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Bricks or clicks?

Ten years ago, one of my friends asked me if I knew of a cello teacher who would come to the house to teach her children. I looked down my nose at her and said, "Oh, you don't want a teacher who comes to the house. They are not true professionals."

The January/February 2013 issue of Clavier Companion featured the magnificent studios of several teachers. I am certain that the students who spend time with these creative teachers in their inspirational surroundings are lucky indeed. 

For nearly forty years I had three different studios of my own, the final one being a cozy house with a grand piano, first-class recording and playback equipment, and enough light and airy space to give group lessons. A separate room allowed students to work independently with interactive computer programs. Families spent lesson times doing homework or adult work at a large table or stretched out on a couch either reading or napping. A nearby kitchen was also at their disposal.

A change of direction 

So why is my current studio a library of music in the hatchback of my 2010 Prius, a Roland MT80, an iPad, and the living rooms of my students' homes? Because times have changed and so have I. And yes, I still consider myself a true professional. 

I first began traveling to students' homes five years ago, because more and more parents were working and more and more students had schedules that included many after-school activities. Lessons became almost impossible to schedule. A switch to seeing students on their own turf provided many benefits: they never missed a lesson; they couldn't forget their music; I could monitor each student's home practice conditions, insisting on a reliable, tuned piano in a quiet space; siblings were free to pursue their own interests; parents were often around and could hear our lessons without being an intrusive presence; I made the acquaintance of many nice dogs. In addition, I could charge more (not one family quit or complained), which meant I could work with fewer students and enjoy down time between lessons. 

While this was all well and good, further societal changes made my decision an even better one. In the last five years the increased portability of interactive computer programs, recording, playback, and video equipment, and yes, even the printed music itself made the expen

Have iPad - will travel.

If you read Lila Viss's excellent book, The iPad Piano Studio: Keys to Unlocking the Power of Apps, and read her ongoing column in Clavier Companion, you will learn everything you need to know about the iPad's all-in-one use for piano teachers. In addition, many publishers will make their methods and teaching music available in electronic formats and will design websites that will allow teachers and students to upload teaching and performing videos and to interact with each other via Skype-like and Facebook-like programs. In fact, the Internet will increasingly allow teachers to upload courses of their own, a fact that is already changing the way the publishing industry will deliver future materials. Some teachers now engage in reverse learning. The student encounters new concepts via a teacher-made video, accessible outside of the lesson. Students view it as many times as they need. The teacher then uses the lesson time to practice music using these concepts with students. In time, piano teachers, like many in other professions, may be able to teach students without leaving home!

Moving higher education

Is this a good thing? I don't yet know, but it is happening throughout the educational community, and there is no stopping the tide. In an article, "The Future of Higher Education," which describes the outcome of a 2012 Pew Research Internet Project, Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie write: 

The transmission of knowledge need no longer be tethered to a college campus. The technical affordances of cloud-based computing, digital textbooks, mobile connectivity, high-quality streaming video . . . have pushed vast amounts of knowledge to the "placeless" Web. 

The authors go on to point out that the earlier sweeping changes created by the moveable-type printing press, the Industrial Revolution, the telegraph, telephone, radio, television, and computers left the basic structure of how universities produce and disseminate knowledge largely intact. One anonymous respondent to the project's survey quipped: 

The university has not changed substantially since its founding in about 800 AD . . . Other than adding books, electricity, and women, it is still primarily an older person 'lecturing' a set of younger ones . . . 

Yet universities now find themselves pressed to adapt quickly to what amounts to a new way of learning. The popularity of Coursera, a privately held, online instructional delivery firm, which creates massively open online courses (MOOCs), cannot be disputed. Coursera allows unfettered, global access for millions to May/June 2014 Clavier Companion 9 Sheila Paige Seminar DVDs are available! OVER 17 LECTURES AVAILABLE WITH 1-800-864-7507 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. JULY 25-AUGUST 1, 2014 Teaching Beginning Skills Technique Tips for the Young Student Forearm Movements of Rotation, In and Out, Across & Up and Down, Shaping, Octaves and Staccatos, If It Hurts Here Check This, Memory and MANY MORE at the University of North Texas THE 15t h A NNUAL KEYBOARD WELLNESS SEMINAR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS Web lessons now available with Sheila Paige! engage with some of the country's most prestigious universities. While these are not courses for credit or a viable way to deliver a degree, they show the worldwide hunger for knowledge that can be distributed beyond the increasingly expensive confines of university walls. 

An anonymous respondent to the Pew survey said, 

I believe we will see . . . a return to a Socratic model of single sage to self-selecting student group, but instead of the Acropolis, the site will be the Internet, and the students will be from everywhere.

At present most universities are working with a hybrid model that incorporates lectures with more peer and online learning. I am right with them. It will always be important for students to meet face-to-face with each other and with the teacher. I will never forget my seven-week summers at Rocky Ridge Music Center in Estes Park, Colorado, where I interacted daily with my teacher and with talented and dedicated students who inspired me to work harder and to reach higher musical goals. On the other hand, distance learning with other teachers, access to video of world-class pianists, and online theory practice all would have enhanced my experience. 

Bob Franklin, computing pioneer and co-developer and marketer of VisiCalc, feels that digital access to information via "clicks" will not only make institutional "bricks" less necessary, but will even further change the teaching-learning landscape: Ideally, people will learn to educate themselves with teachers acting as mentors and as guides. 

For further reading, and to view the quotes and comments cited above, please visit of-higher-education/

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Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching, learning, and performing. The official name of Clavier Companion magazine was changed to Piano Magazine in 2019.

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