Beyond Online Music Learning:
Recent Interviews Indicate That Props Can Enhance Fun and Facilitate Personal Connection in the Virtual Learning Environment
I noticed that online music learners had more fun and showed signs of connecting with one another more when we used props, so I decided to investigate!
The Impact of Online Music Learning
When education had to adapt to the constraints of a world in the grip of a pandemic by going online, we worried for the impact on people’s relationships and ability to truly connect with one another. Thankfully, video conferencing offered a lifeline! Zoom, Google Meets, TEAMS and others have helped to alleviate some of those concerns by providing a platform for music classes to continue and friends to gather virtually.
As a teacher and parent, I have been observing my students and children closely to see how they are faring in this transformed world of music education. This summer I moved from the Washington D.C. area to Georgia, and was fortunate enough to be able to continue in my choral conducting position online. My daughters are also learning from home in our new location. As I teach my choral students online from over 500 miles away, and assist my own children with online learning through the local public schools, I have been paying attention to the positive aspects of online learning.
Exploring Props’ Role in Creating Fun and Connection
I noticed that when my choral students use props, especially those from Bear Paw Creek, it appeared to promote relationship building and made our rehearsals more fun! Perhaps it is my current studies as a doctoral student in Music Education that has me in an inquisitive frame of mind, but I embraced the urge to find out what may be behind these observations. So I invited my two girl friends, their children, and my own two daughters to attend a Zoom music party with props and answer some questions for me afterward! To give you a little context, my dear friends L and H live in two different towns near Boston, MA and I currently live near Augusta, GA. Between the three moms we have two boys and three girls from 7 to 11 years old. We all had a fantastic time last month learning more about props together.
What Did We Do?
We had a Zoom music party! For this inquiry we did two activities, moving to”Better When I’m Dancin'” by Meghan Trainor and sang the cumulative song “An Austrian Went Yodeling”. We did each activity twice, once without props and once with props. Next, I asked the adults and children to describe whether the props affected their experience of the activity and/or sense of togetherness. After we were done with our chat, we just had fun as a group, singing, dancing and doing ukelele playalongs!
What Did We Find Out?
The movement activity and cumulative song were brought to life by the inclusion of props. According to my friends and our children, props do bring fun, togetherness and promote connection between participants.
Movement Activity with Scarves
“Better When I’m Dancin'” rarely fails to get people on their feet, so I thought it was a good choice to use for our Zoom party. But the key was to find out if scarves could enhance connection with others remotely and make it more fun as well! After we had some fun dancing together, I asked the adults and children to describe the difference between dancing without the scarves versus with the scarves.
F (age 7) said that he enjoyed the activity the same whether he used props or not. Interestingly, his mom H said that he moved more freely and independently, and smiled bigger when using the scarf. My friend L noted that she felt self conscious about the movement activity without the scarf. However she felt emboldened by the scarf, even if only as a barrier between her and the screen. A and S (ages 11 & 8), my daughters, both found the activity much more fun with the scarf because it inspired creativity of movement and uses for the scarf.
R (age 10) responded that she felt more togetherness with the groups when scarves were included. Also, My friend H reported feeling more connected to others due to her increased awareness of their movements on the computer screen. She attributed this to curiosity as to what interesting movements they might do with their scarves. Over all, the consensus was that everyone felt more connection to the group when we used scarves, even those 1,000 miles away.
Cumulative Song with Props
The cumulative song, “An Austrian Went a Yodeling” was a deliberate choice. I decided to use it for this discussion because I know that it is a fun and beloved song even without props. The original performance of the song has various silly characters interrupting the yodeler during an avalanche, requiring the singers to remember the additive sounds they make as they progress from verse to verse. For this activity we performed the song once with the original sounds and then repeated it with props and instruments replacing the sounds. What I was curious to see and hear was whether the props enhanced an already exciting experience of singing and playing with friends remotely.
My friend L, a lover of puzzles, mentioned that part of the enjoyment of adding of props to the song was in trying to remember what props to use next. S (age 8) also felt that the props made the song even more fun!
When we talked about connection, S described feeling closer to our friends when we sang the song with props. L thought the props brought the group together because we had the same challenge to pick up the right prop at the correct moment in the song. She also said that “doing the same silly thing at the same time brought us together”. F (age 7) echoed L’s sentiments saying that “It felt like we were in the same room.” when we used the props. A melting away of separation was expressed by R. She felt that the screen and distance seemed to disappear when engaged in this activity with props.
What Are My Thoughts On This Discussion?
This casual chat with a handful of adults and children has my mind churning with thoughts about what this could mean for our online music learners. A particular moment that had me thinking was L’s comment on feeling protected from view by the scarf. I wonder how many students might feel similarly. If props have the potential to decrease student self consciousness, then perhaps targeted use with students that exhibit such concerns could be helpful.
Connection and Fun
H made a comment about feeling connected when moving together with props because of increased interest in the on screen movements of others. This leads me to consider whether students who are reluctant to engage in remote lessons could be similarly motivated. Sometimes students appear tired from being on the computer all day, but they suddenly become very engaged when props are introduced to the lesson. I plan to extend the use of props and see if student engagement is increased.
R’s description of the screen seeming to melt away during an online props activity is encouraging to me as an online music educator. My goal is to bring such an authentic, engaging experience to my students that they forget we are not in person. If props further that goal, then it only further emboldens me to enjoy using my Bear Paw Creek props in the virtual learning environment.
On a lighter note, a possible driver to continue using props can be seen in our experience with “An Austrian Went Yodeling”. The song is already really fun without props, but the participants responded that the props served to enhance the fun!
What Does This All Mean?
Based on this discussion with a small group of adults and children, continuing to use props has the potential to promote fun and togetherness and could be beneficial for online learners. Using props, especially high quality props like the Bear Paw Creek selection of personal student kits may provide students with the additional support they need in such challenging times. The student kits are available at reasonable prices and are tailor-made to meet various student needs and activities.
There was a great deal to learn from this discussion with my friends and our children. They seem to have found greater enjoyment and connection with the group as a result of our props activities, and we loved having a music party together. I think their remarks lend some support to the idea that props can have a positive impact on participants beyond online music learning.