Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

Driving Student Engagement in the Covid-19 Moment through Random Virtual Performances

Entertainment, like education, is best delivered in intimate, interactive settings. Small venues that facilitate audience engagement are superior to large-scale stadium environments, like small seminar rooms that facilitate active learning are superior to large-scale lecture halls. They drive better experiences.

The entertainment world has been disrupted in remarkable ways by Covid-19. This is especially true in the performing arts space, as live performance venues have been shut down for the foreseeable future due to risk of infection. Even the world’s best known performing artists have had to pivot drastically, to drive their businesses and stay connected to their fan bases.

Primary education has been similarly disrupted, as schools are closed and live, in-person instruction is shut down. Teachers have likewise had to pivot to keep students engaged and involved in learning.

Artists have transformed live performances into desirable virtual commodities that can be sold and disseminated through e-commerce. Primary school teachers have transformed live education into virtual instruction, distributed online to an audience that is forced to participate whether they want to or not.

The best live streams in either case, just like in-person performances and classes, are interactive rather than presentational. They are intimate such that individual audience members and students each have opportunities to interact with the performers and teachers “in the room.”

Intimate, interactive online performances with artists are actually quite extraordinary — unique events that are otherwise difficult to emulate in live settings, given correlative costs. A twenty-person virtual 60 minute Zoom call with a major rock musician or James Beard Award winning Chef? A fraction of the time, money and commitment that it would take to create that event in person.

Intimate, interactive online classes with teachers, however, are quite different and can be far less special. In primary education, classes are not typically one-offs, but extended, long-standing affairs with the same group of students day-in and day-out…albeit through a virtual medium.

This helps to explain the key difference between these two types of events — virtual artist performances and virtual classes. That the opportunities to engage with beloved artists and celebrities in such an intimate and interactive way are seductive, desirable and rare, and that the circumstances and technologies help to make corresponding costs manageable for either party. On the other hand, opportunities for students to engage with primary school teachers in an online format are largely undesirable, even when they are intimate and interactive. Virtual school is being imposed on all parties involved, costs the same in person as it does online and plays out over an extended, unrelenting timeline.

Which brings me to an idea…

Why not use desirable, live virtual artist performances as an incentive to drive student attendance and engagement in virtual primary school?

Imagine that a student has the opportunity to engage in a meet and greet with a famous actor, cartoonist, writer, Youtube personality, TikTok influencer or otherwise…but can only gain access to this event if they show up on time for class and actively participate.

Imagine that these types of events pop up on a regular / random / surprise basis throughout the course of a school week…and that students never know when one might magically appear in their schedule.

Primary school teachers are then gatekeepers not just to undesirable virtual learning, but to engagement in highly desirable, surprise artistic events. Showing up and participating in the former is a student’s key to access the latter. Teachers can either present the door to unlock them…or not. Best of all — the impact of integrating random virtual performances into the school day on attendance and engagement is highly trackable. How extraordinary would it be to find that attendance is up across the country because students are eager to engage with artists?

Covid-19 is creating unprecedented, transformational change across primary education and entertainment alike. Leaders in these fields would do well to partner with one another, to drive mutual success and to help our kids, teachers and artists grow and thrive amid the turmoil.

Alex Gruhin is a cross-functional intrapreneur, customer experience innovator and arts guru. ExperientialStrategy.com