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Virtual Best Practices


WHAT THIS GUIDE IS

As we continue to rely on digital tools for reaching young people and providing arts in education programming during a time of social distancing, we have learned about the need to support artists in best using these new technologies and techniques. We have compiled some tips, tricks, and best practices—with the support of some of our artists who are already doing this work and learning a lot on their own!—for all of our artists to consider here. We want to give a special thanks to artists Leland Faulkner, Billy B, Craig Norton, and Anthony DePoto for providing information that has helped us prepare this guide.

HOW THIS GUIDE WORKS

We’ve organized this guide in two sections:

Content: things to consider with regards to what you are offering in your virtual arts in education programs

Production: things to consider with regards to how you are offering your virtual arts in education programs

Within each section we will further break down the guidance and provide links and additional resources. As will be referenced throughout this guide, don’t hesitate to email us here with questions or concerns that are not covered here.

Thank you for being leaders in this new journey of virtual arts in education programming, and for helping our community at AFLCT continue to provide more professional, engaging, and impactful work.

I. CONTENT

Workshops and Residencies

The content for workshops and residencies (e.g. extended small-group experiences with the same group of students) should be very similar to what you would teach in-person. When planning, consider that not all participants may have the supplies you usually use. If possible, let participants know beforehand if they need anything. Reaching out before programming is highly recommended. Send questions to participants before so that you can weave the participants’ answers throughout the program. It can be hard to “engage” while you work at times, so this is a way to “pre-engage”. 

Zoom, a main recommended platform for live programming, offers a variety of tools that advance users can take advantage of to engage participants online, including breakout rooms (where you can assign groups of individuals to separate, smaller-group virtual experiences, and then pull them back into the big session), polls (where you can gather responses to pre-made questions and requests in real time), and, of course, thoughtful use of the chat function (where you can encourage individuals to share privately or with the group.) You can also share your screen to present slides or other visual or audio information other than the view of your camera. 

While we will return to some of the HOW later in this guide, the point here with regards to content is that it is indeed possible to create engaging, detailed, guided digital workshop experiences. We encourage you to shorten the amount of content you will try to deliver in any given session, since digital attention spans can be shorter, and since there is more time taken up with digital logistics. Relatedly, if possible, try to work with smaller groups so that you have your attention as a facilitator pulled in less directions and can provide a higher-quality experience to each participant. 

Performances

Given that there is a vast world of high-quality, highly-technical digital performance content available (often for free or relatively cheap) online, we encourage you to think of your digital performances as being valuable not simply because of how good they look, but how original, unique, and relevant your content will be. Put another way: you are unlikely to compete with high-budget professional producers and artists in terms of the digital quality of what you share online; instead, focus on making the content of your performance as special and unique and relevant to a given group as possible, and know that they will give you a pass if your videos don’t look and sound like Justin Bieber’s world tour documentary. 

(Relatedly, we encourage you to be reasonable about how technical and advanced you want to get in terms of your production—and we will share more on how to make some impactful yet simple improvements to your setup, below.)

If you have the opportunity to share a digital production of a performance that is more or less the same each time you do it (which differs, of course, from an interactive workshop or residency), you might consider investing (time, learning, and potentially other resources) in making one high-quality video of it. We encourage you, if possible, to consider pairing that with a unique introduction or follow-up—whether pre-recorded or live—that is made for a given audience or group.This will help reinforce the value of your work, and the personalization will increase the meaningfulness of the experience. AFLCT staff can help you coordinate with schools, libraries, or other institutions to understand what would make for a successful personalization. Note—you shouldn’t feel the need to make the production of that segment as high quality as the performance itself.

If you are an artist with multiple performances that you offer, you might focus on making just one of them into a high-quality digital presentation, and encourage clients to book your other work in the future, when in-person performance is once-again possible. In this way, you might see your virtual work as a marketing investment in future engagements! 

Many of our artists are able to be flexible with their highly creative art forms, and we will be happy to work with you individually to determine what will make the most effective virtual content, whether workshop, residency, performance, or some hybrid. Don’t hesitate to reach out to info@aflct.org to set up a conversation!

II. PRODUCTION

In this section, we will cover platforms, personal presentation tips, and various production guidelines. 

1. Platforms

There are three kinds of virtual presentations, each with specific platforms that are best suited to the kind of content you would likely share for that given presentation. We will cover them in turn:

  • Interactive live video
    • Best used for: Workshops, Residences 
    • Best platform: Zoom
      • Additional platforms you could use: Google Hangout (via Google Classroom, etc.), Microsoft Teams Meeting, GoToMeeting
      • Could also be used for: Personalized performance, or performance content that is highly sensitive and you don’t want to exist anywhere on the internet

We feel Zoom Pro is ideal for interactive live video due to its features and our own collective positive experience. Starting July 19, Zoom will require passwords for all meetings making it one of the most secure platforms. We recommend you get your own Zoom account, at a cost of roughly $15/month.

There are two types of presentations you can make on Zoom: Meetings, and Webinars. The difference is (a) the level of engagement of the participants and, (b) the cost to you, as a presenter.

Meetings give every participant the power to share video and audio. In other words, they are the most interactive, and best suited to small group workshops and residences. Webinars, on the other hand, give the presenter (and potentially a select group of co-presenters) more control; participants cannot share video or audio, though can use the text box. Webinars require an additional subscription level, based on the number of participants. Webinars could be the right solution for a hybrid performance presentation that you still want to be able to personalize with a live component. Visit this link to learn more about meetings vs. webinars, and reach out to AFLCT for further support. 

This library includes many Zoom Tutorials by the company itself: Zoom Tutorials

We also recommend this video made by AFLCT artist Anthony DePoto which includes many tips and tricks on using Zoom effectively: 

  • Pre-recorded video 
    • Best used for: Performance 
    • Best platform: Vimeo
      • Additional platforms you could use: YouTube, Dropbox, or Zoom (sharing a pre-recorded video from a file on your personal computer while screen-sharing with live participants

When you are sharing pre-recorded video content, you need to decide if participants will be given a link to access freely on their own time (which you can still control, password protect, and make unavailable after a certain amount of time), or if they will be logging in to a group digital experience to access the content all at the same time. For the latter, see information on Zoom Webinars, above. 

For content that will be accessed on participant’s own time, you simply need to make your personal content accessible through a video streaming service, or even a file sharing site. We believe that Vimeo is the most secure way to disseminate private password protected videos. You have the ability to post password protect videos for a limited amount of time and pull down the link whenever you want. YouTube also similar capabilities. In either case, you will need to create the file, upload the file to the streaming service (or filesharing service like Dropbox of Google Drive), and be sure the sharing permissions are correct. Let us know if you need support with any of this. 

  • Non-interactive live video
    • Best used for: Livestreaming free performance content
    • Best platform: Facebook Live
      • Additional platforms you could use: YouTube live, Instagram

Facebook and Instagram Live are great for live-streaming. These platforms save the videos for a limited amount of time, and are broadly accessible We do not recommend this format for paid programming—but it could be a great way to share bits and pieces of your work with audiences in the hopes of pulling them in to pay for a formal engagement. AFLCT is happy to share this content through our social media. 

2. Personal Presentation

How you present yourself on camera (in Zoom, or through other platforms) takes a little bit of planning and arranging of your room. These simple tips will make a huge difference in the quality of your presentation.

  • Do a visual sweep of the room you are in and choose a location that is free of visual clutter. Keep your background simple to avoid distracting viewers. 
  • There is an option in Zoom to create a virtual background which will replace your on-screen background. You will need to be well lit and have a green screen behind you. (Don't wear a green top!) 
  • Notice where the light sources are coming from and always avoid bright open windows and lights from BEHIND you. Turn on a soft, bright light or two in front of you to light your face.  Lighting from directly above will cast weird shadows. 
  • Consider raising your computer up off the desk so it's at eye level. No one wants to look up your nose! 
  • Be aware of the sounds in your zoom room and choose a location that is quiet. Always mute yourself until you have something to say.
  • If you are presenting music in Zoom, always go into the advanced settings before the meeting to "Turn on Original Sound" and click on the button to give all participants the same option. At the beginning of the session, suggest everyone click the button in the upper left to turn on original sound. 

 

3. Production Guidelines

These assorted best-practices will give you information on specific elements of the production process. Feel free to reach out to info@aflct.org with specific questions regarding any element of this. 

  • Facilitation / digital support: using new technologies to deliver modified content in new settings is a lot for any individual to handle all at once! We HIGHLY ENCOURAGE you to find a production supporter or facilitator to support with the logistics of any live virtual presentation while you focus on the content and the art. It’s best if this person is a representation of the client institution (e.g. a teacher from a school, or a librarian, or a staff at the host non-profit) who will know the participants and can take accountability for making sure they interact appropriately and respectfully. If you are sharing complex live presentations and are into advanced production, you might also consider having something with you “behind the scenes” for managing camera angles, sound sources, etc. AFLCT staff are happy to support, when available, with some of this virtual co-facilitation. When you are booking an engagement, be sure to consider this aspect, and let us know if we can help. 
  • Ethernet and Wifi: Internet and wifi plans with the highest bandwidth are ideal for teaching digitally. Ethernet is very reliable and stable as well, and in many instances may be the most reliable.
  • Audio for Musicians: Music does not translate well over Zoom or any other digital platform without additional equipment. If you already have sound equipment, it can be used to enhance digital programming, you likely just need some adapters. 
  • Audio for Other Artists: We recommend the use of a headset for all artists. It allows you to be hands free while offering excellent sound quality. A suggested professional model is UMPro30 3-Driver Balanced Earphone ($180), though you can certainly find something of high enough quality for less.
  • Production Space: Pre-recording audio in a small space allows for ideal sound. But for digital performances, a large space works well such as a garage, basement or attic. It might also be possible to make arrangements for using AFLCT’s office in line with CDC guidelines; reach out to info@aflct.org to discuss, if interested.
  • Cameras: Multiple cameras allow for multiple angles and shots, this is ideal for programming with a lot of movement, but is not needed or required. Having assistance is crucial for this. A low camera angle is rarely flattering, and can often distort your appearance. Psychologically this low angle means you are above the viewer and possibly trying to have an intimidating presence. If you find that your computer has poor quality sound or vision, you can buy a high resolution USB 1080 web cam that will easily plug in and use. These drastically improve the quality of how people see and hear you at their end. 
  • Lightning: Most easily stated, facing a light source is ideal. Light sources behind you darken your face and can cause the focus to come in and out. Facing a window or lamp is ideal.
  • Computers/ Software: Different laptops and computers have different abilities. Older computer models may not have the capability to accommodate for all new equipment. It will also be necessary to utilize certain softwares for full productions from home.
  • Green Screen: Ideal if you plan on using alternative Zoom backgrounds. Computer models determine whether or not your computer has the ability to have alternative backgrounds.

With the support of some highly technical digital artists, we have compiled a set of specific technical recommendations, concerning video, audio, lighting, computing, and more. Visit this link to learn more; you may also reach out to us here and we’ll be happy to connect you with an artist who can offer specific technical guidance. For the majority of most work AFLCT roster artists will complete, however, the full level of digital sophistication shared in those guidelines is not necessary for providing meaningful, engaging arts in education programming.

For more in depth technical information, see our page Technical Specifications for Advanced Digital Production.

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