Beginning in February, you'll be able to go home, put on your cozy pants and go to class. This winter, author and designer Shannon Okey, who owns and operates Knitgrrl Studio in Lakewood, is bringing the homey craft of knitting into the virtual age. "The economy has been hitting my particular industry hard," she says. "It isn't that people aren't spending money on knitting, it's that yarn stores and fiber-focused events are cutting back." With those cutbacks, Okey has seen a corresponding drop in demand for her teaching skills, particularly from venues outside of Cleveland. "When you're looking at the bottom line, bringing in teachers from out of town sometimes gets pushed to the end of the list, priority-wise."
In looking for a way around this challenge, Okey's friend and colleague Stefanie Japel showed Okey how to use the software at Ning.com to host online classes. "I'd had a Ning account forever, but hadn't really used it," says Okey. "Turns out, it's perfect for this!" She began developing the class lineup and a series of related e-books. Now, she can teach students anywhere, as long as they have an Internet connection.
Okey's foray into online teaching is proof that almost anything can be translated to the Internet. While there will be some clear differences from the typical group class session, there are also benefits that may bring students more bang for their buck. Classes will involve a combination of pre-taped videos filmed at Knitgrrl Studio, online chat, private forum postings and downloadable homework and worksheets. "Obviously I can't walk over and adjust the way someone's holding their needles," says Okay, but she points out that addressing individual questions will be easier, and students can work at their own speed, reviewing material that seems especially challenging. "Sometimes when you take a day-long class you feel pressured to absorb all the material right away," says Okey. "Here, you can check out the video, work through your homework and then realize you need to ask more questions about a particular topic. It's a lot more relaxing! You don't feel like you're cramming it all in, only to forget half the next day."
In addition to allowing Okey to take her classes to a new audience, students will experience increased convenience and may even end up learning more. "They get the added reflection time, which I think really helps them absorb the new information at hand, and they can replay a video a dozen times if that's what they need to 'get it,' without feeling they're holding the rest of the class back." Because people can take the class anywhere there's an Internet connection, no one will miss out on taking a class because of a busy schedule or northeast Ohio's capricious winter weather. "It's Cleveland and it's the middle of winter, that's a fact of life," says Okey. Ultimately, the classes will be more affordable for out-of-towners, too. "No padding the class cost to pay for flying me out and putting me up for two days," she says.
Okey will offer virtual assistance to her classes, too. If students need help, they can schedule a live chat at their own convenience, or use forum postings. "I'm also available via email and other online methods of communication if they need me at other times."
The new schedule of online classes is available online at Knitgrrl Studio.