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Learning Better with Technology at Bullseye

Along with everyone in the Northwest, Bullseye Glass Co. continues to work through challenges brought by the pandemic and the record-breaking summer heat. A year and a half ago, our robust education program of in-person classes at five locations around the nation came to a sudden halt as businesses and schools were required to close to the public.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Ted Sawyer, Bullseye’s Director of Research and Education suddenly had no students, so no classes! He switched gears and started working on an instructional video, Under Pressure.

  • After finishing the video, he met with Bullseye’s marketing department to discuss how an online class could give glass students an educational experience comparable to attending an in-person class. They concluded that an enriching online class would include:
  • A class guide, with extensive notes and illustrations to supplement the material covered in the video.
  • A private online gallery so that students could show their projects to each other and to the instructor.
  • Delivery of the class guide pdf file and on-demand video immediately upon registration, so students could start studying the materials before the actual class sessions.
  • Two live class sessions. The first would be a “Watch Party” where everyone could watch the video together, live, with the instructor to answer questions. The second live session would be a “Show and Tell” where the instructor and students could share observations and feedback about the projects.
  • Community. To support a community network for online students after the class, many of Bullseye’s classes offer a private Facebook Group where students can ask questions, offer insights, and share both their class projects and their follow-p projects, revealing more variations on the class technique.
Student work

Even with these features added, we assumed that a remote online class could not rival the quality of an in-person class. To our complete surprise, as students joined and completed classes, we learned that for any students who already own a kiln, the online experience with these features offered a better learning experience than an in-person class. This was the case for several reasons.

In Bullseye’s online classes:

  • Students set up the kiln shelf and kiln furniture on their own. (In a live class, a teaching assistant or the instructor does this.)
  • Students plan and program their own firing cycles, which typically does not happen in a studio class.
  • Students select their own supplies, including choosing glass colors. Typically, a studio class offers limited color options. When students select their own colors, the final projects reflect more palettes—students get the benefit of seeing the project completed in a wide array of palettes and sizes.
  • Follow-up projects: online class students have more confidence about following up their project with a new variation, perhaps because they are confident in how to set up and fire the piece, and have the support of the class guide, streaming video, and an online community to help with any questions.

It has been gratifying to see students take an online class, experience a new technique, and then run with it, making original work beyond the original class project. We have also noticed that more students are accessing classes because no travel is required.

Since “Under Pressure,” Bullseye has produced additional online classes based on the format described above, including many with guest artists. These artists include Tim Carey, Amanda Simmons, Richard Parrish, Nathan Sandberg, and Ian Chadwick, among others. We invite you to learn more at https://classes.bullseyeglass.com.Seeing how well students learn when they have less help from the teaching assistant has influenced our overall approach to in-person classes for beginners.

Tim Carey
Ian Chadwick

For example, in our introductory class, “Great Plates,.” students get access to a streaming video and illustrated class guide upon registration. As a result, less studio time is used to explain the process, and we now support students in programming their own firing cycles.

Taking a class like Great Plates further empowers students by qualifying them to use our Open Studio facilities, which now include the chance to use coldworking tools like our belt sanders and sandblasters, after a brief orientation.

This very hard year and a half has left us with a silver lining: we can do things in new ways if we keep an open mind.