Wednesday, April 01, 2020

The Best Free Options for Online Teaching & Teletherapy in One-On-One Settings

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The best free video chat platforms for one-on-one online teaching and teletherapy, plus a look at the pros and cons.

I may not be a classroom teacher or a therapist, but I am a piano teacher and, like you, I've had to make the switch to online lessons and remote learning.

The thought of switching was completely overwhelming because it was completely new to me, but I was up for the challenge.

As soon as school closures were announced here, I immediately made the switch to online lessons. Yes, the very next day, I dove in, head first into the world of online piano lessons.

Although I have only been doing online piano lessons for a few weeks, I have already tried out a variety of platforms and video chat options. I recruited the help of family members to help me test things out.

Below, I'll walk you through some of the video conferencing platforms that you can use for remote one-on-one teaching and teletherapy and discuss some of their pros and cons. Then I'll tell you what is my favorite and why.

Getting started with teletherapy & one-on-one online teaching: what platforms to consider and the pros and cons of each

Important Notes

It is important to remember that while you are learning, so are your students or clients, as well as their parents. So don't expect things to work perfectly right away. There will be kinks, I can guarantee that. But I promise that the families you are supporting and helping will give you lots of grace as you make the adjustment to remote learning.

What platform you ultimately chose might be dependent on who you are serving, what their needs are, what technology they have access to, and what your needs are. You might find that you need to use different platforms for different clients or students. There's no one size fits all solution here. Also, keep in mind the quality of your internet connection and that of your students/clients will also impact performance, regardless of which platform you end up selecting.

You can also just keep it simple and use any video chat software or app until you get comfortable with this new method of teaching.

Platforms to Consider for Teaching Online & for Teletherapy in One-On-One Settings

Please note that I won't be discussing options for school teachers like Google Classroom, as I'm not familiar with them. Instead, I am focusing on one-to-one services similar to what I am offering, which is piano lessons.

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are tons of options out there that I won't discuss, as I haven't used them myself. For example, Skype is a popular option. And my husband goes on and on about Microsoft Teams and how much he loves it.

1. FaceTime

FaceTime is an easy, obvious choice if you are an iOS user since you're likely already familiar with the app, but it's pretty basic. I personally found it limiting for my needs. But it's free and widely available.

Pros: free, easy to use, no need to install any new apps or software as it's already installed on iOS devices, great video and audio quality

Cons: pretty basic, not everyone has an iOS device

2. Facebook Messenger

Messenger is one of my favorite platforms for video chatting with family, especially with my kids and to visit with my nieces and nephews. Plus, it's free, widely available, and easy to use.

Pros: free, most people already have a Facebook account and messenger installed, easy to use, great video and audio quality, ability to add fun filters to keep students/kids engaged

Cons: it's Facebook 😜, not everyone has a Facebook account, pretty basic

3. Zoom

Zoom is a free powerful video conferencing tool. It's available on phones, tablets, iOS, computers, or even web based. It has tons of great features like the capability to screenshare, draw on a whiteboard, use waiting rooms, adding a second camera, and more. It allows up to 100 people in a meeting at a time on the free plan.

Pros: free, screensharing capabilities, built in whiteboard feature, waiting room feature makes it easy to handle back to back clients or students, ability to add a second camera, no sign up required as long as they have the meeting join ID or link, great audio and video quality

Cons: overwhelming at first due to all the extra features and capabilities, not everyone has Zoom installed, requires some setup for features like waiting rooms, free plan only allows for 40 minute meetings with 3 or more participants (this limit has been temporarily lifted during this social distancing period), a bit of a learning curve for new users

My Top Choice for One-On-One Teaching

As of right now, my favorite is Zoom, hands down, for the following reasons:

  • The personalized meeting ID allows me to share one standard link with all of my students and then can join when it is their scheduled time
  • The waiting room is a lifesaver for my back-to-back lesson slots! I can see when my next student is ready to go and approve them once I'm finished with the previous student.
  • The whiteboard tool is handy for reviewing theoretical concepts like music notes, the sayings of the lines and spaces for the grand staff, etc.
  • The screensharing aspect is incredibly helpful! I can screenshare any PDF, image, or even an app on my iPad. Then both me and my student have the option to draw and highlight things shown on the screen. This is a great way for me to point out spots in their songs to fix or highlight a new term. It's also a great way to continue playing the music theory games we would normally do in our face-to-face lessons.
  • Being able to add an overhead camera has been a game changer! Showing how to play something on the piano can be tricky from certain angles, but adding a second overhead camera has made a huge difference. You can use an external webcam and easily flip back and forth, but I don't have one yet. Instead, I hook up my iPad which is positioned above the piano keys and just screenshare the camera app.
  • It's FREE!

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Getting started with teletherapy & one-on-one online teaching: what platforms to consider and the pros and cons of each