Right from the start, Dr. Danielle VanTuinen felt disconnected from her students.
As Assistant Professor of Tuba and Euphonium, VanTuinen teaches applied one-on-one lessons with each of her students. When the University of Florida transitioned classes online, these weekly lessons didn’t feel the same.
In the first few days of working at home, VanTuinen came up with an idea. She turned on her web camera, pulled out her euphonium, and invited her students to a social media challenge.
“It was an opportunity to keep my students engaged,” VanTuinen said, “to keep feeling like we are a community.”
Each day, VanTuinen posted a video playing a musical exercise on Facebook with the hashtag #ChompChallenge. She tagged all of her students, inviting them to post their own video in the comments.
“The challenge was initially built to focus around things that I would have taught them in studio class together,” she said.
The first day’s challenge was to play major flat scales in two octaves at 80 beats per minute, and VanTuinen asked participants to tag a friend.
“They started getting other studios involved,” she said. “It kind of turned it into more than it intended to.”
On the first challenge, fifteen students, colleagues, and even alumni responded with videos.
The challenges, which mostly focused on technical musical exercises, had quick pay offs.
“I’m noticing immediate changes in my students’ playing,” VanTuinen said.
Beyond the technical improvements, there was another important lesson that VanTuinen liked being able to share. Having to post almost every day, there wasn’t always time for her videos to be perfect.
“I enjoy that my students are able to see me making mistakes more,” she said. “I make evident mistakes all the time, and it’s okay. It isn’t at the expense of the music or the breathing. It just happens and it’s over.”
Beyond the #ChompChallenge, VanTuinen and her colleagues in the School of Music are adapting their teaching in other ways to take advantage of online learning.
In place of a final jury, where students typically demonstrate mastery of a variety of works and techniques to a panel of faculty, VanTuinen assigned her students a quartet. But instead of performing with other musicians, her students learned all four parts of the composition and recorded each, layering them on top of each other.
Even though students are performing with themselves, VanTuinen said they still had to practice tuning, listening, and balance, just as they would in an ensemble.
“We are trying to utilize the technology we have to make the experience as real as possible,” she said.