Those of you who know my teaching style are aware I’m very hands on. That combined with being only average when it comes to tech savviness has made this abrupt shift to teaching exclusively online a big and fast adjustment.
My last few days have been spent getting up and running with teaching via Zoom, homeschooling my 4th grader, and fielding texts, emails, and facebook messages from colleagues and friends who’ve seen that my online classes have launched and need help getting set up to do their own. Last night I was up well past my bedtime with three simultaneous text conversations, talking people through the process.
I’m not a tech expert, but have managed to get myself teaching online with only one day’s heads up that our studio was closed. So I thought I’d share my experience so far.
What You Need:
-An online meeting platform
-A scheduling system
-A system for taking payment
I already had Acuity set up for scheduling my teacher training courses and I had Square set up to accept payment. These platforms are compatible, so that’s worked really well for me. I’ll go into more detail on these in a moment.
So all I had to set up was Zoom for my meetings. I chose Zoom because I’d had someone set up a meeting with me on the platform quite awhile ago and remembered it had worked pretty well. I was also aware that Zoom has a reputation for being the most stable of the online meeting platforms, which better connections, fewer glitches, etc.
To set up Zoom I just went to the website and set up an account, which took just a couple minutes. I chose the Pro account which is $14.95 a month. The advantage of the Pro account is that it has unlimited meeting times, where as the free service has a 40 minute limit. Plus Colleagues have been talking online about having more control over the client’s ability to record sessions with the pro. There’s a rumor going around that Zoom has lifted the 40 minute limit curing the COVID-19 crisis, but I’ve heard from friends who have been setting up their accounts that as far as they can see on the Zoom site that doesn’t seem to be the case, or at least it's not clear how that works.
So with the Zoom account you can either pre-schedule a meeting at your planned class time, or start a meeting right before class and invite participants to join by sending them an email. What I do is I schedule the meeting time ahead of the class time. Then, about an hour before class starts, I send a group email containing the link and simple directions to the participants.
All the participants need to do is click on the link and it takes them to the class/meeting.
Used with Acuity this works great, because in Acuity I can go into the registration list for a particular class and there’s a button for “email attendees”. I copy and paste the Zoom link into that email before the class. Then they just click the link to get in at class time.
In setting up Zoom there are a few glitches I worked out after my initial free trial class that I offered to test out the system.
1. Check your time zone setting in your profile. Mine defaulted to Pacific Time and I’m in Eastern Time, so when I set up my first meeting time it was off by three hours. I then had to reset it and email everyone with clarification.
2. Make sure you DO NOT check “enable waiting room” when you schedule your meeting. I inadvertently did this. This means you have to manually admit each participant. So when students tried to join my class late I didn’t see their request to be admitted pop up, and wouldn’t have wanted to stop the flow of my class to have to walk over to the laptop and click them in. Also, a student who started the class lost her wifi connection for a moment and then couldn’t get back in.
I do enable “enable join before host”, so clients can get in before class and mess around with their settings or whatever they want to do to feel ready. Also, be sure to click the boxes to enable video and sound for both the participant and the host, so you can see and hear your students.
3. Use what you have. I just do the class with my laptop, using the built in microphone and camera. That works great. If you’re unsure if yours will be high enough quality then do what I did last night with a friend in Florida. I had her set up her laptop where she would put it for her class then start a meeting with me. That way she could test to see if I could hear her, see her, and how it all looked to me on my screen.
4. I have my students start out with their microphones on, so we can chat together for a moment before class. Then, when it’s time to start moving, I have them mute their mics. This keeps extra noise down, but also, if the mics are on and one student is breathing louder, or there’s a sound at their end, they’ll pop up on screen as the “speaker” and your students won’t be able to see you well for a moment. Midway through class you could have them unmute for a moment if they have a question.
5. I leave my screen in “gallery mode” so I can see my students in little boxes on the screen. This way I can give little specific corrections, or see if a student might be struggling or having an issue. On my display that’s in the top right hand corner of the screen, but that may be different on the app for phone or iPad.
6. It’s good to be there with the meeting started about 10 minutes before the class starts so you can help people figure out if their sound and video is working. I have my phone handy to text with clients who are having sound issues. Usually it’s just me having to help them locate their microphone icon on their screen
Acuity takes a little bit of time to get set up and familiarize yourself with its features. The most important part to get started with is setting up your appointment types.
1. On your side bar on the left of the screen you’ll have your “appointment types” link.
Here you can set up group classes (you’ll click a box to indicate it’s a group class) and/or private session. I’ve added “Online GYROKINESIS® Class”, “Online Advanced GYROKINESIS® Class”, and “Online Pilates Mat Class”, to get started this week.
2. For private sessions you’ll need to go to “Availability”, where you’ll see boxes for days of the week where you can plug in your hours. If you have group class scheduled do not make that time “available” as it may then allow a private client to book overlapping your group class.
3. Once you have your classes set up you can go to “Appointment Calendar”, click on a specific class and you’ll see the list of attendees. Here’s where you’ll see the button to send them all the Zoom meeting link you’ll cut and paste from Zoom to access your class.
4. After emailing out the “scheduling link” (also find this on the side bar) I realized that my classes weren’t displaying so that clients could see them. By going to “customize appearance” I was able to change the default calendar display clients see from monthly (which doesn’t show individual classes) to daily, which makes it easy for them to see your offerings.
5. In “Availability” you can set a timeframe for class registration to close before a particular class. It defaults to 12 hours, which was locking out some participants too early. I changed that to one hour. This way, an hour before my class I know I can send out the Zoom link and that everyone who’s signed up online will get it. I haven’t found a way to differentiate between group classes and private clients on this, so that means a private client could also book in the hour before a session, so be aware of that if that’s going to catch you off guard and unprepared.
6. Set up your “Terms and Conditions”. In this you should have your liability waiver and your cancellation policy. They have to tick the box to register for your class, so you know everyone who’s signed up has a waiver. Just remember, if you sign someone up on your end then they have not done their waiver and you may want to email that individually and have them answer with “I AGREE”, then save that correspondence (maybe in a special file).
There’s quite a bit more to play with and figure out on Acuity, which will be pretty specific to your situation, but those I think are the top tips to at least get you started.
Acuity links seamlessly with Square to accept payments. Square takes a few days to set up and verify your account with little bank deposits of a few cents. Another friend said she found it also links with PayPal, so you might choose that instead to get you up and running with taking payments faster.
Square does take a little lead time to get going, but I really do like it so far. I have been taking teacher training payments this way for awhile, so I was really glad to have it in place already for having to move my teaching online. Here are some ways I’ve used Square so far with my online teaching.
1. Since it integrates with Acuity it takes payment when the client signs up for the class, which is very easy. The money goes into your account usually that day or the next. It’s really quick.
2. I was able to send an invoice for a client who missed the registration cutoff and who I had to sign in manually without payment. This was really easy on both ends and made for a smooth, professional exchange
There’s a lot more Square can do, but to get you teaching online in a pinch, that’s probably enough to get you started.
As for actual teaching tips there are a few adjustments I’ve made to my teaching style to adapt to an online format.
1. I’m speaking a lot louder. It’s not such a problem when I’m facing directly to the camera, but I move a lot and demonstrate a lot, so if my head isn’t facing the camera I really have to project my voice. It’s not been a problem for people to hear me, but I’m definitely aware of making sure I’m speaking (and breathing) so I’m heard.
2. Keeping in mind that I’m very small on the screen I’ve started somewhat exaggerating my gestures for directional cues, or for pointing to areas of connection or engagement.
3. Limited space, both in my little office that’s converted into my online studio space, and in the homes of my clients, means I have to keep a certain amount of containment to the class I present. This isn’t too limiting, I just can’t really have my students travel trough space very much at all.
4. Make yourself seen.I think about how what I’m wearing will show on the camera to be sure my clients can see my movements well. You can start up a Zoom meeting with just yourself, just don’t invite anyone, and see how you fit in the frame, how well you stand out against your background, etc. I find very loose clothing doesn’t read too well on camera.
Lastly, the biggy, is pricing. It’s a difficult decision what to charge. Clients aren’t brining in much money theses days, but as trainers we also need to maintain some income. As a guest teacher in a physical studio I would often charge $35-$45 per person for a Gyrokinesis® class. My online classes I’ve set at $10. That said, I have a lot of angry colleagues who see other colleagues teaching classes for free online, which it could be said devalues the work of all of us. Personally I think a free trial class to work out the glitches and get feedback is great, but beyond that charging a fee that you feel comfortable with is the right thing to do, whatever that price point is for you. But we should charge something, because it maintains the value of our industry and of our work.
Best of luck to all of you out there. I hope you’re staying healthy and calm. With the right attitude we can turn this from total disaster to a great learning experience that could open up new avenues of revenue and creatively for the future