Creating an online course as an eternal student

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[ update 15/08/20: It’s here, my course is live]

I have been taking online courses ever since I can remember. I feel the way about courses that most people feel about a good book.

I’ve taken so many that it’s all a bit of a blur but I did the Oprah ones: Eckart Tolle and Iyanla Vanzant in 2011 when I was recovering from surgery and chemotherapy but needed to keep my mind occupied. I think Oprah’s Power of Now, Eckart Tolle was one of the first of it’s kind in 2008 but it was so popular that she left it online and I found it when I needed it. I’ve always found Tolle incomprehensible but enjoyed Oprah making sense of what he had to say. I love Oprah!

Before that, I used to do the Great Courses, I did religion, writing non-fiction, mindfulness, and great works of American Literature, I may have done more, but they are the ones I remember doing and can recall what I learnt.

I love thinking about psychology and self-help so over on Hay House, I did the Iyanla Vanzant Forgiveness course and Louise L Hay Mirror Work. Then every year I listened to the Hay House Summit. I love me a bit of self help, especially as they use the same psychological tools we use in human-computer interaction design.

I did Martha Beck courses but the sound quality wasn’t good and hurt my ears so I never finished them. Aha, but now I have been acquiring the kit to teach online, I have the technology to fix that, so could edit the sound and listen to the gems within!

In 2013, I did a self-edit novel course with Jericho Writers, which was great, and most of my class, I am very proud to say, have gotten their novels published. It is very exciting to buy their books and read them: Ah yes, the author is a friend of mine. Actually, it takes immense effort to refrain from saying that in a bookshop, but I am developing amazing self-control as I don’t want to look like a ding-a-ling, I have, of course, studied emotional intelligence.

In 2015, I joined Masterclass to listen to James Patterson as I am so interested by his approach. Then, I did Shonda Rime’s class after watching Scandal, as my goodness, that was some telly. In 2017, Masterclass offered me a free year pass to watch their courses, and did I ever? It was a fantastic year. I did R.L Stines, after watching Goosebumps, I loved watching Margaret Atwood, Diane von F├╝rstenberg, Judy Bloom, and Helen Mirren, all fantastic women with lots to say in a compelling manner and I learnt a lot. I loved Dan Brown, too, he was very watchable.

Will Wright, inventor of Sims, was my absolute favourite and I watched him over a couple of days, and took notes as it was so good and interesting and he was passionate, and I don’t even like gaming, I just like thinking about it. I have even been learning Sims 4 this week taught by my eldest, who looked on with disapproval as I met a vampire and moved in with him as my own house was awful. I should have built my own but it was hot outside and honestly, you need a lot of determination and patience to build one and I think my eldest was a bit flummoxed that I don’t have any when it comes to games unlike my youngest, who has loads of patience. She taught me to knit that afternoon as she had taught herself from watching sheep and stitch on YouTube and then she taught me, amazing.

The only Masterclass I abandoned part way through was Malcolm Gladwell, he didn’t look comfortable delivering his materials and he made me fidgety. So, once I had the gist of what he was saying, I couldn’t face listening to the rest. Like Eckart Tolle, I am sure Mr G is saying something useful but I just can’t be fished hanging about to hear what that. He needs Oprah to help him out.

I had just started Astronaut Chris Hadfield and Carlos Santana when my free year Masterclass pass ran out. I love Santana, he is passionate, and him and his band are just fantastic.

I remember trying to get tickets to see them at the Montreux Jazz Festival back in the day, but of course, they’d sold out weeks earlier. The night we went turned out to be magical. We got a wander around and eat and drink stuff ticket. It was a hot evening with a great vibe, and when all the bands had finished and we were pondering the idea of going home, Santana, just set up somewhere without any fuss or announcement, just to jam and play. We couldn’t locate where they were, but their music drifted right across the festival instantly recognisable and amazing as always and so I got to hear Santana live. What a gift!

After my Masterclass ran out, Hay House announced Phyllis Curott’s Witchcraft which is something I have always wondered about so really, I had to sign up, and I enjoyed it a lot. The rituals are soothing, and under a full moon, it’s magical and comforting. I remember yearning for something just like that when I read her Book of Shadows in my 20s in my little flat in Switzerland under a big moon over lac leman.

Last year, I then took some courses over on Commune starting with Danielle Laporte’s Core Desired Feelings which surprised me as it didn’t do a great deal for me and sadly, I ran out of patience, because I love her books. But, I was so excited by Scott Schwenk’s Ecstatic Breathwork. It is fantastic and I do it as often as I can, and am/was so enthusiastic about it that I recommended it to everyone – even during a job interview for which I did not fit at all, obviously, since I was going on about heavy breathing instead of data science.

Next week I am starting Sharon Salzburg Compassionate Resilience as meditation still defeats me, but I am learning it defeats everyone else too if we look at it as a thing to do, instead of feeling about it as we do our teeth or yoga. I don’t ever think I am a champion at teeth brushing, nor do I think I am doing it wrong, I just do it.

In May, I signed up for a course based on the classic book Women who run with the wolves called Fairytale Medicine, which runs for a year and is just amazing. I am with a great group of kindred spirits and for the first time I am beginning to understand what that book is all about. I’ve always known that it’s important, and this is what this great course is giving me. It’s fun and important. How often do you get that in course?

This month, I’ve been doing face yoga which is incredibly invigorating and fun but actually, a lot more tiring than I imagined, and some days I actually skipped lessons (the swot in me is horrified) as they are first thing on a morning and face yoga first thing, that’s tough. I am laughing as I type this but not joking. Though, they are totally super relaxing to do at nighttime as part of a getting ready for bed routine.

I have tried over the years to do some academic online courses which theoretically should be right up my street, especially in topics I’ve always wanted to know more about, such as quantum physics. MIT used to have a load of them online way back when online teaching was first a thing, and I love me a bit of MIT academics. However, the big turn off for me was that they hadn’t changed the format, it was like a normal hour long lecture with powerpoint slides (I find powerpoint just a bit dull) and some bloke in the corner of my screen droning on.

This just didn’t captivate me at all and I spent time wondering why? Why? How is this possible? I am tenacious and I love learning. I love lectures. I love the lecture theatre and the library and universities and, I love, love, love students. An academic colleague of mine, said that he took at online course along with 35,000 other students and only the ones with higher degrees finished it. I believe this is because we have had the requisite endurance training. We have sat through many a long seminar, read many dry papers and textbooks, and many a long conference, exam board meeting, and so on. But, we are situated when we do it, and we have other people to remind us of social norms and behaviour and there’s a shared energy. It’s like running a race, we are all doing it together but separately and we all want to cross that finish line. At home it’s just me swizzling on my chair, swinging the cats around and I can click off and onto Netflix at anytime I please!

When some of my students asked me if I had ever thought of doing an online course, I started reading about online teaching as I was wondering what the theory behind it could be. However, I stopped reading once I saw an educational consultant on Twitter saying that he would recommend using hashtags on Twitter to teach and basically force students onto Twitter, what a ding-a-ling ( no emotional intelligence study going on there then). I thought of some of the students on my courses who won’t ask questions at all, they email me, or they wait until I am coming back from the toilet to ask me a question privately and alone, as they want to learn but can’t bring themselves to ask aloud in class, and there is no way I would force them. Twitter invites a certain sort of person and I don’t think it is an appropriate tool for learning. It is a social media platform of micro-blogging capabilities and not everything can be translated into a soundbite nor should it be, oh no.

It was then that I decided to create something based on all my own experiences of teaching and especially of learning, and the feedback I’ve had over the years about my courses and other peoples’. Teaching and learning are symbiotic (grrrrrrr as I’ve said before, I hate this word) but not codependent. Though I am a firm believer that sometimes you have to teach the thing you want to learn. After all, I learn so much when I teach.

I didn’t want my own course to be an endurance training exercise so I thought about what makes learning interesting to me and to the students I have taught over the years. I loved all those masterclass courses as they were taught by people who have great track records, and who are interesting. The people and the materials were compelling, short, and had lots of nice notes to print out. They were also really polished in their delivery and their studio layout. And then, I thought about my blogs, I love writing them and polishing them up, and I always put the compelling bits of my blogs in lectures #irl, as my students perk up and ask questions, and it seems to make them want to know more and read more, and read my blogs. As a student myself, I only need a little tidbit to get excited.

Wanting to get polished and compelling, I took two Udemy courses TED‘s Chris Anderson and Alexa Fischer, then I practised for ages on YouTube talking through my ideas from my blogs which wasn’t easy. I have over 200,000 words on here and delivering information in slots of 2-7 minutes is quite a challenge especially give the hour long slots I used to lecture in.

Then, I took all the official Udemy courses: lights, camera, action. I sorted out my sound, and my materials and decided that gacha was the way to jazz up my human-computer interaction lectures because from my own experiences, watching me reading slides could be improved upon. The gacha movies on Youtube are amazing, RozyClozy is a great teacher and I love my gacha alter-ego. I submitted sample lectures for review which was super useful as I got some helpful feedback.

And then I spent ages in my tiny office and sometimes in the wardrobe recording myself editing and saying over and over : Hi I’m Ruth, HCI, Hello, Ruth here, HCI., Hi there, how are you doin’?… and rabbiting on about my course, my course until everyone #irl was bored of me. And, now I have finished and know that I would like to improve some more on super good cuts during my talking heads, I know I am supposed to zoom in and out, and make sure my hair, isn’t all over the place,. After a full day of talking about human-computer interaction I look like I have been dragged through a hedge backwards, what can I tell you? HCI is so exciting, it makes my hair stand on end.

I’d also like to learn more about sound.

My daughter, having just learnt about quoting people in English at school, asked me if I can quote Darlene from Greenleaf like she is a real person, during the connection economy and social media section of my course. I said, Yes I can, of course I can, it’s my course. Yeah baby, which is pretty much how I would sum up my approach to my course.

I wanted it to be light and interesting and fun, and also practical, so I included UX tools and techniques so that students can learn a practical skill set as well as the main goal of learning HCI theory. I also put in some big data and AI, social media, from a connection economy and social psychology point of view, etc.,as these are areas which fascinate me in our digital landscape and other people too, as they get the most hits on my blogs. I have spent a long time researching and blogging about them.

I submitted my course to Udemy yesterday and it is currently being reviewed. Hopefully, Human-computer interaction by Ruth Stalker-Firth will be coming soon to a small screen near you.

Tidy hair and endurance not needed, in fact there are no prerequisites, just bring your curiosity and love of learning and I will see you there.