I have been teaching a lot over Zoom since the Coronavirus epidemic screwed my usual teaching schedule. The primary benefit is that people and groups who couldn’t afford to fly me out to teach them can zoom me in instead. But it comes at a cost: it is astonishingly tiring to teach through a screen. I’ve been thinking about why that would be, and have come up with the following thoughts:
1. There is much less personal interaction. The sound quality and lag times mean that you can’t talk naturally with the group. Everyone takes a turn to speak, and it is really hard to generate useful discussion. My classes are usually very interactive, but teaching online is much more like giving a presentation. It’s all on me, all the time.
2. It is very hard to read the students. So much of my job is feeling the room, adjusting what I’m teaching on the fly to take the students’ affect into account. If they are flagging a bit, I’ll ginger them up or slow things down; if they are over-challenged, I’ll ease off; if they are under-challenged I’ll up the complexity. 90% of the information I get from a class isn’t verbal. It’s the sound of their feet, or their blades, or their breathing. The pattern of movement across a group. Very very often, they say they want one thing, their bodies say something else, and the body is always right. But not online- most of that information is just not available so I’m left with the unreliable verbal communications only, and what I can see on the screen, usually a partial image on a dodgy webcam.
3. 90% of swordsmanship is learned from the person you’re crossing blades with. That can’t be done over the internet, so we’re left with the 10% of material that can be taught online. This is less true when the students have a training partner in the room with them; I can usually tell the partner what to do to create the environment the student I’m working with needs. But it’s very clunky compared to being there.
4. The computer itself is built as a distraction engine. I’m conditioned to use it to check email, check social media, play videos. It takes a small but consistent mental effort to not do that. This is a form of ego-depletion, a drip drip drain of executive function, making the whole process more tiring. My students deserve and get my undivided attention, but giving them that on a computer is much harder than in real life. To get real work done I usually turn everything internet-related off. But unplugging the internet would naturally bugger the zoom call. I’m thinking of having my zoom account on a separate profile on the computer, one with nothing else in it.
But, and it’s a huge but, it is getting easier, and I am getting better at it. At the end of every zoom class I teach, I ask for feedback on what could be done better. The students are having to think harder for longer to find things to critique, which is excellent.
You can find the current online class schedule here: https://bookwhen.com/swordschool
If you have a topic you’d like me to cover, and/or a specific time you’d like me to do it at, feel free to ask!
I've been thinking a lot about teaching over the last dozen years or so, and have put together an online course to help historical martial arts instructors teach better. You can find it here: https://swordschool.teachable.com/p/how-to-teach-historical-martial-arts-or-anything-else