desktop with the class or pull up online students’ desktops when they are giving presentations. If desired, I can change settings for online students to be seen and heard, when they want to join the class that way. In conjunction with Adobe Connect, we also run iStream, an Indiana University videostreaming tool that provides higher quality audio and video going out to students, but without the capability for students to respond over it. We videoarchive all classroom proceedings in both Adobe Connect and iStream for future viewing.

“We employ OnCourse, also developed by Indiana University, as the course management system. It contains videostreaming links and has its own email system, forum, chatroom, grade book, and testing resources. Six faculty members teach in the MSMT program using these tools. I personally use Skype and FaceTime with students outside of class meetings for consultations. I also employ Cisco Jabber Video for multipoint videoconferencing beyond the classroom with colleagues worldwide. It enables multi-point connections with good quality audio and video, and a presentation feature from any site for applications that reside on a computer desktop.”

 

Synchronous Interactive Online Instruction

Since 2006, I have been teaching music technology workshops for the Technology Institute for Music Educators (TI:ME), which includes multipoint interactive instruction with videoconferencing for each workshop. Content varies from notation, sequencing, and electronic keyboard apps to web development and integrating technology within the classroom music curriculum.

This past school year, I was teaching at Shandong University in Jinan, China and, with videoconferencing, I was able continue my weekly private lessons in Denver, Colorado. And even though I was 9,000 miles away in China, my students were still prepared to win countless seating challenges, get selected in all-county and college honor bands, and be awarded full-ride music scholarships. One important tip is that the music for each student’s lesson was scanned into PDF files before each session, so I could view it and use my cursor to point out where improvements needed to be made. This helped give real-time instructional feedback.

 

Remote Recording Sessions

Hiro Morozumi is a jazz pianist and composer from Tokyo, Japan who has studied at the University of North Texas and travels the world as a performing artist. Using videoconferencing, Morozumi recently recorded musicians in Japan and the USA to produce a soundtrack designed to be the background music in Japan’s 7-Eleven stores. “We used Skype video chat so I could see how the mics were placed by my friend playing the saxophone, flute, and so on,” says Morozumi. “Our three-way group chat mode on Skype included me on desktop in Los Angeles, a laptop in Tokyo, and an iPhone in Tokyo feeding back the laptop screen.”

He continues: “We used Presonus Studio-One software. This cut comes with surprisingly generous features, even on the free version. It perfectly served our simple recording task needs. We got good tone from our inexpensive but carefully chosen equipment: Audio-Technica AT2020 mic, Art Studio V3 pre-amp, and a Roland UA-25EX audio interface. One can get all of these for less than $300. Our secret weapon was a vacuum tube we used to replace the default Chinese part that came in the Art Studio V3 preamp. The Russian-made Electro-Harmonix 12AX7 tube is around $13, but this made the $70 pre-amp comparable to equipment worth $1,000, in my opinion.”

When it came to transferring the files over the Internet, Morozumi and his team experimented with various file transfer protocols for large session files (350MB per song). “The fastest and most reliable method was to upload using freeware Filezilla via FTP to web hosting I subscribed to from godaddy.com to host my website,” he says. “I pay only about five dollars a month and get total of five GB, so I can easily make room for one or two GB for file-transferring for production purposes. Another effective way to transfer files was using www.justbeamit.com. It’s not as fast as FTP, and requires both interacting computers to keep a browser open during the transfer, but it comes in handy whenever a quick transfer is necessary while we’re on Skype. File transfer on Skype is slow and not very useful for large files. “ You can hear the results of Hiro’s remarkable videoconference recording sessions and several other schools at: www.kuzmich.com/SBO1213.

 

Closing Comments

In summary, the future is now and the possibilities are endless for videoconferencing. There are excellent freeware videoconferencing applications to explore, and the paid subscription applications offer high quality productions and a broad spectrum of features that can streamline meetings with many exciting features for instruction. This kind of technology that allows connectivity between experts and peers worldwide can be significant for both professional growth as well as a tool to use with your students.For more insight about the unique benefits of videoconferencing for music educators, visit this installment’s companion website at:

www.kuzmich.com/SBO1213.html.

 

Dr. John Kuzmich Jr. is a veteran music educator, jazz educator, and music technologist with more than 41 years of public school teaching experience. He is a TI:ME-certified training instructor and has a Ph.D. in comprehensive musicianship. As a freelance author, Dr. Kuzmich has more than 400 articles and five textbooks published. As a clinician, Dr. Kuzmich frequently participates in workshops throughout the U.S., China, Europe, Australia, and South America.

For more information, visit www.kuzich.com.

 

 

Free Apps

FaceTime

While not as open or full-featured as Skype, FaceTime provides OS X and iOS users simple, crisp video conferencing with 720 dpi video. It has seamless Mac-only address book integration and calls by email or phone number. It does not provide multi-point videoconferencing or screen sharing.

 

Skype

Skype is the most popular point-to-point freeware videoconferencing software. Skype’s multipoint feature is available, but it is not free. While Skype offers free calls and videoconferencing worldwide to anybody with a free Skype account, there are some things to consider, such as variable voice quality, and non-HD video.

 

ooVoo

This free 12-way group videoconferencing software with instant messaging supports any device and platform. The HD video quality is amazing. You can record every conference and upload conferences to YouTube from any supported device. When email can’t handle large attached file transfers, ooVoo can send up to 25 MB per file. Screen sharing is a worthwhile feature for presenting information. You can leave video messages up to five minutes in length. There are privacy controls to govern who views and joins your conferences. There is a flexible full-screen mode to display individual webcams when desired, even with a 12-way group conference. A call-me button can be pasted in e-mails or on websites for a quick response to conference.

 

VidSpeak

VidSpeak is a free multipoint video conferencing application using a PC with broadband connection for a video and audio conference. Key features include: zero firewall configuration, encrypted communications for true privacy, compatibility with all major webcams, and HD quality video up to 640 X 480 dpi. The high-quality audio is much better than a telephone, it’s optimized for low-cost broadband connections like cable or DSL, and there’s a private version available for organizational use.

 

Paid Apps

Adobe Connect

Adobe Connect is the most capable customizing web conferencing application out there, but it is also more expensive than WebEx or GoToMeeting. Unlimited webcam streams at DVD quality, integration with video teleconferencing systems, and the ability to share rich media without requiring any codec or player downloads ensures that users can meet face-to-face and deliver ideas effectively. It can also accommodate up to 25 attendees.

Cisco WebEx

WebEx is a worthy multi-point competitor among the paid subscription videoconference programs, allowing as many as 25 users joining per session. It offers a wealth of features, including recording meetings to share, post, or review later with students and colleagues. By sharing content, you can get everyone on the page, open any document or application, and discuss it in real-time with other participants. Or you can let other participants share and present documents from their computers and assign privileges to individual participants. Large files can be quickly and securely transferred regardless of size.

 

Citrix GoToMeeting

GoToMeeting by Citrix is a powerful paid subscription HD-quality multi-point videoconferencing tool for all platforms and mobile devices. It is designed for collaboration and is simple to use. You can conference in via phone or your computer’s mic and speakers, and mute/unmute attendees. Its screen sharing is outstanding. You can record your meeting sessions, and even share keyboard and mouse controls to cooperative edit files on screen. Users can instantly change presenters to see each other’s work plus draw and highlight on screen and text chat with others.



 


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