Music instructor Amy Horst encourages her isolated students with series of inspirational videos

Seeing that some of her students were struggling with isolation and worry, Amy Horst began creating helpful and hopeful YouTube videos for them.

Story by Kiaria Zoi Nakamura.

Amy Horst
Amy Horst

To help her students cope with isolation and stress during the pandemic, a music instructor at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo has developed a series of videos to encourage the budding scholars to do their best both inside and outside the remote classroom.

“Personal isolation is so hard to deal with, it’s so damaging, and it gets worse as time goes on,” says Amy Horst about the new normal. “I’ve noticed that I have lost some students because it’s just too hard to be so isolated and be so worried all the time.”

It was for this reason that she began creating helpful and hopeful YouTube videos for her students.

“In my outside life, outside the university, I have a YouTube channel,” she explains. “Because I have that channel, I have a YouTube filming setup.” This familiarity with filming and editing content made her feel very comfortable creating video resources for her students. The inspirational videos are unlisted and accessible only to Horst’s students.

“I try to keep videos between five and 10 minutes long,” she says. “They are not course content lectures. I may give them information about what’s coming up, but it’s information they can also access other places.”

In the videos, the empathetic instructor tries to motivate her students in whatever way she can, starting with letting them know she’s proud of them. “What I’m trying to address is that people are pretty depressed.” Especially true, she says, during a time where “we don’t get the same kinds of face-to-face interactions or smiles of encouragement.”

One student felt especially touched by Horst’s empowering words.

In an anonymous survey conducted last semester asking students to provide feedback on how well their educators made the shift to distance learning, one student said about Horst: “It was already an online class, but she provided very inspirational videos that were very helpful with motivating me to do my work not just in that class but in other classes as well.”

Amidst her uplifting messages which include phrases like “you’ve done so well,” “keep going,” and “you can do this,” Horst also points students into the direction of the UH Hilo Care Team, a multi-disciplinary group that receives referrals about students whose behavior raises significant concerns about their physical or emotional well being.

Expanding horizons

Horst had an easy time transitioning her classes online this year because she began teaching courses remotely in 2017. She had been teaching at UH Hilo for 20 years, primarily focusing on choral and vocal performance. That is, until she wanted to expand her horizons to see how she could make music classes more accessible. So she reached out to Cindy Yamaguchi, UH Hilo’s online teaching and learning specialist, who helped create and design a premiere online course for fall 2017 on music in world cultures (MUS 107).

Horst remembers, “I was terrified, I loved it, and I thought ‘this is my future.’ I needed to be reaching out to people beyond what was done in choir.”

The course was asynchronous, making it more appealing to students who could take the class from anywhere in the world. Over the years, Horst has had students from many different countries taking her class during the same semester.

“It was a different way of thinking about music because the performance-based model that I had studied when I was training to be an opera singer, and then that I had taught as a choral director, was all about bringing people into a certain location and presenting music together,” explains Horst. “But I really wanted to broaden my outreach, and I still have that goal.”

Here’s the introductory video for this semester’s course on music in world cultures:

In addition to encouraging her students to excel during the pandemic, Horst also encourages faculty who are new to web-based learning to “not be afraid to let your students know how new you are at this.” Horst recommends her colleagues who need help contact the university’s Distance Learning Team, of which she is a member. The group is headed by Joseph Sanchez, UH Hilo’s library director.

But more than this, she says, faculty showing transparency to students is vital.

“If it’s your first time teaching online, make that a point of strength, rather than something you have to hide behind,” says Horst. “Being clear and being compassionate is a strength.”


Story by Kiaria Zoi Nakamura, who is earning a bachelor of arts in English with a minor in performing arts and a certificate in educational studies at UH Hilo.

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