Back

Experiences of the use of technology and digital pedagogy solutions in dance teacher education at Oulu University of Applied Sciences

Anssi Kirkonpelto, Principal Lecturer at Oulu University of Applied Sciences
Blended Learning EdTech Tools Innovation in practice

New technology creates possibilities in learning performing arts, such as dance. In this article we will be focusing on some practical solutions on how technology has affected the training of dance teachers at Oulu University of Applied Sciences.

BACKGROUND

Dance teachers have been trained in Oulu since 1991. At the same time, technology has evolved in big steps.? In this article I’ll be looking for answers to this and the following questions:

  • Did the training of dance teachers take a permanent digital leap because of the pandemic or will we return to traditional way of studying?
  • Does the modern technology and digital pedagogy meet our needs? What can we hope for the future?
  • How should the use of technology be reflected in the curriculum?
  • How does the dance teacher of the future use technology?

Dance teacher training in Oulu was founded in 1991 and back then it was part of the Oulu Conservatory. I was a student of dance teacher education from 1998 to 2002. Dance teacher education became part of Oulu University of Applied Sciences in 1999. I have worked as a team manager for dance teacher training at Oulu University of Applied Sciences since 2007.

My own interest in computers arose in the early 80s, when the first consumer-facing and affordable home laptops came on the market. I was 13 years old when I got my first computers. I had both Spectravideo 328 and Commodore 64. The first I used to learn programming skills, the second I played computer games with. At the time, computers were so simple that you could develop games by yourself. Interest in technology has continued throughout my life. My dance career started in the early '90s with competitive dance. In dance, I was attracted to its versatility and challenge. These and many other things have brought me to this subject.

The development of technology has brought its own contribution to studying dance. One of the most important is the development of video technology and later the possibility of sharing video over the Internet. Streaming services such as YouTube provide a fast channel for the global spread of dance culture. Streaming services are very useful but require critical media literacy.

THE PEDAGOGICAL ASPECT OF DANCE

From a learning point of view, dance is different than any other subject. Body Knowledge is based on individual sensory observations. The construction and interpretation of the kinetic schema is guided by the individual's empirical world, which is constantly changing as a result of the process. The role of the teacher is to guide the learning process. The source of the bodily experience is often led by visual means, but alongside traditional practice it is important to open up the student's thinking process by verbal means to detect bodily phenomena. Verbalisation of experience makes the principles of movement visible. No body, mind or experience is exactly the same, so body knowledge is built on one's own experience.

Cognition has its’ place in dance studies. Studying theory, such as anatomy, strengthens the foundation on which we build our body understanding. The knowledge and learning of dance is also cognitive, but it is built through the experiences of the body.

Contact teaching is the optimal situation for learning dance. No other method can offer anywhere near a similar immersiveness to making observations or experiencing body empathy.  Contact teaching is not always a necessity, but space and a sense of community are needed to create an environment that promotes learning. Home conditions do not usually provide a sufficiently extensive and safe space to practice dance, nor does the social community.

HOW HAVE TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES AFFECTED THE TRAINING OF DANCE TEACHERS?

In recent years, the higher education sector has been under increasing pressure to digitize teaching, and the pressure has also reached the dance teacher's degree programme. My own experience is that reconciling different technologies, digital pedagogy and dance tradition creates both positive and negative cross-pulling. In some contexts, there are opportunities, in others there is great stress. In addition, the use of technology and different learning environments chip into a large part of the teacher's working time, so in digital pedagogy and the use of technology, helpful teaching solutions must be found.

Let me look at the history of teaching in our education below. I think that looking at history gives perspective to future solutions in combining dance and technology.

I have divided the reflection in this section according to different technological categories and I consider their importance and use in educating dance teacher students. The categories are:

I. Using videos to support learning
II. Virtual learning environments and digital services
III. Virtual ballrooms

I. USING VIDEOS TO SUPPORT LEARNING

Videorecording has played an important role throughout the history of dance teacher education to this day. Its use has been natural from the very beginning. In 1991, the cameras were analogous with large cassettes. Video technology developed rapidly. Most of the outputs and dance shows of study‑courses in education were recorded between 1991 and 2007 in various formats (VHS, Beta, Mini-DV, DVD, etc.).

Recordings are a valuable part of the history of our training and useful for research purposes. Studying history brings perspective to the present, as dance style and phenomena have changed over the years.

The video is useful in many ways. It is the best way to document and evaluate your own dance. The video also allows the student to study dance independently up to a point. The video acts as notes and allows you to go back to the learning situation and strengthen what the student has learned. Videos are also helpful learning material if a student is absent due to an illness.

In 2008, a media server was purchased to make it easier to record and share videos with students (at the same time, the workload of managing video archive was also diminished). Students had read and write- access to their own group folders, and in practice the students jointly managed their own video folders. It was also mainly the responsibility of the students to film and record the dance lessons. The student graduating from school was able to copy all the videos filmed during the studies to an external hard drive and it has helped them later in their working life.

The media-server proved to be an excellent solution, as it reduced teachers' video work to a minimum in managing video archive. In addition, teachers had access to videos from all groups, which provided an opportunity to assess students' competence more widely and to familiarize themselves with the work of colleagues.

Between 2007 and 2015, attempts were made to develop our own streaming service for sharing dance videos. The idea was to develop a wiki-type dance video streaming service for dance teachers. The service was also intended to be moderated. The ultimate idea was to enable peer learning by distributing dance pedagogy content to users registered with the service and to build a dance pedagogy video library.

Three different experiments were carried out and they showed how expensive and time-consuming the development of these services is. It was absurd to even try to do it yourself. The most important thing is to focus on producing high-quality content and fortunately there are different services available today to implement the idea.

In 2020, Oulu University of Applied Sciences moved to a new campus. At this point, it would have been necessary to renew the media server, but because of the cost, we switched to a MS SharePoint video library and a Microsoft stream, as well as various streaming services like YouTube. The video culture has also changed over the years. Along with social media shooting videos has become a part of everyday life. Students shoot a lot of videos and share them on their own platforms.

Although video technology has evolved dramatically over the past 30 years, its ultimate purpose and use has not changed. The only difference is that there are videos in many different formats today on many different platforms. Both students and teachers have started using video content on social media platforms as part of their own expertise demonstration, marketing and building their professional brand.

II. VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS AND DIGITAL SERVICES

Virtual learning environments have been used in our university since the beginning of the millennium. The first platforms were not very user-friendly, but their use has increased due to technological advances. The usability of the platforms has improved, but their relationship with the traditions of dance teaching continues to be a concern. The presence of virtual learning environments in our university maintains constant reflection and discussion about our relationship with digital services.

In digi-pedagogy discussions, the benefits of different platforms are emphasized from the perspective of automation, distance learning, independent study free of schedules and the duplication of courses. None of these thoughts fit very well into the pedagogical tradition of dance or bodily learning. The virtual learning environment in the context of dance is only media, which can be substituted equally by any written instruction to the student. Of course, the platform offers the opportunity to structure the contents of the information and the course, but the platform itself is not a prerequisite for them. Although the platforms are useful, the usage of the platforms takes a lot of teacher’s working time, which is limited. As communication tools, the communication opportunity they offer is also very limited in the context of dance and bodily learning.

I have noticed that technology and digital pedagogy must be applied to the use of dance. What works elsewhere may not work in dance. Here is one example of an application that could work:

Instead of a virtual learning environment (VLE), I would consider using the concept of a personal learning environment (PLE). The PLE is more of a pedagogical concept than a platform for studying. The basic idea of PLE largely supports modern competence-based learning. In the use of dance, the concept could be applied in such a way that the student chooses the kind of platforms that he or she would use in his/her own work after graduation. Therefore, during their studies, students would have the opportunity to build the tools, skills and services that they need in working life. A more personal relationship with learning tasks increases motivation to study.

The above improves the student's ability to enter working life. The platforms selected by the student enable cooperation with working life and clients already during their studies, unlike the closed environments of the university. This procedure would also free up teacher working hours, from building platforms to planning, implementing and evaluating studies. On open platforms, it would also be possible to use representatives of working life in the evaluation. Open platforms work well together on social media platforms, which is one of the most important marketing channels for dance teachers.

III. VIRTUAL BALLROOMS

I had been thinking about dance distance learning before the pandemic started, but when it started, nothing was ready. We took a week off from teaching. The goal was for teaching to continue one way or another. At first, the students were not able to take part in any contact teaching. The studies proceeded remotely through conversation, independent learning assignments and independent exercises, videos, personal guidance as well as dance classes suitable for a small space. Distance learning changed the focus of the content of teaching and slowed down teaching considerably. At the end of the spring, the general feedback from the students was that the quality of teaching had suffered and their progress had slowed down considerably. 

Distance learning felt like trying to teach students on the other side of the fence through a fence hole. There were many challenges:

  • The teacher only sees one person at a time.
  • You can only talk to one person at a time and, when you are talking, you can't demonstrate.
  • The body connection and body empathy disappeared.
  • When you guide one person, others get frustrated waiting their turn.
  • It is hard to teach dance moves.
  • Interaction exercises cannot be performed.
  • You do not always know if anyone is following your teaching.
  • Dance teaching by mainly verbal means.
  • The sound is blurry, the connection is severing.
  • It takes time to get all the students online.
  • Technical problems take time away from teaching.
  • Framerate is weak, the image twitches and it is difficult to observe movements.

There were countless challenges, and one could say we had to take a bigger digital leap than we would have wanted in the first place.

As the pandemic continued in the fall of 2020, we were a little more prepared. We got better equipment and luckily, we were able to continue teaching using a hybrid teaching model, where some students were present during dance class (in accordance with safety regulations) while others studied remotely. Despite the preparation, this also proved to be a challenging equation for the teacher. Dance classes are usually so intense that it was hard to pay enough attention to those studying remotely. Teaching in two directions requires a lot of mental resources, and the learning experience was not optimal. Turning on the devices at the beginning of each dance lesson and saving the recording to the cloud at the end of the hour also takes its time. In any case, this is probably better for the teacher than teaching everyone remotely. It is easier to teach when you have someone to teach in the same physical space.

In a hybrid teaching model, it is also important to take into account those studying online. Since teaching dance both groups is challenging, it is worth giving the students online their own independent assignment (e.g. observation task) for the duration of the dance class. In one course, I tried a task where online students co-wrote notes in an shared document that appeared on the TV screen of the ballroom. As a result, the work of the remote group became visible during the class and, if necessary, I was able to comment on the document.

In several courses during the academic year 2020-2021, students gave feedback that their learning is poor. Teaching simultaneously online and face-to-face with normal teaching resources is challenging. The situation is not made easier by the various technical problems that both the teacher and the students have quite often.

Most often we used Teams or Zoom video conference programs. In those tools neither the image quality, refresh rate, or sound sync are very good. In addition, different audio filters do not allow music to be heard properly when the teacher speaks. In Zoom, you can share audio directly from your computer, but it is not in sync with the picture. In addition, the sharing and editing of the recording caused extra work for the teacher.

TECHNOLOGY AND PEDAGOGY

Digi-pedagogy discussion includes the assumption of the subjugation of all pedagogy to the digital world, including dance. What if digitalisation does not support or only partially supports the topic in question? It should be remembered that technology and digital learning environments are still just tools and not our natural habitat. They should be used when they serve learning.

Professional competence in the dance industry is difficult to show in the digital world, as both dance and its teaching are characterized by a strong bodily presence and interaction. It must therefore be possible to assess the performance of dance teacher students in dance and teaching it in real-world situations. If the performance of a dance teacher student is evaluated through different media, the interaction between the student and the media (and not the interaction between the teacher and the student) will be in focus in assessment.

At the moment, we are seeing a development in which we are moving from the equipment provided by the university towards Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). The transition is already underway in some respects but often the students' equipment is not yet at an adequate level. An additional challenge is the higher-than-normal technical level required for distance learning of dance.

Good enough technology is still quite expensive and difficult to use. In addition, the challenge in educating dance teachers is the feasibility of hybrid teaching, which is constantly questioned by dance teachers. There is a lot of information on the personalization of learning, which can also be applied when using a hybrid teaching model with dance teacher students. In hybrid education, teaching time has to be allocated to two different target groups. This can be facilitated by pre-prepared assignments carried out independently or jointly by distance students when following contact teaching. Online learners must be allowed time both from the beginning and the end of the class. At the beginning, it is good to go through the course of the class for both distance and local students. Distance learners are then given an independent assignment, which they present at the end of the class and thus share their skills and observations with those in contact teaching. This ensures everyone's involvement in teaching (and the fact that no one sleeps at the other end of the line).

Technology can serve dance teachers in many ways. I mentioned earlier the idea of a PLE that allows a dance teacher student to develop a wide range of digital tools and services for working life during his studies. Managing these things could be included in training dance teachers:

  • Paid tutorials for elementary education.
  • Free tutorials for marketing.
  • Growing a community, customer acquisition.
  • Marketing your own expertise in social media.
  • Blogging as part of marketing.
  • Website and electronic sales of services.
  • References as part of marketing.
  • Social media management, different platforms for different age groups.
  • Distance learning, for example private lessons.

CASE STUDIES

The purpose of these examples is not to present the technology in detail, as technology develops very quickly and knowledge becomes obsolete. It is more important to present different options as a basis for thinking. Based on these experiments, I found that technological solutions are individual, and none of them meet the need perfectly. It's good for a dance teacher to understand the basic features of the technology used and then you just have to get along with them. From the dance teacher's point of view, most important is to understand how everything works and what options there are but also how to interact with technology and how to act in front of the camera.

I tested various devices available at our university. Examples are based on real teaching situations. Social media streams usually represent parallel teaching and interaction. Different video conferencing software allows interactivity, but in the context of dance it is very narrow.

CASE STUDY 1: Smartphone, Rode microphone, Flat-screen TV and Facebook stream

A secure, affordable and compact package for making streams. You can share your smartphone screen to your TV so you can act as an image monitor and chat moderator yourself. Organizing a Facebook live with your phone's app is easy, you can just use the live publishing feature or set up a live event in advance. The background music is reasonably well heard in the broadcast, but it needs to be adjusted quite high in relation to the comfortable sound level. Rode runs well on the collar of the shirt without any distracting wires. The image and sound are synchronous.

With the same equipment, you can have a two-way online dance lesson with either Zoom or Teams, but you might need a conference speaker to chat. The image quality is clearly lower compared to the use of remote meeting systems on a computer.

Picture 1. Streaming with Smartphone, Flat Screen TV and Rode -microphone. Photo Säde Merjanaho.

CASE STUDY 2: Video Conference System

A remote meeting system works well in dance teaching. The systems are designed to be reliable and easy to use, usually connecting one USB cable is enough. Most meeting systems have a reasonably good wide-angle camera or tracking system. The participant's questions are well heard from the system speaker, but the microphone works from a maximum of 5 meters away and only if the teacher is facing the microphone, and that's why, even in this case, I recommend using Rode or something similar for the teacher's voice. If you want to make the music heard well, you should use a mixer and lead the sound directly from the sound source.

In the test, the remote meeting system worked well with all the software used in both one-way live streams (Facebook, YouTube) and interactive remote dance classes (Zoom and Teams).

Picture 2. Streaming with Video Conference System, Flat Screen TV, Rode and Laptop Computer. Photo Säde Merjanaho.

CASE STUDY 3: Robot camera testing

A robot camera comes in handy because it doesn't need much space, and the image quality is good. The robot camera doesn't have to be an expensive 4K camera, HD quality is enough for a wide variety of live streams and distance learning. Depending on the camera and cable, there may be a small but disturbing interference in the sync of the image and sound. That can be corrected though if you use a separate broadcasting software (e.g. OBS – Open Broadcaster Software) or by attaching the microphone and audio device directly to the camera.

In live streams, I also used free OBS Studio (Open Broadcaster Software), which made it relatively easy to sync audio and image. The software also made it possible to smoothly exchange and add scenes and content that I had prepared in advance.

It's a good idea to check the synchrony of audio and image by saving the test broadcast. It's also a good idea to create your own test event or test group for a test broadcast, for example, on Facebook. Clapping into the rhythm in front of the camera is the easiest way to ensure that the image and audio sync.

It is possible to sync video and audio in Zoom. In this case, Zoom and OBS should be connected together via a virtual connection, instructions for this can be found on YouTube. Unfortunately, I didn't know succeed to turn that feature on.

Picture 3. Streaming with OBS Studio, BirdDog Robot Camera, Flat Screen TV, Rode and Laptop Computer. Photo Säde Merjanaho.

CASE STUDY 4: Take advantage of a video matrix

A video matrix is a device that can be used to change the image of a camera that goes on a broadcast if you have more than one camera. I was able to connect 4 cameras to the video matrix I used. The device also allowed the image of 4 robotic cameras to be combined into a single image, two adjacent images, and also had a PiP (Picture in Picture) function.

I wanted to test the video matrix because in distance learning, three-dimensional dancing is performed via a two-dimensional screen. The correct placement of the video matrix and cameras allowed you to compile a video collage where movement was visible from different angles. The video matrix and 4 cameras do not replace the bodily experience that comes with contact teaching, but it created completely new angles. In particular, the camera attached to the ceiling offered a new perspective on detecting various body rotations, changing the position of pair dances and formations and place changes of group dances.

Cameras placed behind, side and up provided an opportunity for anatomical and kinesiological examination of movement on all three levels. The fourth camera was aimed towards the feet in one of the tests, so it provided a close-up of the observation of foot technique essentially related to the pair dance.

Using the system is easy once installed in the ballroom. The video matrix can be connected to your computer with one USB. Basically the system works as easily as different videoconference systems. It would be good if the viewer could change the camera view themselves allowing the teacher to focus better on teaching those face-to-face in the ballroom.

Picture 4. Video Matrix and OBS-studio. Photo Anssi Kirkonpelto.
Picture 5. A Closer look to Broadcast. Photo Anssi Kirkonpelto.

CASE STUDY 5: Wide-angle camera

I tried a 120-degree wide-angle camera, but I think the image was too wide for educational use. I would estimate that the degree of the lens could be about 90-60 degrees depending on the need and space (wider in a small space). The angle of the lens is also influenced by the quality of the activity. If one person is filmed, a normal camera is enough, but if you are shooting a group and its formations, a more wide-angle camera is required. As a general rule, however, the fact that not too wide an angle, a more compact picture, is clearer.

Picture 6. This wideangle camera picture is too wide (120 degrees). Photo Säde Merjanaho.

CASE STUDY 6: Streaming with Facebook and YouTube

The advantage of streams for video conferencing software is that the image quality is significantly better. The challenge of streams when using e.g. Facebook and YouTube is that interaction only works via chat. In addition, there may be a delay of 10-30 seconds when streams are broadcast, so situations can quickly pass. I used OBS to make a good quality recording of the broadcast as well. Facebook live works well on mobile phone and computer, but YouTube stream only works on computer. There are plenty of different social media platforms available to make streams.

Picture 7. Streaming in social media. Photo Anssi Kirkonpelto.

CASE STUDY 7: Zoom vs Teams

There is no separate video software for distance learning of dance, so most dance teachers use Zoom or Teams. Both have their own challenges, but they are suitable for dance teaching in the absence of a better one. In addition, there are feature differences between the free and license versions. The usability of Zoom is a little better than Teams, but the latter has better image quality. The problem with video conferencing software is audio processing, which is optimized for meeting use, i.e. it tries to eliminate background noise and optimize voice. Simultaneous sound of speech and music is not very good in either, even if you remove a filter from the settings. Based on the tests, it is the sound and music that are an important prerequisite for distance learning of dance. In addition, syncing audio and image varies, but Teams remained synchronous in some cases. Zoom can be synced via OBS as mentioned earlier (but it is complicated).

CASE STUDY 8: TV-dance-studio

In practice, the requirements of dance for image, sound and two-way broadcast mean that the ballroom should be equipped in a professional way. There could also be a need for such a studio on the market, as demand for online and on-demand services has increased considerably as a result of the pandemic. Dance and dance teaching will change shape if the pandemic continues.

The cost of professional productions is high. Costs are incurred for equipment, space costs, production personnel and post-production. Based on my own tests, it is possible to use the equipment without production personnel and the post production can be left to a minimum also in commercial purposes. It would be possible to build the studio as automatic as possible, power from one switch and shooting/broadcasting on top of another. The dance teacher could also practice making broadcasts on his or her own if it was possible to use the studio and equipment himself.

Picture 8. Quality broadcast. Photo Anssi Kirkonpelto.

Trial hardware:

  • PC
  • Soundmixer
  • Microphone
  • 4 cameras
  • Video switch
  • 4 LED light toss
  • 3 Flatscreen TV´s (chat, broadcast, realtime)
  • Prompter app, Pad, Music stand
  • Speaker monitor
  • Wirecast broadcasting software

It’s hard to speculate on the total cost of the equipment. This hardware was not built to work automatically, but it was relatively easy to deploy after guidance (thanks to technical support, Jori Löytynoja and Pasi Tyybäkinoja). The quality was excellent and the equipment worked well in streaming and distance learning.

TECHNICAL SUMMARY

The price of equipment increases exponentially in relation to quality. A good quality HD image is enough at the moment, as most software doesn't make it any better. The better the camera the better the HD, i.e. there are differences between cameras. Staying in HD also keeps data usage reasonable and the video connection doesn't suffer from sleet. The sound quality of the music and voice is a very important factor. You need a sound mixer, sound monitor and good microphones (personal and surround sound). If you are looking for a functional, easy and affordable solution, you should choose a good video conferencing system with a bit of a wide angle, but you can get better quality by building the whole system from the components.

The interior and lighting of the ballroom are important factors. It is important that the teacher can be seen and distinguished well from the background. Black is a favorite color of many teachers' clothes, but it can't be used (hard to see body rotations). When setting cameras, attention must be paid to the direction of natural light and background and possibly use more efficient lighting with external light sources. The size of the space, the type of dance, and the number of video cameras determine the wide angle of the camera.

OBS is a handy tool for professionally finishing the broadcast and recording. If you want to be clear in your speech, you can find free online prompters. With a flat-screen TV you can monitor yourself and see what's going on in the broadcast (you don't necessarily need an assistant). If you want to make an automatically updating schedule, PowerPoint is a great tool for it. In addition, I recommend making broadcast with a pair, as interaction saves many situations and makes the performance more natural.

To ensure a good connection, you should use a cable-net and high-quality video cables. Music copyright issues are challenging, I used rhythm backgrounds myself.

CONCLUSIONS

Here's a brief compilation of the ideas that I've by working with dance and technology. I am not trying to find a solution to a problem that I think is so great that it is imperative that we continue to investigate the topic. Here are a few comments from the perspective of both the training of dance teachers and the curriculum.

From the point of view of training dance teachers:

  • Video remains an important part of education. Video is important from a self-assessment and documentation perspective. A video is a note-taking tool.
  • A video cloud service is useful for recording and sharing. A streaming service is also useful, but archiving videos and  copying them later is a challenge.
  • Content quality matters! Content development is essential, so do not use working hours for just technology!
  • BYOD - Bring Your Own Device. Not everyone owns sufficient equipment or has the expertise to use it yet, technological education needed. A good quality camera is important!
  • The use of VLE consumes teacher's working hours. The PLE concept allows students to take more responsibility of their studies when it comes to digitalisation and help them in working life after graduation.

What should the training include? What does a dance teacher need in working life?

  • Technology and digitalisation are part of today's dance teacher's field. It is good for a dance teacher to know marketing on social media, branding, product and service sales, blogging, video production and related content can be produced already during their studies.
  • Various technologies and digital services, as well as platforms, immaterial property rights, hardware, digital payment transactions.
  • Methods of one-way and two-way teaching in distance learning.

My own observation about all this is that technology offers opportunities for training dance teachers, as well as tools and job opportunities for dance teachers in working life. However, technology and digitalisation in education are still a very expensive, ambiguous and time-consuming jungle, which slows down their implementation. The digital leap that came with the epidemic may have been necessary, but too much at once. Research is needed for digital pedagogy in special fields. Recording and building a living culture into virtual world is probably an eternity project that is not worth starting with. As a result of cultural changes, information ages quickly. Nevertheless, I do believe that technology and digitalisation have their place in the dance industry.

Special thanks for the technical support and ideas for Mr. Jori Löytynoja and Mr. Pasi Tyybäkinoja.