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Teaching Tai Chi Online: Moving from Fear to Competency

by Dr. Suzanne Droleskey, ATCQA Certified Tai Chi Instructor   published on 05/26/2020

This is an excerpt of the original article. ATCQA members and certified instructors/practitioners can read the full-length article on ATCQA website. Sign in your ATCQA account and then click the link for "Study Materials".

In mid-March, 2020, my Tai Chi course taught at Texas A&M University abruptly moved online when the university shut down all face to face classes and told students not to return from Spring Break because of the pandemic.  Just as abruptly, my two spaces to teach community courses to senior citizens and a Parkinson’s Disease support group also shut their doors.  Because my university students were continuing courses online, I was suddenly thrust into the world of providing live Tai Chi instruction online.

Did I stumble?  Yes.  But working with my students and other instructors faced with the same issues, we found ways to make this leap together.  To be frank, I was skeptical about whether and how it would work.  This article outlines some of the issues I grappled with and provides suggestions for others who are considering this option. 

Technology

Fortunately, I have used online web conferencing platforms for about 10 years to attend meetings, so the technology isn’t completely new to me.  My preferred medium is Zoom, because my university has a license for it.  However, if you want to try out online instruction, there are a number of free platforms (also called applications, apps, or systems).  VOIP Review’s website has an article that analyzes the best free platforms you can try:  https://www.voipreview.org/free-web-conferencing

(ATCQA members and certified instructors/practitioners can sign in your ATCQA account to read more in this section.)

Preparing to Teach Online

Once you have the technology issues resolved, there are several things you should consider while doing a “test drive” of your class online. 

  1. Find your space limitations.  Remember that your computer camera (whether part of the screen or a separate camera) has a fixed picture frame that it captures.  In the case of your videoconference, it is more likely that you will have to adjust both the position of the camera and your position on the floor to ensure that you know how far to the right or left as well as how far forward or back you can go and still have your entire body be seen, regardless of the movements you are making.  When you know where those spots are, mark them on the floor with painter’s tape, which can be found at any hardware or home improvement store.  This special tape is easy to peel off and will give you a visual cue so you always know if you are within the sightlines of your students.
  2. Create three dimensions.  Your students are watching a two-dimensional image of you.  Because foot positioning is so essential in Tai Chi, it will be helpful to them if you place some additional tape marks on the floor.  I suggest at least three:  one going across the floor diagonally from front to rear, one bisecting the floor from front to back, and one bisecting the floor from right to left.  This provides some reference points you can use to show students foot placement with marks that allow them to see distance and direction easily in the two-dimensional environment.  You may add more lines as you need/want them. 

(ATCQA members and certified instructors/practitioners can sign in your ATCQA account to read 5 more tips in this section.)

Preparing your Students to Teach Online

If you are new to teaching online, as I was, you will discover that you need to do a few more things to ensure that your students have a good experience.  Among these are the following:

  1. Guide your students through the technology.  Send instructions about how to log in and get into your class and how to use the basic technology once they arrive in the virtual classroom.  You may have some who are very nervous and others that are more technologically savvy than you are.  Invite your students to help each other.  I had several volunteers who served as “coaches” for those who found it difficult to figure out what to do on their own.  They started with a phone call and talked through the process of getting online together. 
  2. Students on Telephones.  For students who don’t have computers, all of the videoconferencing platforms allow people to call in using phone numbers.  While you don’t have to allow your students to use a voice only phone to join your classes, if some of your students choose this option, you will have to consider the clarity of your verbal instructions to ensure that those joining by telephone only are able to follow the lesson.  If you don’t want to use this option, you can send out only a link to the online class instead of both a telephone number and a link.  Be mindful that some students may prefer to turn off their computer sound and instead use their telephones for audio and their computers for video.  This may be particularly true for those with hearing aids that have Bluetooth settings to their telephones.

(ATCQA members and certified instructors/practitioners can sign in your ATCQA account to read the other 3 tips in this section.)

Actual Instruction Online

I found that I learned more than just new technological skills by teaching online.  I made some realizations that enhanced my teaching skills and required slight adjustments to my teaching style when I am online versus face to face.  Here are a few of those:

(ATCQA members and certified instructors/practitioners can sign in your ATCQA account to read the details of all these tips.)

  1. I want to talk more.     
  2. Teaching in a fixed space in two dimensions takes more time and mental energy.
  3. I miss verbal feedback.   
  4. Some of my group class students like the online classes better than face to face classes.
  5. It is easy to run out of time. 
  6. Students still need feedback.    
  7. Students need opportunities to feel less isolated.   

Conclusions

The pandemic has been horrific, but without it, I am fairly certain I would never have moved a Tai Chi class online.  Indeed, I would have been a strong voice in a debate about why it should not be taught online.  But, I humbly admit that I have learned that it can be an important tool in teaching our art to others. 

For example, in Texas, there are people who don’t have access to an in-person tai chi instructor.  Some would have to drive 2 to 8 hours just to reach one.  In addition, many of my adult students are people who travel a great deal or who live in nearby counties.  While the pandemic has kept us all close to home, some of my students are already asking whether we can have the group classes both in person and online so they can tune in if they are out of town or simply unable to make it to a face to face class that day. 

I still prefer teaching face to face, but I realize that it is possible to teach Tai Chi online.  I don’t see online teaching replacing all the teaching that I do, but I am glad that I was catapulted out of my fear and into the 21st century so that I have this unique tool in my toolbox.

 

 


 
 

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