Sunday, December 16, 2007

Online Mentoring

Thanks to everyone who stopped by and offered words of consolation over my last journal entry.

Last night I was able to stress-test some web conferencing programs with an animation student who was overseas in the UK and eventually we found something that worked rather nicely.

I have a pretty good idea of how to make this all work and keep it affordable for students and flexible enough for people's schedules so that they don't have to give up their current education or take on part time jobs or sell their organs. ;P

So it's time for a FAQ and an ORQ (Other Relevant Questions) to answer everyone's questions about the online mentoring service I wish to provide. I'll update this journal as necessary and link it in my future journal footers.

  • FAQ 1: How will I be able to hear the melodious ring of your voice?

    Skype seems to have improved its networks over the past few months and the sound quality was surprisingly good without perceptible lag, even overseas.

  • FAQ 2: But Drawing is a visual thing! Now what?

    I'll be using Adobe Connect to send desktop and camcorder imagery to Adobe's servers, which will then be able to broadcast to as much as 15 people simultaneously. Adobe Connect was once known as Macromedia Breeze. Not only can participants view the imagery I send, but at any time, I can allow other participants to present what's on their computer screen for assessment and critique.

  • FAQ 3: Do I have to install any weird software?

    Skype. (PC | Mac | Linux)
    A Flash-enabled web browser.
    When you log into the conference room, you'll be asked to install the Adobe Connect plugin.
    A pressure-sensitive drawing program like Photoshop, OpenCanvas, Sketchbook Pro or ArtRage. I highly recommend ArtRage. The Free version is all you'll need for whatever I teach. The evaluation version of Sketchbook Pro lasts 15 days, but when the time expires you can still use many of the basic features and still save. Autodesk says there's a Linux version available.

  • FAQ 4: What if I'm using a Mac? How about Linux?
    Skype and Adobe Connect are both available for Mac OS X and Linux! Photoshop, Sketchbook Pro and ArtRage are available for Mac OS X, and there's the free GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) for Linux.

  • FAQ 5: What about hardware?
    I strongly recommend getting a headset mic as the quality is much better than standing mics. Logitech makes some good affordable ones. I'm using a $20 headset that's designed for gamers.
    I also suggest using headphones instead of desktop speakers or stereo systems because your mic may pick up feedback which may then be amplified to all other participants. screechhh!
    A WACOM or Aiptek drawing tablet. I'm using a WACOM Cintiq, but those are often prohibitively expensive. You'll have to shop around, I'm afraid.

  • FAQ 6: What are your rates?

    All listed prices are in $USD
    1 Participant: $10/hr
    2 Participants: $18/hr
    3 Participants: $24/hr
    4 Participants: $28/hr
    5 Participants: $30/hr

    A typical conversation tends to run about 2-3 hours.

  • FAQ 7: How do I pay?

    You'll need a PayPal account. Skype Prime Beta will handle the tracking of the amount of time used, and handles all the PayPal stuff.

  • FAQ 8: All set up. Now how do I contact you and get started?

    The button below shows my current online status. If it says: "I'm Online!" then it means I'm logged into Skype and available to teach! Also, you might want to check out the webcam image below, which is updated every 30 seconds. I promise never to traumatize you by parking my insectoid body in front of the camera while nekkid.

    Just click to get started.

    My status

  • FAQ 9: I'm still not convinced. How do I know this service is worth it?

    Call me anyways and show me some of your work. We'll talk for a while with the meter off. If you feel you're learning a lot of useful things and that you'd like something more regular, then we'll find a way to schedule online meetings at a rate you find economically reasonable.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Out of a job...

After two great semesters of teaching, the college where I'm working will be closed down by the corporation that owns it due to a lack of enrollment. They're not taking any new students but they'll keep the school open until the current students graduate, which will be around March 2009.

In my case, as a first-term concept art teacher, that might mean that my own contract will be up in a couple weeks -- maybe more, but I dare not hope for more until I get something in writing. When this is all over, I will most likely not be finding another school to teach at, and become a private teacher instead.

Why teach privately? Well, let's look at some of the reasons I like classroom teaching over internet tutorials:

1: There's nothing like receiving blank stares from students to tell me that I'm going too fast, being too cryptic, or I'm being boring.

2: Having an audience really motivates me to study even harder. I'm amazed at how much simpler and clearer my understanding of drawing has become. I've learned that in order to master something, you should always be prepared to be reintroduced to it. There's a lot of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo and misinformation being repeated in many drawing books that needs to be straightened out. Repeating this tripe to students doesn't help.

3: Drawing for a LIVE audience is not for the faint of heart. I study and practise until I can reliably perform even under duress. The fear of screwing up in public is what motivates me.

4: I get to interact with people. Those few enthusiastic and bright and inquisitive students... I love helping them. It's so rewarding.

5: It's great to make people laugh.

Now, there are a few inescapable things that come with teaching at any school.

1: College has changed. It no longer holds the same esteem or prestige it used to -- it's no longer a place where only the especially bright and motivated go. It's become more of a rite of passage for everyone, and I mean everyone. A lot of people don't go to college because they want to learn. They go because they want to make more money, because the good jobs seem to require some sort of degree. People see college degrees as a product to be purchased, rather than as an achievement to be earned.

2: I get students who don't want to learn, who want to be told things they already know. They want to be reassured in their current ways. I can't stand a person who is averse to adversity. Worst of all, those who are bad students feel that they are entitled to good grades. They want to use my class to bring up their lousy average.

3: There are 15-20 students in each class. I see each student for 2-3 hours a week. I may see 135-180 different students in a given week. You can only dilute knowledge to a certain degree before it becomes useless.

Every school will have these problems and despite these problems I still love teaching, but in my heart of hearts, I know that if I continue on like this, I will become frustrated. I detest problems that remain unsolved, especially since I have it within my power and responsibility to solve them, for the betterment of myself and those few, bright students.

So I have decided to become a private teacher. How much will my rates be?

$15.00/hr - individual tutoring
$20.00/hr - 2 people ($10.00 a head)
$24.00/hr - 3 people ($8.00 a head)
$28.00/hr - 4 people ($7.00 a head)
$30.00/hr - 5 people ($6.00 a head)

Public lecture: $40.00/hr

I live in Toronto, Ontario (Canada), near the beaches. All lessons will be held at my residence, newsprint pads and pencils and use of equipment is included. I will be teaching draughtsmanship and digital painting, and it will be a pay-as-you-go service.

I will also be offering teaching over internet, but students will need a high-speed internet connection, a drawing tablet and a telephone. I will be able to teach up to 10 people simultaneously, people can just watch and listen, but the more people asking questions well... let's make the best use of the time. Payment will be via paypal at a flat rate of $20.00/hr. Professional constructive criticism isn't something I can flaunt freely anymore, unfortunately. In the end I always descend into hour-long diatribes that eventually become instructional lessons.

Of course, people can still always ask me questions online, but I may or may not reply, depending on my time.

Lastly, I suppose I'll have time to work on that DVD of tutorials that I've put off for so long and maybe a book...

Ug, maybe I should advertise on Craigslist...