COVID-19: Our start to September 2020

Aisling Kiely

adrian greensides in our s3 studio showcasing our new digital technologies

On Monday 20 September, we welcomed our new and existing students back to Spirit Studios. 

Back in March, the UK Government made the decision to slow the unnecessary socialising of people, and recognising the short and long-term implications that this would have on the education sector, it was instantly apparent to me that the requirement of a new approach to blended learning was imminent.  

And so since March, all staff have worked tirelessly to implement some forward-thinking and innovative changes to ensure a blended approach to learning could be implemented in September 2020, which would allow for a mix of on-line and in-person teaching, that would leave no student behind.  

Despite the serious implications on people and society brought about by COVID-19, as an institution, we have used this moment to re-evaluate and re-imagine the way we work, teach and learn, and in turn have made intuitive and positive changes to reflect that. 

Ready for September 2020, we realised a series of new technologies, digital learning resources and cloud-based systems that have enabled us to redefine teaching resources and revolutionise the way we offer music education.  

In light of this, we firstly chose to accelerate plans to migrate all students and staff onto G-Suite for Education (originally something planned for early 2021) that would set the scene for a new vision in the months ahead.  


G-Suite for Education

Migrating to G-Suite for Education has enabled us to change the way we communicate with each other for the better, and as an institution, it has encouraged us to become far more collaborative, something that I believe is a vital future skill in music production.   

Google Classroom, Jamboard and Gmail, amongst a whole host of other apps, have allowed us to reimagine the student experience and facilitate a mix of in person and online learning. From the live, collaborative creation of learning resources by our teaching staff, to the interactive and remote experience of in class materials on Jamboard, the work we can now do together is nothing short of incredible. 

Our move away from previously hosting and sharing learning resources on comparatively archaic learning platforms, has opened up the door to truly collaborative working practices for staff, and most importantly for our students. 

Blackmagic ATEM Streaming System 

Putting our excellent choice of G-Suite for Education to one side, we also needed something to broadcast our teaching. Operated by Blackmagic ATEM Mini Pro camera switchers, the 13 brand new streaming systems now installed throughout the building will stream all our vital lessons and studio sessions, via Zoom.  

Using multiple GoPro camera angles from inside each of our studios, live rooms and Mac Suites, our face-to-face teaching and practical studio elements are accessible for every single student, in real time. One added dimension to our Blackmagic ATEM and GoPro also means our students can choose to film themselves performing and writing and stream directly to YouTube, Facebook and Twitch, in their own personal time.  

Access our machines and software from your home computer

Whilst our determination always was, and remains in place to offer face-to-face teaching, our approach was sensible enough to assume that not every student could take part at all times, no matter how the future occurs, so in addition to all of our changes, we also reinforced our technology with remote desktop technology.

We chose a brand of remote desktop technology that allows students and staff to ‘spin up’ an unused iMac and utilise the processing power and the software installed on it, from home. And so students and staff now have the means to study and work from home on personal computers with little computing power of their own, and any music generating software. 

With this innovative technology, students are now able to join in lessons from home using our processing power and software to begin writing, learning and saving music. 

digital technologies in action

Our new project studio

Few may be aware that a choice was made to move away from offering games and film in 2015/16, which in turn led to our rebrand in 2018. This left us with a film studio to use and a computer suite to convert into a dedicated electronic music space. With the space created for electronic music in place, the choice to create a studio that students can build and wire up themselves is now under way. 

As a result, we now not only have an enviable amount of studios and edit suites across the education sector, which our students can access up to 15 personal hours per week in, but now a unique studio that students can build and interact with themselves. 

Ready for students in 2021 Semester Two, its early use will be for our students on the brand new Entrepreneurial Audio Production Degree, which our first cohort of students have just begun. With an analogue console, (Soundcraft Ghost) outboard equipment and a MOTU 24 I/O Audio Interface, eventually all students will obtain the knowledge to build a small studio and improve their troubleshooting skills in the process.   

Face to face teaching

Having been online for our first two weeks to ease students onto our new technology, our studios and classrooms are open for face-to-face teaching to further ensure that we can work, teach, learn and collaborate safely, with the comfort of knowledge that any future upending is dealt with, with the most minimum of disruption and maximum of efficiency. 

With our classrooms and studios open, and equipped with an envious amount of new equipment, ranging from microphones to midi controllers, synths and drum machines to DJ equipment, an added piece of cloud-based technology to harnessing all of our equipment has been implemented to allow for reservations of items by students and staff, using their own devices. Not only does this create a smooth way of students and staff managing studio sessions, but it also forms another significant defence in our bid to work with COVID-19. 

The future of collaboration and creativity 

There is little doubt that the last several months has brought about a global, digital shift. Spirit Studios have led the way for generations in Audio Engineering, and it’s reassuring to know that in our 40th year as a music institution, we have led the way again and gone where I know others have not. Digital transformations have occurred within learning, and transformations have occurred in creativity and the technologies we have in place are not only working very well for teaching, but are opening the doors for creative, music collaborations in ways that were not possible before March 23 2020. 

As I write, the changes within Zoom now enable Advanced Audio Settings; combine this with our choices to invest in Remote Desktop Technology, Blackmagic ATEM / GoPro and our G-Suite for Education, all now enable recent initiatives like our Berlin Interface project to ramp up creativity and collaboration and demonstrate its effectiveness in ways we would never had envisioned without Coronavirus.      

Despite an alternative start to the academic term, I am incredibly satisfied that we have successfully adapted to the challenges and to the changes and, as a result, have come out a stronger institution. Early tutorials and lessons have provided us with excellent feedback from our students and staff, and whilst the global pandemic is still ever-present, I am more confident than ever that the plans we have put in place and the significant changes we have made – and will continue to make – have put us in good stead for the time ahead and will allow us to adapt to any further changes that may arise without causing any significant, negative effect. 

Adrian Greensides, Principal