Creating my first Skillshare class from scratch

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A scary journey that slowly got better with a ton of experimentation, trial and error and just giving things the good ‘ol fashion GO.
Their punchline: “Skillshare is a learning community for creators.” That had me drawn in hook line and sinker from the get go. When I checked out some of the great content they had, I just knew I had to be part of it.

It wasn’t until I signed up and received emails about teaching did I even consider the teaching route. But now that I am on the cusp of publishing my first class, I could not be happier.

What will I be teaching?

The inevitable first question comes to mind when starting a project like this: What am I good at? Then after that’s listed out, the 2nd question rears its ugly head: Do I actually enjoy the items listed before me? I am amazed at the items I actually culled and those that remained.

So here I am with yet another class about websites. These screencasts are so common that they’ve become pedestrian — however, I did cover more ground than others (not primarily for differentiation but more so because I felt that skipping these topics was a disservice to students).

My course covers:

The number of applications and tools will seem gimmicky, but I really believe that creating sites is not just a one-tool process. And once again, I did not want to shortchange students.

Really? WordPress.com?

Yes, really. The class is pitched towards everyday people who want a site NOW. Robust and great looking themes, no FTP, no plugins etc.

“In other words, simplicity over complexity, lower barrier to entry and an easy start. Users can always transfer their site to the .org version later on once they get the hang of it. But making sure they get the hang of it first is the main objective.”

The 4-step process. Brutal simplicity at its best.

Of course, there are some cons using the free version of WordPress.com such as having wordpress inside the URL, customization constraints (it’s not as flexible as .org), you don’t own your data and you might have ads at some point. The .com version also has a ‘blog at WordPress.com’ in the footer (which is also there on paid versions of .com).

But that’s OK because Matt Mullenweg’s Automattic removes most of the above in the affordable paid versions of WP (except for the ‘blog at WordPress.com’). And as I mentioned you can graduate to .org version later on.

And for that matter, you can always move to other platforms like Squarespace too. But the ease of WP.com has been overlooked by many in favour of the latest and greatest.

What do I need to do?

I really had no idea at the start.

First I had to conquer my fear. I’ve been pushing content out for years, predominantly through my personal blog, but doing a video seemed kinda scary — like a real invasion of space kinda scary. But then I also had the same feeling when I first published a post. A few posts later the feeling was ‘meh, big deal. Whatever.

And so I just went for it and adapted the ‘code or it didn’t happen’ Codepen mantra and converted it to my own ‘screencast or it never happened’. I then had to figure out exactly what I needed to do.

Lucky, Skillshare has a few resources from ‘Class creation process’ to ‘Designing your class’, ‘Filming your class’, ‘Publishing your class’ and the list just went on.

By the end of it all, I had a good guideline on what I needed to do.

Planning with Trello

I am a big fan of just enough planning i.e. just enough to get the MVP out effectively. I started off with a 3-minute pencil & paper mind map, then as soon as I knew what I wanted to do, I moved on to Trello (I also like to practice what I preach since I cover Trello in a video).

After adding the cards, I also added a checklist which contained draft content, notes, screencast and final. The last 2 are self-explanatory and the first 2 points (draft, notes) are things that I did not need in hindsight. These 2 activities were more prep work on what I wanted to talk about in each vid [the draft was a mock vid and notes were dot points in Google docs – which I attached to Trello – that contained a script on what I was about to talk through].

Draft, Notes, Screencast and Final activities for Style your theme card

But as I later found out, when the camera starts rolling, the rubber hits the road and there’s no better replacement than real practice in front of the camera.

My first few videos were quite ordinary, but I did get more comfortable as the series moved on. By the end, there were fewer takes and the words flowed freely.

“And I guess that is one takeout for everyone that always wanted to try this: you will get better through practice so don’t delay and just start it now.”

Zipped through the videos in the DONE column

Tools of the trade

These were the tools I used:

  • Macbook pro for everything
  • Quicktime for screencasting
  • Keynote for intro slides and informational slides
  • Some free WordPress.com accounts for firing up example sites
  • Freesound.org for some intro music
  • Apple earplugs to act as a sound mic.

There are some finer things worth mentioning like finding a good time when you’re in the right headspace and filming in dead silence. Both came at a cost of filming early in the morning (4 am) with coffee in hand.

Then there’s the tone of my voice and delivery of my speech; I needed to keep it clear and interesting (I really did not want to sound like a drone). But these things come with practice and time.

Recording with Quicktime

As mentioned, I was new to this entire screencast thing so I had to get a grasp of Quicktime and the editing process. Quicktime basically has options for recording yourself (New Movie Recording) and recording your screen (New Screen Recording).

Recording Options. Note: I did not need to record Audio.

After recording each video, I also inserted a keynote slide as an intro with accompanying freesound intro music:

So the entire process in Quicktime looked like this:

  1. Record the video
  2. Trim the beginning and end of the video (edit > trim) to ensure that I only have the necessary information I needed
  3. Re-record another video (if some bits of point 1 didn’t work out) and ‘Add Clip to End’ to insert it
  4. Add intro slide (‘Add Clip to End’ again)
  5. Add intro music (‘Add Clip to End’ once again).

Adding a music clip: Quicktime > Edit > Add Clip to End

One thing I haven’t quite mastered is the process of adding background music where, as a speaker, you would go through your presentation with subtle music playing in the background.

I am happy to hear any thoughts on how to achieve this.


More about course content

Outside WordPress and Trello, let me walk through other topics covered to make sure that the site built is ‘world-ready’.

3 commons scenarios

The title of the course is ‘Everyday People: Creating a website just for you’ and within it, I cover creating sites for a writer/author, an artist, and a traveller. That’s 3 different personas with the story going something like:

  • As a writer, I want to create a site so that I can write online;
  • As an artist, I want to create a site so I can showcase my portfolio;
  • As a traveller, I want to create a site so that I can share my travel adventures to the world.

The structure goes like this:

  • 3x WP foundation videos including a tour, workflow between a writer and editor (a nice-to-know use case) and the registration process.
  • 6x Writer videos including writer theme selection, configuration, logo creation, adding pages and creating then editing a post.
  • 7x Artist videos including managing a project with Trello, an artist portfolio theme selection, creating a logo, creating pages and widgets, creating portfolio project, simulating the sites on different devices and sharing portfolio.
  • 6x Traveller videos including selecting and styling a travel theme, creating pages and menu, creating a logo and then an avatar, creating a post and heavy edits to the post.
  • 5x ‘extras’ videos including HTML and CSS in WP, post shortcuts, using Haven and using Medium.

Note: And I also have another extra walkthrough of WP app (but more on this later).

As you’ll probably notice a few videos overlap e.g. selecting themes appear on all scenarios, creating posts appear on 2 etc. I’ll excuse this by saying that there is a switch in context so the process is not exactly the same.

And practice does make perfect.

Creating Logos

I appreciate that creating logos is an entire course onto itself, particularly if you go through the entire process of Sketch / Illustrator / other. But I also know that logos should not be an afterthought. For these reasons, I thought to add logo design videos using the design-as-a-service sites like Hipster Logo Generator and Canva.

Simplicity thy name is Hipster Logo Generator

Sketch comes into the picture during the avatar creation process.

And as always, the objective is to keep things simple just to keep everyone interested. There’s nothing worse than adding too much complexity too soon. I don’t want to lose everyone’s attention.

HTML and CSS

While the handling of HTML in a post is the same between .com and .org, there are differences in handling CSS (.com has inside Customizer while .org presentation will differ depending on theme).

WP.com on left, WP.org on right

As you can imagine I only have 1 video each to cover HTML and CSS — so therefore information is not as comprehensive as other courses might cover.

But in all honesty, the beauty of the Skillshare platform means that if students want to dig deeper into these topics then they can do so by exploring other great content within the Skillshare community. There are other fantastic teachers out there that students can choose from. And once you’re part of the community, then you can enrol into unlimited classes.

Part of Keynote slide deck from course

And I also added a link to Code Academy, still the benchmark for free quality learning online in my books.

Pre-publishing checks

I usually perform 2 checks before publishing; a Grammarly check and the default WP spell check.

The Grammarly app allows users to quickly correct words and phrases in a quick and efficient manner.

Grammarly in action

The Grammarly plugin version integrates with WP so effortlessly that you sometimes forget that it’s there; that is until you have to publish a post — then it reminds you by highlighting each word / phrase / sentence that needs attention.

For really long posts, I also add a Hemingway check which has a handy feature of grading from ‘hard to read’, ‘very hard to read’, ‘phrases have simpler alternatives’, ‘adverb check’ and ‘passive voice check’. The entire grading system really forces me to rethink my content before publishing.

Checking your awesomeness through devices

Stopping short of having physical devices, the next best thing is to use helpful sites like Responsinator and Responsimulator to simulate what the site looks like on different devices.

Responsinator has various device templates to choose from, so if you’re really pedantic about looking your best across a few devices, then this is the site for you.

Resposinator and its clean look

Responsimulator on the other hand only comes with iPhone and iPad views. BUT, the value-add comes in the form of a real device image which can double as an image in your own portfolio.

Sharing your site

I want students to be proud of what they’ve built and, therefore, I thought it prudent to add a sharing video.

This short video contains the best way to share your site (post and pages included) and how to show it off through LinkedIn.

A step forward is a step in the right direction.

Inspired writing using Haven

I am a Haven super-fan and I am quite happy to recommend the application (no, I am not affiliated with them).

Any tool that takes the user on a journey to achieve their objective gets a big tick in my book.

And the objective here is to get inspired!

Lofoten magic through Haven

The above does not really do the application justice (it is more atmospheric than this and the accompanying sounds teleports your soul to another world). In the video course, I go through all the gorgeous features of the tool.

And a final word about Haven is that it is best used with the lights off, headphones on and in full screen. Sit back and relax. You’ll be writing your best stuff in no time.

Reach more people on Medium

Much like Haven, I am still finding the experience of writing in Medium to be an absolute pleasure. The type, spacing, line heights, logical hierarchy and all other design aspects reels me in.

And now we can add the fact that Medium has grown to such an extent that we’ll be able to reach a wider audience by virtue of publishing on the platform. It is that power of reach that made me recommend publishing a post on Medium with a cross-reference to your own website (and also vice-versa).

Thanks Medium and Ev Williams— this place is fab!


Working through challenges

Skillshare only accepts certain video resolutions which posed problems when I attempted to upload a screencast using my iPhone i.e. iPhone media resolution output is not compatible to Skillshare resolution criteria. The video in question was a walkthrough of the WordPress app and I really wanted this video to be part of my MVP.

I turned my problem into a solution that could potentially scale by adding the video to YouTube:

So no biggie, I was able to work around platform limitations. And this might just be the birth of my YouTube channel.


Marketing

I should really have created more excitement sooner rather than later. Not the publish-a-Landing-Page-before-launch-and-collect-emails approach. My humble course seems more appropriate for just Twitter, YouTube, Medium, my own blog and the Skillshare community (thanks Skillshare).

Marketing to me is not only about creating the promotional material; it is also about timing. In fact, creating noise prior to launch is a must to help build momentum.

As it stands, I am using the following channels to market:

  • Twitter. My network is small at the moment so that adds extra pressure to get the messaging and the hashtags right. But twitter is the vessel that carries the message (YouTube embeds, post links) and sends the word out.
  • YouTube. I’ve had it for a while but have only recently been publishing content on it (all because of the upcoming course). Now that I am getting the hang of creating video content, I’ll try to keep my channel a little bit more active.
  • Medium. This is self-explanatory. I am not sure if hashtags are in a future release, but I instinctively added # only to find out that Medium does not support it. But that’s OK, this post is fine for now.
  • My own blog. My own blog is usually in lockstep with my tweets. But I do realise my reach is limited, therefore, the other channels.
  • Skillshare community. Skillshare is very good at fostering its community. They have monthly challenges for new teachers which really encourages to teach. The addition of projects for each course not only gives the community a sense of purpose but also promotes encouragement. Needless to say, I have added my own project for the November Teach Challenge.

So when’s the big day?

The class is now LIVE as at 5 of Nov 15. I have class referral links right here.

I would love to see you over in Skillshare! The platform has a fantastic range of other courses so feel free to have a look around.


About this post

PC green brown

Writing on Medium prior to launch will hopefully help get the word out. Like I mentioned in the section past, one has to market market MARKET. Market and they might come.

..hopefully.

And yes, this article was first posted in Medium.

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