Meet Jenna Frye, a professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art. You can often find her teaching, making stuff, or talking about teaching and making stuff. Jenna teaches a highly rated free Introduction to Surface Design class on Skillshare with close to 4k students enrolled worldwide!

What’s your story, Jenna?
I’m just your average college art professor, married to a former video game tester/practicing genius, living in a house full of nerdy crafts and digital pinball machines, trying to make this world a more equitable place to live in. Tale as old as time. My undergraduate degree is a B.S. in Psychology and my graduate MFA work was in Digital art and Sculpture. I’ve worked all kinds of jobs from camp counselor to IKEA designer, to van driver, to college professor. Being a professor is the best one though, for sure.

MICA, the college where I work, is like an artist compound nestled in the city of Baltimore; it’s truly the most amazing place to be a creative thinker and maker. Sometimes I can’t believe my job is to work with such incredibly talented students and help them discover their way in this windy world. I think I’m pretty lucky!

My own practice is fairly centered around creative pedagogy and reforming higher education, but I also identify as a community artist/designer/nerder/crafter. As I say, “I teach, I make stuff, I talk about teaching and making stuff.” That’s really it. I’m interested in work that promotes and challenges systems of fairness, equality and FUN! I believe that art and design and making and crafting are powerful tools for change and it’s quite an honor to work and live that mission every day.

Tell us a bit about your online Skillshare class.
My online Skillshare class is based on a face to face course that I developed and currently teach at MICA called “Patterns.” It’s a foundation level elective where we study the principles and elements of design through the focused lens of pattern making. In F2F class we get into all kinds of fun stuff like stamping and stenciling and eggbotting. Such a cliche 😉 In the skillshare class, I was challenged to really think about what the essence of the course was, and how I could distill a version of it into the space of a skillshare class. This was enormously challenging and rewarding for me as a practicing educator because it really helped me “tighten” my curriculum into the core concepts. I decided that the central deliverable of the course was really the collection of mix and match patterns in several color ways. With this under your belt, you can do SO much in terms of application. Maybe applied patterns should be the next course, eh?

When I was approach about designing a course for Skillshare over the summer, I was really interested in the way that a course like this could function as a kind of publication. There’s a lot of fear in the higher ed world about “MOOCs” (massive open online courses) replacing the classroom experience etc, and what my colleague and fellow Skillsharer Ellen Lupton feel, is that MOOCs have incredible potential, not to replace a classroom curriculum, but to support it. In a very real way, my Skillshare course is like a book, it’s just way less boring (sorry readers)!  A large part of why Ellen and I wanted to offer these courses (and offer them for free) is to support the mission of getting good design education into the hands of the many, rather than the few. Skillshare was a great platform for this indeed!

What were your favorite elements of the class experience?
My favorite aspect has been seeing the incredible work of the students! I mean, isn’t that always the most rewarding? In essence, I view my course materials as works of art that I get to share with students on a daily basis. So, like any artist, when my work is well received and does what I wanted it to do, I feel good about that. Seeing the student work, and hearing their critical feedback and watching them get better ad better– what’s more rewarding than that? In terms of format, one thing I love is that it’s so social. The students can easily interact with one another, see each other’s work, and support their classmates through engaged discourse. I wish my classroom management tool could do this at MICA!

Do you have any tips for other teachers on Skillshare?
My tips for other teachers on Skillshare would be to really consider their audience and to be creative about ways to engage the “classroom” in interactive ways beyond the video. My students on Skillshare have consistently given the feedback that they like a solid organization, downloadable/supplemental resources, and also, my feedback.

How has teaching this class impacted your professional endeavors?
I have gotten fantastic exposure through Skillshare. Granted, I did offer my course for free since it was largely supported by MICA, but I’d say reaching an audience of 4,000 is pretty incredible! That’s way more people than would ever come to one of my art shows. Winkey face.

I’ve also noticed that traffic to my website has gone up about 30% and about 12% of that traffic is coming directly from Skillshare. For an emerging artist and educator like myself, this is significant. I’ve also found that having made the investment to make 19 videos (phew!) has tremendously benefited my students at MICA. I use the video and the course itself as a resource for my classes at MICA and the students really love having the personalized content prepared for them. Teaching the Skillshare course really forced me to think critically about my core goals and values as an educator and inspired me to be creative about ways to organize and disemniate critical information. So in terms of how the skillshare course supports my practice of pedagogy, I couldn’t be more satisfied.

Sign up for Jenna’s FREE class here!