Preparing to Teach an Online Class for Artists - Pt 1

Last year there have been lots of challenges for everyone, one of them being that artists could not attend live events or workshops on a regular base anymore. In some cases it was and still is not possible at all. Many were trying to find out what, they could do instead. New ideas and concepts started to pop up. New skills needed to be learned and other ways of reaching one another were needed. One method of connecting and reaching out did still work and many concentrated on it: online classes! Either as a “live” online event or as a recording that can be viewed whenever was convenient. Of course, that has not been a new thing at all, but creating and sharing online content took off in the year 2020. Video content is the preference of the public now a days.

Online classes have a number of advantages over in person teaching, to name just a few: the students can watch classes any time they like in the comfort of their home or studio, they can repeat them as often as they like and figure out details that might be difficult to understand. Online classes are mostly much more affordable than in person classes, due to no travel or accommodation costs involved. And best of all: people from all over the world can connect!

But online classes are not the solution to everything and there are some serious drawbacks, like not meeting in person (duh!) or spending time after class together, and you have to put a lot of work in there up front to make the best possible class to make up for the lack of showing things in person! But for right now it looks like online classes are here to stay!

What do you need to create an online class? Besides having a great expertise in your field, having an interesting body of work and a knack for teaching, which are all assets you will need to have for in person teaching as well, it is surprisingly little. The devices all of us use today and some freeware resources are easy to come by and the only other thing you absolutely need is the willingness to learn new skills and test out new approaches. I have been teaching for years, both in person and online, and I am still learning new tricks and improving my abilities every time I create a new class. There are many ways to create online classes and everyone will need to find their own “right” way, but to give you an idea how to do that or even just to satisfy your curiosity, I´d like to share how I prepare my classes.

My first step is to choose a topic, a project or a technique, that I think would be interesting for students of this particular class. Not all projects can or should be turned into a class. Sometimes I need material that is hard to find, a very elaborate workflow is required to make this project, or I might not be ready to share that particular topic at that time. If I am teaching for someone (say a guild that organizes a retreat or an online platform for creatives) I also need to make sure I am meeting all of their requirements. Or I might have to make sure the project is right for the focus group of this class.

Sample pieces for one of my online classes. I needed lots of different samples.

When I have found a project that meets all of the criteria, I go into testing mode. What does that mean? I do the project again, take pictures of all the steps I am doing while creating it, take notes of what I do and what I use (material, tools, equipment, colors, mixes …) and everything else that is important to remember. Sometimes, while doing that logging process, I notice that a step or two are not working either for teaching or not at all. If that happens I need to figure out a different way, an easier way or a different method to do that step. Sometimes it´s not happening and I need to retire that project. But mostly I change things and start again. Today I don’t usually have to make projects more than once, but in the beginning I sometimes did a project 3 or 4 times until it worked.

Working on the script for my class

After the test phase I collect my step out pictures, bring them in the right working order and print out a contact print. This is the base for my script for the class. There are many things one needs to take into account at this point, but it would be too elaborate to go into all the details. To give you some examples: what timeline does the project need? Do I have to break up longer steps? How often do I need to cure? Can I make curing times more economic? Do I have natural breaks, like when switching from using one material to the next? How long will the class be? Do students need break times (yes, they do! Every 90 minutes)? Do I need to make the recording shorter to break up too large data volumes?

All in all, it is better for the students, for my workflow AND for better managing the technical side of the online class project to split bigger projects and steps into smaller parts or “chapters”. At the same time it still needs to be consistent and make sense to your viewers.

On my next blog I will discuss the technical aspect of the online class – what equipment I use both for visual and sound.

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