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May 22, 2020

Remote Learning Has Surprise Benefits for CIM Faculty and Students


Davin class
Top row: Tom Ray, Colin Davin; Middle: Kevin Covney, Calvin Beck; Bottom: Alejandro Rodriguez, Jason Vieaux

The Cleveland Institute of Music’s world-class faculty has been and always will be the foundation of the institution, ensuring that everything possible was being done to preserve the venerable conservatory during the coronavirus pandemic – rising to the level of crisis with extraordinary creativity and a willingness to teach in new and innovative ways.

They miraculously turned on a dime to change the way they teach and work and challenged themselves and their students to do even more, coming away with unexpected benefits for both teacher and learner.

At the time the Cleveland Institute of Music’s faculty and students left campus for spring break March 6, they had no idea they wouldn’t return to campus or to the educational experience as they had known it. Remote teaching and learning began one day after CIM’s extended spring break ended on March 17 when the faculty dove right into the new technology.

Here are only a few examples of how they navigated the uncharted waters that rushed in on the wave of COVID-19.

Grammy-winner and co-head of the guitar faculty Jason Vieaux (BM ’95, Holmquist) says remote learning brought increased focus to the students’ time and attention. “Without the typical distractions, some of the students made tremendous progress,” citing one in particular who has progressed by leaps and bounds now that he can spend more time practicing. Furthermore, Vieaux said that he is finding time to compose music for an album.

The guitar department’s other co-head, Colin Davin, said playing with a click track is a great skill for a guitarist to have, and he incorporated it in the virtual environment when the students performed together during online class. 

Scott Dixon, head of the string division and double bass department, said that he may implement many of the ideas he used during spring semester for when faculty and students return to face-to-face teaching. Dixon’s students recorded themselves practicing the music for their lessons, and then teacher and student reviewed the recording together, allowing the student to analyze his or her performance much more closely.

“Developing the skill of self-reflection is critical to becoming an excellent, independent musician,” Dixon said. 

Joint Music Program voice faculty Denise Milner Howell said that students singing into a camera on the phone or computer allowed her to see into the face and mouth of the singers at a closer range than usual. “I was able to make corrections on how to produce the best sound,” she said.

Dean Southern (DMA, ’09, Schiller), head of the voice and opera division, says one of his students told him that he is making more progress than ever before since Southern asked him to make videos of himself practicing. “The student watched the video, and I was able to make substantive corrections on how he practiced,” Southern said. “It was great to hear that online learning helped him greatly during this time, and that it’s also a skill he says he’ll use for the rest of his life.”

Eurhythmics faculty and Senior Associate Dean Brian Sweigart (BM ’05, Brown, Weiner, Yancich) said that his students were very focused, attendance was great, and the progress they made was better than ever.

“They had to make recordings of themselves, and when they did, they kept redoing it until the product was worth sharing, which meant that they were mastering the skill,” Sweigart said. “I plan to incorporate some of these techniques when the quarantine is over. I’m very pleased with how the semester turned out for teachers and students alike.”

As the Institute journeyed into an odyssey of the unknown, it’s safe to say that even in the face of disappointments and hardships, CIM’s faculty and students adapted even more quickly than anyone could have dreamed.