Maggie Anderson

Maggie Anderson is set to get a lesson from Jacqueline Ultan in the Grand Rapids High School telepresence room. Ultan was in the Twin Cities at the time. MacPhail Center for Music President Paul Babcock (standing) answered questions about how the technology worked for both instructors and students.

This story by Nathan Bergstedt shows that the sky really is the limit when it comes to student opportunities made possible by telepresence techology!

By Nathan Bergstedt Herald-Review | Posted: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 8:29 am

Schools throughout Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC) have been looking for creative new ways to take advantage of the technology of the day in order to provide a more well-rounded education to rural students. A long-standing draw back for students who particularly excel in a given discipline has been the lack of ability to provide the next level of instruction beyond the teachers who live in the greater Itasca area. One solution to this problem has been the telepresence classrooms that have been installed in each of the IASC districts, which allow students to not only take classes from neighboring IASC schools via video feed, but even give access to classes around the world.

The most recent opportunity for area students has been a partnership between the MacPhail Center for Music with both IASC and the Itasca Orchestra and Strings Program (IOSP). The 106-year-old Twin Cities-based music school has been expanding its lesson base over the past few years, taking advantage of the greater availability of broadband internet access to take on students outside the metro area. Since April of this year, thanks to a grant from the Blandin Foundation, MacPhail has been working with students in Itasca County.

MacPhail CEO Kyle Carpenter and President Paul Babcock visited Grand Rapids on Monday, Oct. 7, for a telepresence lesson demonstration and reception to celebrate the educational collaboration. Cello student Maggie Anderson sat center stage in the Grand Rapids High School telepresence room, surrounded by local educators and interested community members, while she received a brief lesson from MacPhail instructor Jacqueline Ultan.

Working on the first few measures of the Prelude to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G major, Ultan first simply listened and observed how Anderson played the piece. By use of the high quality audio and video, Ultan was able to give advice to Anderson on how to get the most out of both her instrument, as well as the music in question. Those in the audience were able to hear an obvious progression in how well Anderson played the Prelude in only a few minutes.

During the question and answer period of the demonstration, it was discussed how there are certain challenges to distance music learning like this, but that there can also be benefits. Babcock noted that when the teachers are giving instruction remotely, they need to think more carefully about how they describe what they want done since they are unable to physically move their students’ hands into proper placement.

“We’re finding that by not being there in person to actually shape the fingering, the students are owning the solution more. And so once it’s taught, it stays longer,” said Babcock.

Many instructors at MacPhail have re-evaluated how they teach in the classroom based off of their telepresence lessons.

A large drawback for both students and instructors with the telepresence room lessons is that there is in fact a slight time delay in the video and audio feed, meaning that they are unable to play a piece of music together. Ultan said she looks forward to meeting Anderson in person so that they may have that opportunity.

Comparing the new technology to how people felt about the television in the 1940s, Carpenter said that he looks forward to seeing what expanded use of telepresence and teleconference technology becomes in the near future.

“It’s expensive today, but like anything, costs keep coming down while quality is improving,” said Carpenter.