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Australian Institute of Music Sees Online Teaching as a New Frontier

Graham Strahle
| June 21, 2020

The last few months have proven a particular challenge to tertiary music institutions as they have tried to adapt to online course delivery. Often the demands have been considerable given the widely diversified curriculum areas that they now frequently teach and the attendant technology, equipment and facilities that go along with these.

A model of how successfully it can be done is the Australian Institute of Music (AIM). Not only was it able to swing all its degree course teaching over to online delivery, but it has also moved all its Short Courses online. These run over five weeks in July and are designed to give school-leavers and others an introduction to composition, theory, jazz and performance.

Greg Clarke stepped in as AIM’s new CEO just as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, and he tells how rapidly changes took place across all his institution’s teaching. Adaption to a new online environment happened with great enthusiasm by both student and staff, he says.

“COVID quickly created a new culture of learning for our students, from their bedroom laptop to the feedback they received from lecturers. We’ve seen students buying new microphones to plug into their laptops, wanting to be part of it and willingly making the sacrifices. I also really appreciate the staff body, who have believed in the future of our students and have given them enormous support.”

Clarke explains how some areas of teaching worked well online while others did not, but that on the whole it has been a positive experience – to the point where some online teaching may continue.

“After seeing how it goes, we will have to recalibrate the settings,” he says. “We’re very aware of the issues during COVID-19 and how to serve the industry and be part of the recovery plan. To this end, I suspect we’ll be doing a combination of online and in-person teaching in the future. There is something great to be able to roll out of bed and attend a 9am lecture.

“Having said that, there are things that we have missed during this period. Obviously, we love having people on campus and the physicality the students bring.”

AIM is Australia’s largest privately run tertiary music education provider, and it has strong industry links with the music industry via partnerships it has established with Sony Music, Playwriting Australia, Foxtel, EMI Records and the Sydney Opera House. It has some 1,300 students across two campuses in Sydney and Melbourne enrolled in degree programs from audio, classical music and contemporary music to composition, music production, music theatre and arts management.

This year was to have been a landmark for AIM because its Sydney campus in Surry Hills has just undergone a $6 million redevelopment. Its upcoming Open Day was supposed to showcase this to the public, but of course COVID-19 put an end to that. Nevertheless, the institute is pressing ahead with an online Open Day Online. Happening on 25 July, it will include video tours of the upgraded facilities.

“People will be able to see how spectacular and state-of-the-art they are, both for teaching and for recording,” says Clarke. “We use Dante technology [Digital Audio Network through Ethernet] for integrating all audio in our studios.”

This will not be the first time AIM has run an online Open Day – an earlier one was held this year ahead of the first trimester. And Clarke believes it will be the way of the future.

“What we’ve found is that the online Open Day idea really works,” he says. “It brings higher attendance levels because people find it easier to jump in and see what’s on offer.”

Open Day Online is free, although intending attendees are asked to register here.

In moving all its Short Courses online, AIM expects enrolments will be strong. Classes run for two hours per week and even cover such areas as Afro Cuban music and Indian rhythms boot camp.

“They are a taster, not just for school leavers but all others who want to learn more,” says Clarke. “We want the course to be interesting enough for students to get attention but big enough to gather energy. Each has material to look back to, so one can go over some of the material at one’s leisure.”

See all their Short Courses here.

Clarke says new courses might be added in the future. Because AIM is very industry-focused, it is seeking to expand the number of areas young people can move into.

“This is particularly so at the moment,” he says. “So there might be further courses that support the health care sector in areas such as dementia care and aged care. There might be courses in music retail too. As time goes on, our courses might also be targeted at these kinds of areas. It’s all for the good of society as a whole.”

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