Saturday, June 19, 2010

Class Review: Get Out of Auto Mode

I have such mixed feelings about this class.  On one hand, I learned a ton about my camera and how to use the various creative settings (all the little icon settings, as well as program mode, aperture priority and shutter priority mode). It allowed me to take the portrait of Henry above (which I love) and understand how the various settings (shot in aperture priority mode with f5.6, WB auto, etc.) worked and how I might improve it (set WB to full sun to warm his skin tones; switch lenses so that I can use a lower f stop and blur the background even more; position him just a little to the right to get rid of the triangle of sun on his right cheek).  I could not have done that before class, so I clearly learned a lot.  On the other hand, it wasn't a really fun or pleasant class, and there were a few changes that could have made it a much better experience (although I'm not sure I would have learned a lot more).  Overall, I would give it a B+. And I am not rushing to sign up for the next in the series (Move Into Manual).
There were many positives.  The instructor Elisha Snow is very knowledgeable and writes very clearly about photography.  I think that's harder to do than many people realize.  She covered all the basic elements promised in the class.  She answered all questions posted in the forum in a thorough, clear and informative way.  She added a couple of wonderful tutorials in the class blog.  She gave a helpful, detailed critique at the end of class on one photo submitted by each student.  Also, BPS was very responsive to student feedback and  complaints about how the galleries were initially organized.
So, what didn't I like?  First, the weekly downloaded lessons were waaaay too basic.  The material contained in these was very thin.  I didn't do a word count, but I bet that some were just a few hundred words.  Each week, there was a "bonus" hand out, which generally contained useful information. The class could be vastly improved by taking the useful information from the supplemental handouts and putting them into the regular handout.  The best way to get information in this class was to post a question in the "Ask the Teacher" forum. As I mentioned, the answers to these were very good.  I took to posting a couple general, follow-up questions each week, and the responses were incredibly helpful.  This is the type of information that should have been in the weekly lessons, in my opinion.
Second, the instructor had a policy of not commenting on photos which students posted in the weekly gallery.  I asked about it, and here is her response:
The class gallery was set up specifically for you and other students to post their photos for me and the other students to see and enjoy. There are literally hundreds of photos in the gallery, and while I'd love to be able to comment on every single one of them, it's virtually impossible. That is why it was decided from the beginning that it would be most beneficial for the students in this class to take everything they've learned at the end of class, apply it to one photo, and post it in the gallery for me to critique. When I do critique your photo at the end of class, I take a lot of time to carefully look at each photo and leave both positive feedback and any constructive criticism I may have. If you have specific questions about a photo you've taken, please direct me to it in the gallery and I'd be more than happy to help you one-on-one there. 
Sorry, this response just didn't do it for me.  In every other course I've taken, the instructor has at least poppped by and left a few comments.  Even something basic like, "oooh, cute kid" or "nice background blur" would have made the class feel more warm and inviting and would not have taken much time.  Let me add that at the time she posted this response, there were seven photos in that week's gallery.  Seven. Did this affect how much I learned in the class? Probably not, but it left me with a cold and negative feeling.  Perhaps I should have actively asked in the "Ask the Teacher" forum about specific photos each week.  But I don't think that responsibility should be on students.
 Finally, there was a lack of community in the class.  I met a couple of nice people, but no real community developed.  I think the reason for this was because the initial gallery set-up was very difficult to navigate.  BPS switched things in response to complaints, but, by then, it may have been too late to generate that nice class community feel. BPS sent out a class review form after the class, and I filled it out to give this feedback.

So, what do you think?  Am I being too harsh? Am I expecting too much to want the main content offered up front, rather than in response to questions?  Is it unfair to expect a fun, enjoyable class experience in addition to good content?  The class was $60, more than I usually pay for an online art class, but pretty reasonable for online photography classes.  This was the second time the class was offered, so the instructor did not need to create the content from scratch. Any input from others who also took the class?  Alternative opinions definitely welcomed!


helena said...

Interesting what you say about lack of community because I had the same feeling from the textuality class I took on BPS earlier this year. My previous experiences with BPS had been of a lively and friendly class feel with an active forum and discussion between students.

Sian said...

This is interesting! Your opinion is always worth a read Rinda and your honesty is appreciated. I did a photography class at Get It Scrapped and felt a bit the same way about the content, when they offered a second class I felt it was covering what should also have been included in the first one and I didn't pay up again!

I'll be checking back to see what other opinions are offered too.

Amy said...

I have found BPS classes at either extreme, the best online class I have ever taken was through them and some of the worst have also been with them. I have also had the experience of a lack of 'teacher' involvement and a reasonably quiet community - but sometimes I'm not a vocal student so I cannot blame them entirely as I think there are many people like that.
I have yet to take an online photography class with them and I hesitate to do so and your review solidifies my feelings. I think some of their classes are expensive for the quality of content and the $60 fee put me off this one as I had a gut feeling that it would not provide enough information, especially after a couple of other experiences.
Thanks for such an honest and comprehensive review Rinda - it's very helpful to have this feedback :-)

Anonymous said...

You write fabulous reviews, Rinda, and you expressed what I felt about Moving Into Manual. I didn't spend as much time thinking about why I was disappointed in that class, but you nailed it on the head: lack of teacher feedback, poor handouts, and no community. It was such a contrast from the Photography 101 course I took at BPS with Barbara Carroll who commented helpfully (not just cute comments) on every photo I uploaded. I still have an entire notebook of her handouts which I refer to, and I ended up on a private photo board with several women I met in that course. Such a difference!

debs14 said...

It's always interesting to read constructive criticism and I can understand your comments. I've really only ever taken Shimelle classes and they have a great class feel to them, and I've 'met' so many interesting people through them. That is an important part of a class in my opinion. It's not just about learning something new, it's interacting with like-minded people. And I agree, the tutor should have the courtesy (and time) to comment on photos especially on a photo-related course!

Deb @ PaperTurtle said...

Hi Rinda ~

As I read through the first part of your post I was very impressed with all that you had learned. I have no idea how to use any of those settings on my camera and I REALLY need to take a class to learn them!

With regard to the teacher participation, I agree that more interaction would have been nice. It sounds completely different from some of the other classes that we've taken together (like Shimelle's classes...) where there is little to no interaction.

I suppose there are some people who would take a class like this and not care about the interaction piece (boys?). Thanks for taking the time to write a review on this class!

scrappyjacky said...

Always find your reviews interesting....and very honest,Rinda...personally I've come to the conclusion that online photography classes are not for me....I simply need too much 'hands on' help!!
And I definately prefer classes where there is a 'community' spirit.

Tammy Lee Bradley said...

Aaah, very nice review. Couldn't have said it better myself. Having just come off of Picture Spring with a very strong sense of comunity, I lost interest in the first few days. I would check the gallery and there would only be 1 or 2 photos per day. Didn't the instructor notice that interest was dwindling? The lack of teacher interaction or dare I say interest left me very annoyed since I had recruited others to join me. Then Creativity Boot Camp came along and filled the void nicely. Thank you, Meagan! I was very honest with my review of this class when BPS sent out the survey. I will be taking Picture Summer. I signed up on the first day but I will not be taking any further classes in Elisha's lineup. I am very happy that a bunch of us from Get Out of Auto Mode joined in with CBC and made our own community. Each of you are wonderful!!!

Cheri said...

Hi Rinda! I have to say this is the first BPS course that I ever gave a negative review. I've taken approx. 40 different courses through BPS and have been thrilled with at least 35 of them. My reasons for being disappointed with Get Out of Auto were the same as yours - first and foremost the lack of instructor participation. How much more would we all have learned if she had commented on our photos throughout the class? And the hand-outs were weak. I'm SOOOOO looking forward to "Picture Summer", but I won't be taking any more Elisha Snow courses.

sharyncarlson said...

So interesting to read your review. I've always felt as though the classes at BPS don't develop as much a sense of community as say Shimelle's. In the end, this is important to me and also keeps me motivated during class. I appreciate your review, as this was a class I've considered before.

humel said...

This is a considered, thoughtful and thorough review, and very honest about the positives and negatives. It isn't being too harsh when you've been so balanced in your comments. It is a lot of money to pay for a class so you're entitled to have high expectations of it! xx

Sonja said...

Thanks for the great review, Rinda! I can't believe that was the response when there were only 7 photos in the gallery. When I read it, I thought there must be at least 100. ha! $60 may not be a lot for a photography class. But I do still think it's a lot for an online class so seems like you should have gotten more out of it. Thanks for the great feedback!