First Fridays at 5: Join the Conversation
June 4, 2021
Hosted by Anita Matechuk
I didn’t set out to create a virtual flipped classroom. I didn’t know what instructional design was when I started, let alone a flipped classroom. All I wanted was to prevent my dying in-person quilt guild from completely disappearing during the COVID-19 restrictions.
In May 2020 (a couple of months into the first set of restrictions), another guild member asked if I knew how we could get together and still follow the restrictions. So we created a quilting trunk show where we met in a parking lot, and each of us displayed our quilts in the trunk of our cars. At the event, I mentioned I started using Facebook to see the new fabric our local fabric shop was selling.
The comments of “Oh, I’ll have to try that as I just need something to look forward to!” got me thinking. I went home and started researching what online options were available. I decided a Facebook group offered us the best option to share what we were working on and communicate with each other.
Connecting to my virtual audience
I spent the next year converting my tiny in-person quilting guild into a functional virtual guild. We had 20 members on our email distribution list, and only 5 people paid to come to our events. This year taught me that some quilters have difficulty using technology and need encouragement to try it. For example, when we went virtual, we struggled to deal with the reply-all email chains and adopting the new virtual platforms.
I won’t lie; the overwhelming response of 5 interested members in my newly created Facebook group was a little disappointing. I had thought I was the only 1 not on Facebook. Still, I continued to post to the Facebook group and email the invitations each month.
The Facebook group had the added benefit of easily allowing members to invite other quilters to the group. By the time all the distribution list members joined the Facebook group, our membership had almost doubled to 9 paying members.
We went back into heavy restrictions the day of a planned in-person quilting event. So, I decided to give my guild something to look forward to, and I began posting to our Facebook group. I talked about how I was still going to quilt and that this was my guilt-free quilting day. I said I was excited about not packing my equipment, hauling it through the snow, or putting on socks. I posted what I was working on throughout the day and asked them to share what they were working on. Little by little, the replies came in, and by the end of the day, it felt like we had a quilting event.
Looking for ways to increase engagement, I added a virtual morning chat in a Facebook room to our monthly events. In addition, I started creating contests, posting daily, and arranging for presentations on our virtual quilting days to keep people engaged between meetings.
Wanting to focus on the benefits of virtual events over in-person events, I increased the quilting events from once a month to every 2 weeks. To prevent fatigue and encourage interaction, I planned 2 activities instead of an all-day virtual meeting on each event day. We had a 1 hour morning chat and a 2 hour noisy sewing time in the afternoon.
The morning chat was when we showed what we were working on and had guest presentations. The noisy sewing time was when we sewed together, showed what we accomplished that day, and supported each other in our successes and failures.
As the demand for human interaction grew, so did our events and members. The group that was terrified of trying new technology collected enough new guild memberships to cover a professional Zoom membership cost rather than lose the virtual events.
Our 1 hour of virtual chatting for 5 people once a month has grown to 2 virtual events every other Saturday for up to 20 people from our 50 person guild. We don’t know if we are going back to regular in-person events. However, the flexibility of the virtual events has created enough new members to ensure we are continuing with the virtual events.
Learning my audience’s needs
It was the personal interaction that made the quilting days special. We often sewed at home alone, so I focused on encouraging the interaction during these events. I used Zoom’s spotlight feature on anyone holding up their work or asking questions. Spotlighting allowed everyone to see what they were talking about during questions and ooh and awe over each other’s work.
Interaction still occurred if I didn’t spotlight, but it mainly revolved around general conversation instead of peer-to-peer learning. The guild members didn’t show their favorite tool or ask for help. People stopped watching their screens and focused more on what they were doing as there was nothing to see on the screen. The quilting conversations dwindled, and conversations about the weather and current events started.
I went back to school to get a certificate in technical communications. In my first class, I discovered Adobe InDesign. To get comfortable using the program, I designed quilt patterns. By sharing my designs with my captive audience, I learned what issues could cause people to struggle with my patterns. So with every new pattern I wrote, I tried to fix the issues people had with the previous patterns.
I joined more quilting Facebook groups to have access to a larger audience. I joined other designers’ quilt-a-longs to see what I liked and disliked about their patterns and read the customer complaints. Access to the complaints was a massive advantage for me. It was easier to read complaints about someone else’s product and found issues I wanted to address in my patterns.
The issues I discovered I needed to address in my patterns were:
- Customers sometimes choose not to print in color to save money and use fabric colors that don’t match the pattern. Therefore, illustrations need to be in black and white to prevent customer confusion.
- Customers have more difficulty retrieving a portable document format (PDF) from a Facebook posting than from a website or email.
- Some customers skip the pattern steps they feel they already know how to do and make mistakes. Therefore, I need to provide the requirements necessary for each step to work. Providing the requirements allows the customer to confirm if they need to correct what they have done or if it’s okay to use it for the pattern.
- I found it annoying to print an additional piece of paper for 1 line of text.
- I struggled to keep a class pattern together and in order when it came separately for each class. So, I wanted to include page numbers and the total page count for the entire pattern.
Discovering instructional design
One of my guild members had noticed our local recreation center was looking for hobby instructors and informed me that I should apply. The interviewer stopped me in the middle of the tell me a little about yourself part to say, “Oh, I know you. You are that quilting lady that creates the programs my boss is so excited about!”
Getting hired that way, I realized I didn’t just want to teach how to make a quilt but to create an enjoyable experience while the students make it. Students who take classes in the hobby industry aren’t just looking for instructions; they want to participate in an enjoyable social activity. It isn’t about the need to learn but for their enjoyment. So, I needed to determine the virtual classroom style that would create this experience.
My current guild members have varied years of experience and training. Some have been quilting longer than I have, but they have never taken a class before. Others have joined me in most of the classes I’ve taken. So I needed to create an enjoyable class for my quilting peers that didn’t overwhelm my students with new technology and was easy enough for beginners to understand.
Choosing the flipped classroom style
There are 3 main classroom styles in the hobby industry lecture, standard, and flipped. While all of them allow the students to engage in social activities, certain styles are better at instructing and entertaining them. When the world went virtual in 2020, each style changed, and some styles handled it better than others.
Neither the lecture nor the standard classroom style provides the experience I wanted my students to have. Virtual lecture classrooms are not much different from free YouTube videos. Without the ability to mingle and meet your idol, they tend to lose their appeal. Virtual standard classrooms do not allow wandering around your students to observe and instruct. It is hard to provide that one-on-one teaching experience they are known for without this personal touch.
The flipped classroom style works really well in the hobby industry as the students’ skill levels vary greatly in each class. They often take a class without considering their skill level because they want the social activity or the project. Each student can learn at their own pace by receiving the instructions before the class. Beginner students can read and watch the instructions until they understand a complicated procedure. In contrast, a more advanced student only needs to review the instructions once.
Many hobby instructors have added online courses to their virtual class offerings. While this idea intrigued me, I didn’t feel it would suit my audience. Instead, I felt the flipped classroom style would provide the best student experience for my virtual quilting class. In addition, I didn’t want to spend my class time dealing with students trying to download and print the class instructions.
Creating my virtual flipped classroom
The virtual environment is well suited for the flipped classroom style, as delivering the learning materials through email or website downloads allows communication to happen outside class sessions. In addition, well-timed reminders to complete homework assignments and additional instruction deliveries encourage maximum class participation. Finally, adding a social media platform to handle class sharing allows student interactions between classes, increasing peer-to-peer learning.
The genres and tools my virtual flipped classroom required:
- PDF pattern with all the instructions to make the quilt. The pattern had to be printable in black and white on letter-sized paper. The pattern needed to be split into classes but include page numbering as if it was 1 document. All graphics needed to be illustrations, not photographs, to prevent confusion due to fabric selections.
- PowerPoint presentation to show tips I’ve learned to make quilting easier. All graphics needed to be photographs, not illustrations, to create an in-person demonstration look.
- Emails to let the students know what to expect from me and what they needed to do.
- Facebook group to provide the peer-to-peer learning platform.
- Zoom meeting platform to provide our virtual meeting space.
I had a major advantage for my class; they really wanted to get started. The moment the students signed up, they asked for the instructions to prepare for the first class. I had quilters emailing me for the instructions before the community center had even emailed me the list of students!
Sending a welcome package
I decided to build off their initial excitement, so I emailed a welcome package to my students a few days earlier than my 1 week before class plan. In the email, I explained how and when they would receive instructions, get help from me, an invitation to a private Facebook group, and a PDF with a supply list and pre-class instructions.
Engaging before class
As soon as I had students join the Facebook group, I posted the fabrics I used to make the class quilt and asked the students to share theirs. Then, a few days before the first class, I posted a picture of my completed pre-work and asked if they were as excited for the class to start as I was. As replies came in, I emailed them invitations with the Zoom meetings’ information.
The day before each class, I emailed them a PDF of the instructions for the class. I sent them close to the class time to create an urgency to read and print them right away. The students needed time to read and print the instructions but not enough time to complete the class assignment. This timing was a bit of a balancing act as some of my students struggled to keep up, and others couldn’t wait and ended up making 2 quilts during the class.
Interacting during class
I emailed an appointment reminder 15 minutes before each class, stating I was logging in early to help people get logged in. Every single student signed in early.
I started the class with a show and tell session. I used Zoom’s spotlight feature on each student and asked them to state their name and tell us about their fabric selection. To say they were shocked at being the center of attention is a bit of an understatement. I think some were terrified of being on camera with people they didn’t know, and they paid money for me to teach them and found it strange that I wasn’t the center of attention.
The half an hour of sharing their hobby helped them get comfortable being in a virtual meeting. Next, I started my PowerPoint slide show to show pictures of each part of the class instructions. I shared tips on what made each step easier and why I chose specific processes in my pattern. I kept my total presentation to under 15 minutes in each class, and I only taught 1 step at a time.
I explained that the goal for the class was for everyone to be able to try everything while I was there to answer questions. So I sent them off to follow their printed instructions, a little surprised they just paid all this money on a 2-hour class for 15 minutes of teaching.
Human interaction was what made a $10 pattern worth paying $70 to attend a class. So, I planned to create the experience I wanted my students to have instead of focusing on teaching. A few minutes later, my students realized the value of this class when they asked the first question. I spotlighted the person asking the question, and the other students rushed back to their screens to see what was going on. Not only was I able to answer the question, but other students wanted to show off their work. So I spent the class encouraging conversation, spotlighting progress, and prompting students to try the next steps.
My students were surprised at how quickly the time passed and finished the class, still excited to continue. I ended each class by reminding them to post their pictures on the Facebook group and that I was available for questions between classes through the Facebook group or email.
Encouraging after class
After each class, I posted a picture of my completed classwork in the Facebook group, saying I couldn’t wait to see theirs. In addition, the post included a listing of the minimum they needed to complete to get the most out of the next class. Providing a minimum encouraged the students to be ready for each class without requiring everyone to work at the same pace.
The students posted their questions and shared their successes in the Facebook group. I liked posts, answered questions, and encouraged when needed but let the students comment on each other’s work. This peer-to-peer learning created more excitement for the next class. After the class was over, it also continued as each student completed their project and posted their results.
Learning from my virtual flipped classroom
The 3-week class ended with completed quilts and excited quilters with plans to make more. Yes, I provided a pattern, taught beginners to quilt, and taught them how to use Zoom and Facebook. Still, they could have gotten this instruction free from the internet. Instead, they asked for more classes not because of what I could teach them but because I provided them with the opportunity to connect and learn from their peers. In my class, experienced quilters learned something new, beginners gained a support network, and we all remembered how much fun it was to quilt with friends.
I still have a lot to learn about instructional design and the flipped classroom. For instance, it would have been easier for the students to remember my tips if I had separated them even more for each step. Also, by only reviewing the tips right before we tried each step, I could better transition to the next part of the class and help the students learn.
The students need to be the star of the flipped classroom. As the instructor, you prepare everything in advance and then step back while encouraging your students. The hours spent creating the training materials are worth it when you see the experience you created for your students.