online drone photography course

How to teach a drone photography course in the age of COVID

Teaching a drone photography course to a crowd of newbies is hard as is. You’re teaching people not only how to control a robot, but also basics of flight while also how to take a photo.

Add in COVID to the mix, and teaching a drone photography course is even harder. But for Skip Fredericks, a veteran producer, writer, director, videographer and editor who has created numerous TV programs, resulting in two Emmy nominations and four Telly Awards, it’s an opportunity. Fredericks, who also teaches a drone photography course on the side, has graduated 470 students ranging in age from 17 to 82.

And as part of the DJI AirWorks online conference, held at the end of August, Fredericks shared six tips for teaching a drone photography course in the age of COVID:

1. Learn how to use Zoom

“Learn how to use Zoom, because you’re going to need it,” Fredericks said. “It allows better interaction with your students.

Unlike many other video conferencing or webinar services. Zoom allows you to see the faces of everyone watching with its grid mode, and students can raise their hands to ask a question — and they can ask it live, themselves, or type it into the built-in chat bar. Zoom also has collaboration features like real-time annotation and digital whiteboarding. It integrates with other educational software like Moodle, Canvas and Blackboard; and other features like the ability to record sessions, generate transcripts and use closed captioning can make your classes more accessible.

Learn how to use it now, and you’ll be ahead of the curve, Fredericks said.

“Zoom can do a lot of things, yet a lot of people don’t know how to use it.”

Zoom has different service tiers. The lowest level allows you to teach up to 100 participants with a 40 minute time limit per meeting — and it’s free. From there, licenses start at $150 per year, with unlocked features such as larger meeting sizes, no time limits, unlimited cloud storage, social media streaming and more.

No matter what video chat or webinar service you use, practice good videoconferencing etiquette.

2. Stick to simple terms

In most cases — and especially at the beginning — avoid jargon. When instructing students how to fly, stick to simple terms like forward, back, left and right.

“The simpler you keep it, the quicker they’ll pick up flying,” Fredericks said. “Once they pick up that spatial orientation, then you can bring in the terminology.”

Fredericks said he finds a lot of other drone courses — particularly ones taught by former military pilots — use technical terms like yaw or lift. That can be useful for more experienced students. But if introducing drones to students with, say, a background in film, “that sounds like a foreign language,” he said.

Use language that is in line with the field you’re working in. Real estate agents won’t understand if you’re using language like LAANC, AGL or ATC — but you’ll probably need to know those words if you want to pass your Part 107 test. Likewise, a Hollywood set would likely expect to use words like “track left” or “pan right.”

Teach using simple terms first. From there, teach using terms your students (or their clients) would know and expect to hear.

3. Keep your drone photography course interactive

“Don’t use stock footage. Don’t even use your own footage. Use their footage,” Fredericks said. And skip the PowerPoints, he added.

4. Get the right equipment

“You can’t just use your laptop,” Fredericks said. Expect to invest thousands of dollars in high quality equipment if you truly want your online drone classes to stand out.

Fredericks recommends the following gear for teaching an online drone course (specific product links are not necessarily endorsed by Fredericks, but rather used as a frame of reference:

What is Ecamm? Ecamm is a livestreaming production platform for Mac that can support multiple cameras, Blackmagic HDMI capture devices, iPhone and Mac screensharing. With it, you turn your single video course into a “show,” allowing you to compose scenes in advance with on-screen titles and split screens, to quickly switch between scenes, and even add sound effects.

5. Use visuals

Even if you don’t go all out with something like Ecamm, it’s important to include visuals so it’s not just you talking into a camera. Fredericks created his own animations, showing things like how to operate the controller, or demonstrations of animated flight.

If anything, always incorporate the students’ work as much as possible, so they can see their product onscreen.

“The idea was to take basic flight instruction, create animations online, provide those to the students in some cases live and in real-time, let them shoot videos that you incorporate into the next lesson, and train these students in the world of COVID,” he said.

6. Skip the flight simulator

One thing that you might expect to be a trend during COVID-19, but that Fredericks doesn’t like? Flight simulators.

“They’re difficult to work with because you lose spatial orientation,” he said. “I found that actually live-streaming the drone video provides a more interactive experience that using a flight simulator.” 

What tips do you have for teaching a drone photography course, particularly in the age of coronavirus? Have you taught — or been a student in — a class that was particularly good or bad? Tell us why in the comments below!

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