Over the last few months, I've had numerous discussions with teachers about technology, how to effectively implement it in the studio, and how to seamlessly use a laptop, iPad, or the internet when teaching in new and interesting ways.
There are so many music–related websites, apps, services, and products on the market these days that no one could possibly know about all of them. You can read many lists of technology resources in textbooks, articles, and blog posts, but none of them could ever grasp the sheer diversity of what is being produced today, and any such list is doomed to become obsolete after mere months.
If the only reason you're using technology is to be using it for its own sake, to march ahead with the times and somehow take advantage of technology in order to become more "engaging" as a teacher, you're approaching technology from the wrong place.
What's the real reason to use technology?
Determine what your agenda is as a teacher, what you specifically mean to accomplish, the pedagogical experience you wish to deliver, and, most importantly, how you're not doing it right just yet. Then discover what products and services are out there that can help you deliver that experience in the best way possible. Finally, implement them in your studio and judge the results to see if they are making a tangible difference. Here are a few examples from my own experience.
Problem #1: My handwriting is terrible.
When I first started teaching piano, I would write weekly lesson assignments in a variety of notebooks that my students would hopefully consult during their practice sessions. Try as I might, the lesson notes I wrote for my students were a hastily scrawled mess that were often ignored. On the other hand, I'm an incredibly efficient typist and can easily type over 100 words per minute on a decent keyboard. Once I discovered that typewritten lesson notes were faster and easier to create, it was just a matter of time before I discovered the devices (a laptop, later an iPad with Bluetooth keyboard) and services (Evernote (http://www.evernote.com), Catch Notes (http://www.catch.com) or other text editing apps) that I could incorporate into my teaching workflow. Moreover, emailing lesson notes would ensure that students and parents would remain in the loop as to what their objectives are from week to week. For each student, I use a single text document with the current lesson's notes at the top.
Several of the parents in my studio are too busy to supervise their children's practicing and send the lesson notes to the nannies who work with the children. The nannies, not being entirely fluent in English, then machine-translate my lesson notes into their own language (Google Translate does this well) in order to find out exactly what the kids need to be practicing. In addition, many of my teenage and adult students are glued to their smartphones and respond to lesson assignments best if they can read them on their own devices. With Evernote or Catch, I can even attach photos and recordings to emailed lesson notes. All this can't be done with conventional notebooks, and arose out of the fact that I do indeed have terrible handwriting.
Problem #2: Tying scheduling to billing and the sending of invoices and receipts to clients using paper can be arduous.
I needed a way to automate some of those steps.With Music Teachers Helper (http://www.http://www.musicteachershelper.com), I'm able to easily integriate scheduling with billing, invoices, and receipts, and send them out to clients via email. Parents and students can log into my website and see when their next lesson will be, how much they owe, and what they've previously paid. My studio's streamlined online registration process allows me to contact and interview students in a much more efficient manner so I can spend the bulk of my time concentrating on teaching rather than doing paperwork.
Have I discovered some nifty products and services along the way? Of course. But it all started with clear goals that I wanted to accomplish with my teaching studio and a knowledge of how technology could help me to get there.
Christopher Foley is a collaborative pianist dedicated to the fields of teaching, chamber music, art song, opera, and contemporary music. At the Eastman School of Music, he received a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in 1994, majoring in Piano Accompanying and Chamber Music. He is currently teaching at the Royal Conservatory of Music, where he serves as head of the voice department in the Conservatory School. As pianist and repetiteur for Tapestry New Opera Works, he has been involved with numerous mainstage productions, as well as being on the creative team for Tapestry's unique Composer/Librettist and Director/Musical Director laboratories. He recently performed at the Eastman School of Music's Faculty Concert Series, the Women in Music Festival, the University of Western Ontario, and the Algoma Fall Festival. As author of the Collaborative Piano Blog, he writes about issues of importance to the collaborative pianist, as well as current musical events in Toronto and elsewhere. Dr. Foley also appeared as pianist and coach for the singers featured on the Bravo!Canada reality show Bathroom Divas. At the 2012 Honens International Piano Competition, he provided color commentary for the CBC's live global webcast of the final concerto round.