Monday, March 28, 2011

Student seeking...a learning experience

by Patty Lakinsmith

I've been thinking a lot about classes lately, and what makes or breaks the experience from the student perspective. Bead and jewelry classes, that is. Classes can be very expensive, and sometimes require that you travel to some far away destination, and you want to feel like you've gotten enough from the experience to justify the time and expense.

I've had some really fantastic classes with amazing teachers, and I've had a few where I left feeling somewhat less than satisfied. What makes a learning experience valuable for a student, I'm wondering? I'll offer some of my own thoughts, and then it's your turn.

I like to feel that I've landed in the right class for my skill level, so I'm interested in a little reminder up front about the basic skills required for the class. If it becomes evident that I lack some particular type of experience for the class, I like to feel that the instructor will help guide me through the parts that might be challenging.

I like to feel that the instructor is paying attention to me, what I'm doing, how well I'm following what he or she has explained that I do. In short, I like to feel that there is a creative conversation going on, back and forth, and not just one way communication.

I like to feel that I'm learning some special techniques, like no other I could find on the internet by just googling around. I just love when an instructor shares a breadth of tips with us that transcend the particular bead we happen to be making.

I would like the instructor to ensure that help is given out to each who requests it, and not just to the most vocal students. Once I had a bad experience where I was explaining my specific need for help to the instructor and another (louder?) student completely derailed the instructor to help her, leaving me out in the cold with the problem I had asked for help with. I would like my instructor to be sensitive to that and politely prevent the derailment from occurring, and to deal with one student at a time.

I like leaving class feeling like I have a brand new set of tools that can be applied as I want them, in my own unique work. It's especially cool when an instructor teaches techniques that are so multipurpose that each student could use them and nobody would end up with the same end product. Making that transition from learning how one instructor creates to how you can apply those techniques in your own special way to your work is the very difficult homework that we all take away from our classes.

What about the less tangible side? Do students want to take classes in a vacation-like setting, to just relax? Or do they want to learn as much as possible, foregoing many comforts in their quest to pack in the information? I've definitely leaned toward the latter, although the older I get the more I entertain thoughts of the former. Yeah, a cruise with beads, sounds great!

Now it's your turn. What classes have you taken that live on in your memory as outstanding learning experiences? What made them so special for you? What teacher characteristics are important? What is your biggest class peeve?


Greer said...

What a great subject Patty!
Been to 3 workshops, polymer clay, glass casting and PMC.
Polymer clay was great. Good instructor and concentrated on techniques as opposed to 'making something' Small class size.
The glass casting was 3 days and more your 'resort' style. Again good instructor, only 6 pupils and had a ball and learned heaps.
The PMC workshop, oh dear. 30 people, a mixture of beginners and advanced and 2 instructors.
The aim was to 'make something' short on technique and assistance. Clearly a money maker as opposed to imparting knowledge.
So for me a limited class size, teach techniques, good written information and a teacher who clearly knows their stuff and is in control and direct the workshop if it goes off the rails.

Alice said...

I've only take one class, which was an intro to beading where the instructor taught the basics of tool and supplies, crimping, and simple wire wrapping. It was done in a bead store where we could be seen by the customers that came in, and it was rather chaotic. Though there weren't very many of us--probably only 8, more than half the class was very vocal, chatted loudly amongst themselves, and were very distracting. I did learn things, but came away feeling like it could have been a lot better.

I'd love to find a class close to home that is in a lovely setting, and where there is time outside of class to mingle and enjoy the surroundings.

mairedodd said...

this is an excellent post patty... for me, i don't care if i walk out with a finished project... i want to know that i got to practice techniques that are new to me with an instructor who is available to help me through rough patches...
one of the most frustrating experiences i had was when i learned how to do something fabulous but did not have the set up at home so that i could do it again... this is something that i wasn't aware of...
it's funny, because i was just thinking about these types of questions... your posts really are always so insightful and thought provoking... i look forward to them so much!

VanBeads said...

I used to take regular Sunday "classes" way back when I first started beading, and I think what I remember the most was the sense of community. The group that I joined had been beading together for many years, and they just totally welcomed me with open arms. It was so nice, and it makes me more than a little sad to think that we've all gone our separate ways now. I think I learned more from the other students than I did from the teacher!

From the other side of the classroom, I do a lot of teaching, particularly with kids between 4th and 9th grade, and I love seeing their faces when I introduce a concept or technique and they all of a sudden just "get it". The light bulbs are brilliant! I taught a paper bead making class last summer, and when I told the kids that they were making isosceles triangles, one girl looked up at me and said, "If math were this much fun in school, I'd probably do better at it." That's why I LOVE working with kids!

Barbara Lewis said...

I really appreciate it when the instructor is prepared, that there is no need for excuses about why materials didn't arrive on time, that she was talking on the phone and lost track of time so her project didn't turn out the way she had planned ... blah, blah, blah. Now that I'll be turning 60 next month, I really don't like to be patronized, like I'm the little gray haired lady in the class (I never thought I'd be relating to this ... how did that happen!). I, like you Patty, appreciate it when all students are heard, not just the loud ones, the brilliant one,s or the whiny ones.

I love the sense of delight that can permeate a learning experience, the "aha" moments, the joy of accomplishment, the anticipation of the future ... it's what keeps me thrilled to be teaching. :-)

Sally Anderson said...

Boy, I agree with all of this. The worst class I ever took was one where they stated the prerequisites that included what experience level prospective students should have but apparently people paid no attention to these prereqs. So the teacher spent the entire class on people who shouldn't have been there in the first place. It was really frustrating and annoying.

I love the camaraderie that develops in a good class and that feeds everyone as the learning experience grows. Ah. Such fun. And I really don't care where it happens -- unless it involves spending the night. Then I care! Then I want nice and comfy and not rustic!

kelleysbeads said...

I think this is an excellent post, Patty! I have taken fewer than a handful of classes, making my choices based on who the instructor is, reviews from family/friends taking the class previously in other cities, class size and content. I have liked the smaller classes because it has allowed the instructor to give more one-on-one attention, as well as more interaction/sharing between students.

What I have enjoyed the most in the classes I took were where I learned basic workflow techniques in addition to the class material/techniques (like holding a rod steady in the flame instead of dancing it in & out was revolutionary for me because how many of us were NOT taught to bounce the glass in/out for pre-heating?).

While I have enjoyed learning new techniques and applying bits/pieces to my own work, I would appreciate if the instructors would talk about their thoughts on replication and what should happen with the class work afterwards. There have been so many blog posts about copying over the last year that having replicas of another artist's work (even though I know we were expected to be copying the pieces in the class) in my studio now makes me very uncomfortable. Perhaps that is my own hurdle to address with myself, as well as asking outright in the class.

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