Online and blended courses are a new experience for a lot of students here at Berklee. Check out the following interview to gain perspective from a fellow student, Rachel Sumner. She took the blended classes Basic Keyboard Techniques I and II and shares her thoughts on the experience.

rachel's-profile-2Rachel Sumner is a 7th semester Professional Music major. She has worked for the PULSE Music Method as a workstudy for more than 2 years expanding the teacher training program and is currently interning in the Film Scoring department as music contractor for Berklee’s resident orchestra, the Scoring Sessions Program (SSP). Although flute is her principal instrument and composition is her concentrate in the Pro Music program, she is very active in the Boston bluegrass scene with her guitar and voice.

Digital Learning Department (DLD): How would you explain a blended course to someone?

Rachel Sumner (RS): A blended course is made of two parts. One part is physically being in class and the other part is going at your own speed, online and learning on your own. The online portion is all of your homework and all of the materials you don’t get in class. These are the things that you need to take a little more time with and go over. In the Keyboarding class I took, these materials included keyboard technique and learning the proper fingerings for scales. It was really efficient because the teacher didn’t have to teach each individual person. You could watch a video of someone doing the techniques and then practice it on your own.

DLD: What course did you take and when did you take it?

RS: I took ISKB 211 and 212, Basic Keyboard Techniques for non-piano majors. I took them Spring 2012 and Fall 2012, respectively.

DLD: How did you learn differently in this blended course as opposed to one in the classroom?

RS: There wasn’t too much of a difference. It was mostly the time-frame that was different. The teaching was still the same quality that you would get from one that was all in-class time. Each week you had to record yourself and listen to it before sending it to the teacher. It allowed you to make your own mistakes and discover them, which was really excellent. I think that is one of the best things you can do when it comes to learning music.

DLD: What benefits are there to taking a blended course as opposed to one in the classroom?

RS: Timeframe is a big thing. Sometimes things happen in life and you need to move your schedule around. When you’re on your own time doing your coursework in a blended course, you have the span of a whole week to go back and work on the projects. You’re not on the teacher’s time.

The videos are really what make it gold, because you can go back and watch them again and again. For an in-person class, you don’t usually have access to these kinds of videos. It’s not like you are going to bring in a camera and film your teacher.

DLD: Why did you choose this blended course?

RS: I picked it because I liked the fact that it was only one hour of actual class time, which fit nicely with my schedule. I also decided to take it because I asked my MTEC teacher, Ross Ramsay, for his opinion on keyboard classes. He recommended it because he liked that in the blended course, you have to record yourself and to listen to your own work, and that he personally thinks that that helps you learn better. That’s what initially interested me in the course. I took the second one, the next semester, just because I had such a good experience with the first one.

DLD: Can you describe some of the multimedia elements of the course and how they helped you learn better?

RS: There were really great videos of teachers. The videos had really great camera angles of their fingers for the fingerings we had to learn. That was very useful. The media were pdfs and mp3s of the music.

DLD: How did you interact with your teacher and other students in the blended course environment?

RS: Our class in particular didn’t have forums. We had to submit weekly projects to our teacher. He would always give us feedback, which was nice. It was in written form so you could go back and look at it. It wasn’t just a piece of paper that you could lose. The work was submitted via dropbox on ol.berklee.edu (online learning portal). Once the teacher gives it a grade, then you go back to that same page. It was really simple to find his comments and your grade.

DLD: Why did you feel comfortable taking this particular course?

RS: I think it helped that I had taken some keyboard previously, however, it definitely was not necessary. You don’t have to have previous experience to get the full benefit of an online course. I think that’s the beauty of it: you can be really experienced in whatever course you are in and then take a faster pacing with it…prepare the next week’s stuff, the week before. Or you can just really take your time and learn at your own pace. So it works both ways…you don’t need any experience.

DLD: What technical and musical skill did you feel you needed for this course?

RS: I think you need discipline and a general interest in it. If it’s not something you really want to get better at and develop then maybe it’s not really for you. Like any other class, you have to dedicate the time to do it well. You have to be very disciplined with yourself to get the assignments in on time.

DLD: What advice do you have for other students who are preparing for their first online/blended course experience at Berklee?

RS: Don’t procrastinate! Don’t wait until the very last minute. Take it a little at a time. Pace yourself over the week. It doesn’t all have to be done in one sitting. That’s the luxury of the blended classes, it doesn’t all have to be done at once.

The Digital Learning Department also has resources for students taking or interested in taking online and/or blended courses at Berklee on our department page. These resources include helpful info on using Inside Berklee Courses, a quiz to help you determine if online/blended learning is right for you, and downloadable fact sheets.