Converting the Evening Division to online learning
When you think about Juilliard converting all its classes online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, you wouldn’t be wrong if you imagined dedicated faculty learning new technologies almost overnight. You’d also be right if you thought of students beaming into classes via broadband and greeting each other and their professors through webcams built into sleek, shiny computers. But if your mental image is a group solely comprising livestreaming tech-savvy millennials, that’s where you’d be mistaken. It was in fact the intrepid students of the Juilliard Evening Division, more than 50 percent of whom are over the age of 60, who paved the way in online learning—the Evening Division converted to an all-online format in early March, a week before the college did, at the end of the younger students’ spring break.
Earlier this winter, with each wave of news about the coronavirus and the interruptions that it would most assuredly bring to our daily lives, I grew very worried about the senior population in the Evening Division, as they were likely to be more at risk. It was important to us to keep them safe—and to do our best to keep our courses running while providing some sense of normalcy, an outlet for joy, and a creative space for our students during this time. We decided that if our students couldn’t come to Juilliard, we would bring Juilliard to them.
Within seven days, we converted 64 courses into online learning. Our Evening Division faculty rose to the occasion and were determined to find ways to reach students online even if it meant modifying how they teach. The Evening Division team worked incredibly hard to train faculty on new technology and provide support to our student body. It was a race against the clock to create an infrastructure so classes could continue—and at the level of excellence associated with the long history of the Evening Division.
Within two days, we converted the first nine courses to online formats. Michael White, who is 89 and has been teaching at Juilliard since 1979, is teaching one of those classes. That Tuesday was his first time ever teaching online after a series of quick, intense training sessions with Evening Division staff members. That night, with 30 minutes until the start of the class, I waited in the Zoom online learning portal with trepidation—would our senior-age students join us online? I had no idea. But then bright audio dings began, and more and more faces started to appear on the screen. Within 15 minutes, the class was nearly full—and all the participants were seniors. Thirty minutes into class, normal discussions were taking place. It was just another Tuesday night Bach and the Fugue class.
Afterward White confessed that when the subject of online teaching had first brought up, he was extremely nervous: “But with the help of the Evening Division staff, I quickly realized that this technology made remote teaching not only possible, but actually enjoyable and effective.”
This was a milestone for him and for Juilliard, and I was reminded that our Evening Division courses are more than great teaching and learning. They are communities built by people of similar passions and interests and they play a central role in the social lives of our students.
Despite a global pandemic, despite what seems like daily bad news, despite the normalization of terms like isolation and social distancing, what I saw in this and the other Evening Division classes was a group of curious, adventurous, and passionate people who would let none of this get in the way of their weekly opportunity to explore and experience the arts together. Certainly, it was a lesson this tech-savvy millennial will never forget!
John-Morgan Bush is Juilliard’s director of lifelong learning
Registrations are now open for Evening Division summer classes! To find out more, go to juilliard.edu/summerseries