By Richard Chachowski
There has been no shortage of industries that have found themselves unable to change with the times as a result of Covid-19.
With safety precautions prohibiting larger in-person gatherings, numerous professions have found themselves struggling to adapt to the new rules put into place, perhaps none more so than educators across the U.S.
Dr. Eric Laprade, however, is not one of those educators.
Rather than being relegated to teaching his classes only through Zoom, Laprade, a music professor at the College, opted instead to rely on his own hybrid teaching style, mixing both reduced in-classroom instruction with online Zoom classes.
For in-person classes, small groups of students attend class for roughly 30 minutes increments at a given time. Once the in-person section of the class has been taught, Laprade then goes home and teaches the online portion of his classes. All said and done, Laprade teaches from 3:30 to 8:20 pm, with only a small break in between for Laprade’s commute home before he teaches his online classes.
Essentially, Dr. Laprade teaches nearly 10 different classes in the course of a given day.
Due to the constraints of Covid-19, the College, like most schools and universities, has greatly limited the number of in-person classes. The only in-person classes that are able to take place are the College’s “Flex” courses, where a reduced number of students can attend a mixture of in-person and online classes — a plan that was introduced in fall 2020, and formally implemented by the College for the current spring semester.
Laprade, like many professors at the College, found himself teaching in a remote-only capacity for the fall 2020 semester. Unlike many other departments, however, the College’s Music department faced a very difficult challenge due to the fact that music relies heavily on students and faculty being able to play together in a singular classroom setting — something that Covid restrictions prevent from happening.
“One of the defining characteristics of any music ensemble is the experience of playing together in ‘real-time,’” Laprade explained. “The ensembles at TCNJ typically have 40-75 students in each group — at this time, it simply isn’t possible to have that many people in one teaching space while adhering to the reduced occupancy limits in each space while maintaining social distancing.”
With the potential for reduced in-person classes open for the spring, rather than teaching through Zoom for yet another semester, Laprade wanted to try something new in the hopes of remaining better connected to his students while also abiding by the College’s Covid safety requirements.
“The driving factor on all of our decision-making was student, faculty and staff safety,” Laprade said. “This was paired with an acknowledgement of the essential role of in-person, collaborative music making.”
“We also wanted to be certain that our students participating remotely had a unique and engaging experience, specific to the virtual realm,” he noted.
Laprade’s current mode of teaching comes as no surprise to both his former and current students, many of whom have noted his dedication to teaching.
“His passion for music is obvious and he really is extremely hardworking at what he does,” said Anna Gelson, a psychology major with a minor in music, who had Laprade in various classes from fall 2018 to fall 2019. “He’s always been extremely good at communicating with the students that he’s available if they need help.”
Certainly, Laprade has found himself having a busy semester. In addition to his hybrid/flex classes, he also teaches a remote-only section of TCNJ Bands, known as the TCNJ #EBANDS.
However, while Laprade openly admits to the challenges behind adapting his teaching style to Covid-19’s restrictions, he also stated how happy he’s been with the current semester.
“I personally find it invigorating and exciting,” said Laprade. “It was a tremendous amount of work for our students, faculty and staff to make safe in-person music making possible. However, in my opinion, it was 100% worth it and I am so proud of the College for all they did to support safe music-making and our students. Along the same lines I am proud of our music students for their efforts to exceed safety expectations set by the College.”
Laprade has stated that, if the College’s Covid restrictions remain in place, he plans on implementing his current hybrid teaching model in the future.