A few days ago I was contacted by Ainslie Hunter, who had signed up for “The Art of Silliness 4” and wondered if she could interview me for her wonderful blog, “Courses that Matter.” My answers are below, but please do check out her site as she is starting an Online Education Revolution!! Thanks, Ainslie!
Could you start by telling us a bit about The Art of Silliness 4?
Yes. Silly 4 is the fourth session of my online class, “The Art of Silliness: Drawing Worksheets for Adults”. Each session is basically the same – 30 days / 30 worksheets – but with different “ingredients”. It is a drawing class both for those who feel they “can’t draw”, and those who can draw but want to start approaching it in a way that is more light hearted and fun.
It is set up so that each day the participant downloads and prints a worksheet, third-grade style. My idea is to kind of bring you back to that time in your life when drawing was easy, no big deal, before the judgment kicked in. And didn’t you just love filling out worksheets?
I did. So I thought it would be a fun way to teach drawing.
Some people go through one workshop and feel “done.” Others have signed up for all four sessions, as they enjoy the daily prompts and the month-long community that is formed each time. (And what’s not to love about a bunch of people brave enough to take a “silly” class?!!)
How did you decide to structure the course the way you did?
I am a workshop instructor for adults, having first taught children in my sons’ elementary school classrooms. I try to make drawing fun for everyone. I had been thinking about an online class for about a year before I did the first one. But I was stuck; I didn’t have the video equipment/skills necessary to do it the way others were doing it.
When I thought of the daily worksheet/PDF idea, I was so excited that it was something I DID know how to do (upload PDFs to a website and send a daily email), that I quickly wrote a blog post about it and jumped in with both feet.
Can you tell us a bit about the planning involved in the course? > How long have you been thinking about the idea? How long from idea to launch?
Oh my goodness, this is slightly embarrassing. As I said earlier, I had been trying to figure out the online class thing for awhile — at least a year. But when I got the idea (early one Sunday morning in
March 2010), I wrote the blog post about it and the class started less than two weeks later. I even laughed at myself about it in the post (I am somewhat impulsive.)
Anyway, one of the main IDEAS of the course was that it would be created AS THE CLASS WAS GOING ALONG. In that way, I could keep it fresh, react to the students a bit more, AND eliminate that laborious pre-planning stage… I really thought I would do a better job it I could remain spontaneous about it, and I do think it works. I priced it accordingly I think, too!
What do you think are the most important features of an online course and why?
I think a good mixture of fun (silliness), content and community. At least it works for the Silly Series!!
How are you going to communicate high expectations in your course?
Actually, I don’t really worry about it…. I have high expectations for myself, and I think that is evident in my communications, both in the worksheet instructions and my emails…. and perhaps that rubs off. But I think that life can be hard, and we need to be gentle with ourselves, too. Sometimes people sign up for the Silly class and life gets in the way, and they can’t get to the worksheets for awhile. That’s okay. The worksheets will always be there, and when the time is right, they’ll get to them. (If not, well, it was only $25!)
Will you emphasise the importance of completing tasks in the course?
No, not overtly. Again, I want people to LIKE drawing, and putting a gun to their heads is not effective in my experience!
In this class uploading the drawings and/or completed worksheets to the flickr site is completely optional. Students also have the option of emailing me assignments (if they’re shy about posting publicly), but it is not required.
In what ways will you respect the diverse talents and ways of learning of your students?
Because there are 30 different worksheets, and often each worksheet has one, two or even three different things to do (write, scribble, draw carefully, etc.), I think I’m able to speak to everyone. (Plus, it’s good for really “neat” people to get messy once in a while, and really messy people to slow down and work more carefully… we do it all.)
How will you encourage active learning throughout the course?
Well, the online Silly class is basically a tangible example of how I seem to live my life, which is to constantly learn, try, adjust, correct, delight, mourn and start all over again. I will ask people to look up giraffe photos online, for example, or ask their spouses to make a drawing (learning that, my goodness, Bill is GREAT at it! And it was so easy for him! Maybe it’s not that big of a deal after all!)
Are students able to receive feedback from you during the course?
Yes. I comment to almost every photo uploaded on the flickr site, and am also available by email throughout the month. I try to answer general questions that I think would be of interest to everyone in the next day’s group email.
Is engagement encouraged between the members?
Well, I’m not sure how it happens, but each session the participants just ENGAGE each other… on the blog but mostly on the flickr site. Everyone comments on everything; it is a lively, positive, and very supportive group.
Do you see yourself as a teacher in this process? Why? Why not?
Only in that I truly love to see people drawing, and am enthusiastic in my comments!
I believe that teaching can transform lives and create a ripple effect (either in the teacher or students.) What transformation have you seen because of the Art of Silliness?
Yes. I have seen it happen so many times, where a silly assignment will create these awesome family moments that just make me cry almost! One example: an assignment for a “Silly Saturday” was to
straighten their shoes (as extra credit they could draw them). One student created the following video with her daughters.
Any last words of advice?
I have kept the price low and have a very liberal policy when it comes to the classes; each household needs only to pay once and everyone (including the kids) can participate. Also, teachers are allowed to copy worksheets for use in their classrooms. I do this for several reasons:
First, I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND how it feels to be broke and not have money. $25 is about all I could ever pay (especially before I moved to Seattle in 2010), and I would want to be able to share it with my family guilt-free if I were taking the class. I figure, if enough people sign up each session, then I am “okay”. Two, my website is on each worksheet, so if a teacher uses them in her classroom, then I might potentially pick up a future student or two. Finally, I want as many people as possible to “catch the drawing fever,” so, the more the merrier!!
Also…I really wanted my online class to be a reflection of who I was, as a person and a teacher, and not just something that I THOUGHT people would pay for. It took a long time to come up with the Silliness idea, but when I did, I didn’t hesitate, even though I had no idea that it would become as popular as it did.
I was lucky in the fact that at the time my (freelance photographer) husband was fairly busy, so that freed me up that month to make a little less money if it turned out to be a complete bust.
I really appreciate all of the wonderful people who have taken the class, and helped me fill the classes by spreading the word, etc.
P.S. Silly 4 starts in just 10 days! Go here for the details or to sign up!