What follows is a report I drafted after a brief survey of patchwork quilters from several online venues. Voluntary responses came 102 quilters, members of the QuiltArt elist, the SAQA Yahoo Group and the QuiltUniversityAlumni Yahoo Group, as well as from amongst my blog followers. They therefore minimally represent quilters in general, art quilters in general and online quilt workshop students. I do not quote actual statistics here, although those are available to anyone who wants them; simply contact me to ask for them and I will happily share.
Here is the text of the original survey questionnaire:
I’m doing a bit of market research and would appreciate very much learning your thoughts about the following question:
You want to know about some aspect of quilting, some subject you believe will make all the difference for you. You have discovered a gifted teacher who specializes in this subject.
You have a chance to
–buy an ebook written by the teacher
–take a workshop in a real classroom with the teacher
–buy a hardcopy book written by the teacher
–take a workshop online with printable lesson materials and online access to the teacher
Each option costs exactly the same price, so cost is not a factor in your decision-making. You can afford to do all four!
Which would you do first, second, third and fourth, and WHY?
This questionnaire was never intended to be comprehensive; its purpose was only to gain a broader overview of attitudes and beliefs about education amongst patchwork quilters. My purpose for undertaking this study was entirely selfish. With Quilt University closing later this year, I am exploring all possibilities for ways to take my life’s work forward. I asked because I need to know. What came back to me by response was far more than I expected, and I am most grateful to all those who participated–thank you!
Please–help me spread the word about this study, as it has implications for both students and teachers alike. Share it on Facebook and Twitter and all your social networks, post credited excerpts on your blogs or sites, email it to your buddies: help me take it viral for quilters!
Then, come with me as I move into the future whose prospects seem, and indeed are, unlimited . . .
* * * * *
The future of education for patchwork quilters lies within its present. The following study focuses on four primary options: live quilt workshops, online quilt workshops, books and ebooks. Each has its advantages and disadvantages and these were clearly identified by the respondents to a brief survey questionnaire. What follows is essentially a compilation of answers to the question “WHY?” The pro and con remarks came from the respondents and do not necessarily reflect my personal opinions. The exception is the discussion about ebooks, where I attempted to dispel some of the objections to ebooks by adding in some facts from my own experiences with them, this despite the fact that I, too, am and always will be a great lover of hard copy books.
By far, live quilt workshops seem to be the most popular method of gaining education about patchwork quilting. More respondents indicated a preference for a live workshop, all other things being equal, than any other educational medium. The reasons for this preference, however, were relatively few and are easily summed up. Live workshop advantages have to do with individual teachers, the group taking the workshop, general classroom ambiance and the educational processes that go on there.
Specifically, respondents mentioned the benefits of receiving immediate, direct and personalized interaction with, knowledge of, and attention from the teacher, especially a celebrity teacher. They greatly appreciate live demonstrations and Q&A sessions that give them plenty of opportunity to have all gaps in knowledge filled by the teacher or by other students.
Social interaction with their classmates, including shared quilting tips, shared learning experiences and the camaraderie of studying in a group rank high in the respondents’ appreciation for live workshops. In particular, and possibly more for parents of young children, adult companionship with those sharing a common interest is considered a real benefit.
Many respondents simply want to have fun learning in a group! For some, the time spent in a live workshop is like a holiday away from home, a “mini-vacation” as one respondent put it. The energy and synergy of working in a group is a powerful motivator for joining a live workshop. Participants find excellent inspiration and cross-fertilization of ideas by working in such a creative atmosphere.
Respondents who voluntarily characterized themselves as visual, hands-on, or “do-er” learners felt they learned best in a live workshop situation and experienced better retention of the information. Some felt that more content might surface in a live class than what might appear in any text or video presentation.
Curiously, in actual numbers, there were far more negative comments about live classes than there were positive remarks. The disadvantages of live classroom experiences are numerous and include the following:
- Costs in both time and expenses for traveling and accommodation, whether down the street or around the world
- Inconvenience, even struggle, of packing and carrying sewing machines and other equipment and supplies
- Large class sizes and the distractions of working with others
- Pressure to meet the pace of the workshop
- Insufficient time to complete the work, resulting in additional UFO’s, and insufficient time for information to be received, processed and retained
- Unprofessional teachers who waste students’ time with their own (often personal) issues, teach class content other than what was advertised, overcharge for kits, set a tone of “do it exactly like mine and do it EXACTLY like I do it or it is wrong,” teach more than there is time for in the class or less than what is expected, or require supplies that students then do not use
- Difficulties with language
We might well assume from the responses given, then, that for a live workshop to be successful, it should host a topnotch professional teacher (not necessarily a famous one, but certainly one who is generally respected for knowledge and teaching skills), who presents in advance one or more samples of what s/he will teach, provides accurate and conservative supply lists, sticks to the subject, gives plenty of demonstrations and willingly responds to all questions. The teacher should help set and maintain a positive, energetic and mutually supportive atmosphere in the classroom and refrain from making students feel pressured.
The workshop should be scheduled to suit all the participants’ convenience and it should be as conveniently located as possible. Sewing machines should be provided and kits reasonably priced. Possibly most students would be happy to have a kit so they need not travel with materials, but that was not one of the survey questions, nor was it mentioned in the replies.
For many quilters, merely having access to a live workshop is problematic. Those who work full time and those who would have to travel long distances at great expense because they live in rural or isolated areas clearly have less interest in live workshops than do those who can drive to one in an hour or so. Some respondents reported physical limitations due to health issues that absolutely preclude participation in live workshops.
For all these people, online quilt workshops are a godsend, the next best thing to being in a real classroom and for many even better, and the statistics show online classes as the second most popular form of quilter education.
Reasons for preferring online quilt workshops included:
- Convenience–pull up written and illustrated instructions on a computer or other device at any place and time
- Access to excellent teachers from all over the world and important information that might not otherwise be available
- Good teacher and classmate interaction
- Visual (still photo or video) demonstrations that can be replayed; written instructions that can be reread and studied for greater understanding
- Scheduling–freedom of when to study and work at the student’s leisure with no need to rush or feel pressured to hurry
- Quick, although not instant, feedback to students’ questions; opportunity to ask as many questions as needed
- Opportunities to share process and experience with other students through posted photos and discussions equal to or greater than that experienced in a live workshop
- No need to pack and carry equipment; work in the peace and comfort of one’s own environment with full access to all fabrics, supplies and familiar sewing machine and space
- Permanent record of the all class content, even class discussions, in printed or digital form; can be revisited and studied again at any time
- Time to process mentally the information provided, to walk away and return to the work later after some time for mental distillation
- No unnecessary distractions from classmates
- Good for resource material even if the quilter does not want to make a particular project
- Total control over dietary requirements and ability to meet health issue needs more easily than when studying in a live workshop
- Complete privacy
- Online translation service to help with language barriers
- Travel and accommodation costs eliminated; fees usually substantially lower than live workshops
- Sufficient time to complete projects and freedom to choose at will what portions of a workshop to do; no UFO’s trailing along behind
Reasons for not preferring online workshops included:
- Lack of self-motivation, commitment and self-discipline to study and work independently, thus losing interest and failing to learn much of anything; guilt feelings over putting self-interests first
- Lack of motivation to interact with the teacher and other students; easier to keep quiet
- Online classes where teachers have not incorporated recent technological developments (videos)
- Poor Internet connectivity
- Resistance to spending any more time on computer than already required
- Inability to see teacher samples in person, only by photo
- When a special setup (dyes, paints) is required and cannot be replicated easily at home
- Participants do not get to know the teacher in the flesh
- So much free information now available on the Web, classes no longer necessary
Online participants want:
- Flexibility in scheduling
- Online class discussions and space to post photos
- Videos rather than still photos in the class materials for some technique demonstrations
- Ability to review the class after the classroom closes as provided by digital or printed class materials and copies of class discussions or by realtime access past the class closing date
- Reasonable cost, equal to or less than the cost of a hard copy book but far less than a live workshop
- Improved appearance of the text and graphics portions of class materials
- References to other resources
- Ability to upload directly and share their photos in a private environment without interference
- Class materials that parallel the book; otherwise, they will buy the book instead of taking the class
Participants do not want an online class in real time. Being able to study as and when they can is a huge advantage and having a set time when they must be present and on their computer would be a deterrent to taking the class.
Third in popularity for quilter education were hard copy books, although they were only slightly less popular than online classes. Many participants said they would take a live class to see whether they liked the teacher and the information, then they would buy the teacher’s book, especially if was autographed, presumably buying with an eye to investment as well as for their own self-improvement.
A hard copy book is visually stimulating and inspirational, real “eye-candy” for its owner. Its permanence is an advantage over ebooks (more below) and its tangible properties are still most appealing. Book lovers enjoy taking time away from their computers and sewing machines to relax with a good book. Books permit private, leisurely study without the distraction of classmates or teacher. Book owners can refer to their books at will for additional insight or to refresh their memories. Perhaps best of all, books are generally less expensive, at an optimum price of about USD $30, than live classes, although many online classes are priced competitively. For both project and technique focused books, spiral bound copies are preferred for convenience of use at the machine or cutting table.
Major problems for hard copy books (hereafter “books”) can be storage and access. Some respondents reported having such large libraries of books that they could never find the one they wanted! Without some rudimentary shelving system and card catalog, that is entirely possible. The upside of this situation is that book owners take great pride in and derive much inspiration from their quilt book libraries.
Respondents felt that books (ebooks and classes, too?) should be graded for level. One declared that every book she picked up these days had the same first four chapters containing all the basics, information she does not need or want.
Another difficulty arises when collecting books by authors from different countries. Again, language may be a barrier, but important technical terms (batting, wadding, interlining) have different meanings in different cultures. British people, for example, speak of tapestry when referring to what an American would recognize as embroidery, tapestry being an entirely different method of needlework. Product brand names are often substituted for generic product descriptions and this can cause much confusion. Pellon, for instance, means fusible batting in Australia and a wide range of products in the USA. Interfacing is stiffener in Kenya, and more such examples abound.
Choosing a book as a preferred educational medium for quilters means studying alone. A book does not generally include interaction with the teacher/author and/or with other quilters. Ebooks overcome this partially by allowing readers to “share” with social networks.
However, ebooks are by far least popular amongst our four options for quilt education. They are deemed impermanent, easily “lost” (DRM issues) and impossible to retain. Some ebooks, possibly all, remain on the server and in theory thus always and immediately accessible to the buyer. In practice, the situation may be otherwise. To access the server, the reader must have an Internet connection.
Ebooks are also considered wholly unsuitable for both visual imagery and step-by-step procedures. Some readers are black and white only and thus preclude full color photos. Images do not translate well on small screens.
Viewing only on computer, not on a portable device, may limit access to the ebooks for one working elsewhere. A quilter may not be able to position her computer next to her sewing machine. Again, resistance to what is perceived as “more time spent on the computer” is a factor, an important one which will likely plague us for some time into the future!
Otherwise, an ebook is as portable as a hard copy book, even more so as the ebook itself weighs nothing, a big advantage if you want to fly and take your quilt library with you! Tablet readers and other mobile devices have the added advantage of a backlit display screen, making it possible to read in bed without disturbing one’s partner. The ebooks themselves take up no physical space, a huge advantage for those living in smaller quarters.
Printing an ebook is a possibility, but the cost of that printing transfers to the owner. The owner pays for the publication of a hard copy book, too, so the price for an ebook should probably factor in a reduction.
Ebooks are the choice of preference, however, for those who cannot otherwise access hard copy books or live workshops. Again, those living in isolated areas in the world often cannot afford books and their shipping costs, nor be certain they will arrive safely. Many publishers will not even ship to a country that has a history of theft in its postal systems. An Internet connection is a huge benefit in such places!
Consistent with the introduction and slow acceptance of any new technology, much ignorance about ebooks dominates the potential market. Most of the reasons respondents chose hard copy books are features shared by ebooks, but the respondents do not yet seem to know that.
Some respondents reported wanting to take notes on what they read and thus preferring books to ebooks. Ebooks, at least those viewed and read on Kindle software, can be both highlighted and annotated. It is also easy to share passages from these ebooks to Facebook and Twitter; presumably more social networks will be included in future.
Ebooks can also be bookmarked, and some software provides a dictionary definition for a selected word or phrase. Searching both an individual ebook and one’s ebook library is also possible, whereas searching through an unorganized hard copy book library and flipping back and forth through a hard copy book without an index would waste much time.
Also, an ebook offers accessibility features for easier reading: adjustable font sizes and font style selection options as well as a choice of background colors. With text to speech assistance, a device can even be set to read the book aloud, thus overcoming obstacles for anyone with serious vision limitations.
One respondent declared, mistakenly, that she did not have a facility for downloading ebooks. She had the facility to discover my online call for survey responses; therefore she must have access to a computer with the ability to download ebook reader software. Readers are usually free to download and there are several from which to choose. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can download both a reader and ebooks.
Perhaps the greatest problem with ebooks is that they are an emerging technology with many “players” vying for position. There are too many digital forms of ebooks available and too many software programs, as well as hardware devices, for viewing them. All this, though, is sure to change. Competition will wipe out some forms and, we hope, leave us with the best options remaining. One hazard of this process is that ebooks we buy today may not be readable in future.
As this occurs and the present confusion is reduced, writers and publishers will gain greater control over the final presentation of their material. The quality of graphic displays will improve, and the options for different styles of presentation will be increasingly supported. More videos will be embedded, so objections having to do with a need to view a “live” demonstration can be overcome. Prices are currently running all over the board; presumably they will stabilize at a level to compete favorably with hard copy books and online classes.
If a stereotypical quilter’s perception is that all four of these educational media–live and online classes, books and ebooks–are essentially conveying the same information, then the choice of which to buy comes down to a matter of personal preference for the manner in which the delivery is made.
If a quilter has social needs as well as a desire to learn, a live or online class involving teacher and student participation will be the preferred choice. One who seeks quietude for solitary study would do better with a book or an ebook, or possibly by registering for but not participating in an online class.
For permanence, as well as high quality visual aids, books are still best, although they are being challenged on every front by videos and ebooks–both forms of media that are destined only to improve with time.
For convenience, books, online classes and ebooks command the stage, offering complete scheduling freedom and eminent portability from desk to sewing or cutting table, from home to holiday hotel, at 3 p.m. or 3 a.m. If our quilter cannot afford travel, accommodation and costly meals, online classes, books and ebooks must suffice. If price is a major concern, probably book sales or giveaways, used bookshops and library sales will be the best way to build a private library.
What cannot go without being said is that we are all so very fortunate to have access to these wonderful and exciting ways to learn. The future for both teachers and students is very bright indeed, and it will be gratifying to see how both groups move forward to face an increasingly sophisticated world.
Post script: One respondent specifically mentioned how much she enjoys interacting with other students in a live class, especially during mealtimes. Another said she particularly did not want to feel obligated to socialize with other students, especially during mealtimes. It takes all kinds!