Today’s guest on the Teach & Flourish podcast is Mariya Popandopulo. Mariya is a photographer and illustrator who (in a very short period of time) has taught over 3800 students about the importance of photography in modern life.
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Kari: Hi everyone. It’s Kari Sayers here with Teach and Flourish. Today we have an interview with our first Epic Instructor, Mariya. She’s a photographer, an illustrator and online instructor. I met her through Skillshare.com. She was actually one of my students and then I become one of her students. Hi Mariya.
Mariya: Hey Kari.
Kari: How’s it going?
Mariya: It’s okay. It’s late evening here in Kazakhstan. It’s a beautiful, actually summer. Very summer evening. It was a very summer day.
Kari: That’s awesome. It’s about 10:35 here. I’m in Greenville, South Carolina and I have no clue what it is outside yet because I haven’t been out there. It looks semi sunny so hopefully I get a chance to get out and enjoy the weather.
I wanted to thank you so much for agreeing to participate in this interview. I’ve just been extremely impressed with everything that you’ve done in the last couple of months and just following you online. Just your personality and your demeanor and how you come off in your courses. I’m just extremely impressed by it. When I was thinking about creating these interviews with instructors, you were the first person that came to mind for me.
Mariya: Oh. Thank you.
Kari: I’ve gone through a lot of courses and there’s some other people I really liked but I just really like how you come off on your courses so seriously thank you for agreeing to come on here.
Mariya: Thank you.
Kari: Just going to get started. I have a couple questions here. My first question is just tell me more about where are you from, where do you live? What’s your professional background?
Mariya: Okay, my name is Mariya, as you already know. I am almost 31 years old, turning in June. I live in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Currently I do some portrait photography and mostly currently I do design work like making logos for local small businesses. My educational background has nothing to do with either of those activities.
Kari: Sounds like me too.
Mariya: Yeah, I studied finance, accounting and economics.
Mariya: Which makes me sound smart in a lot of situations but yeah, still not very useful in my current activities.
Kari: I think it’s so funny because I’m the same way. I have two degrees and it has nothing to do with what I teach online or what I write in books. Hey, great minds think alike maybe. Okay, with that being said, what made you decide to create your first online course? What was the process that went into you decided why you were going to start doing courses?
Mariya: Well actually you did. I had this thought for some time but it was very general and I didn’t do anything about that. Then I stumbled across your class about being creative entrepreneur. We talked in a discussion section and you suggested the New Year Teacher’s challenge at SkillShare. At first I just wanted to get another year of premium SkillShare membership.
Kari: That’s a good reason.
Mariya: Yeah because it is given to anyone who successfully completes and publishes the class. It doesn’t matter how many students you get, if you publish you get the premium SkillShare for a year, which is very cool. Then I also wanted to see if I could teach at all because i was quite sure I can’t. Yeah, and I also saw it as a starting point of gathering materials for my online course, which I’m still planning to do sometime in future but still working on it.
Kari: Isn’t it crazy how when we step out of our comfort zone and even though we have in our mind we can’t teach and then the moment you do it’s like what have we been waiting for?
Mariya: Yes. The hardest thing is to start. Anything really. The hardest thing is to start. Once you start it’s just getting easier.
Kari: Absolutely. Absolutely. Tell me a little bit about your first online course. What was it about and how did you decide that you were going to create a course on that topic first?
Mariya: My first class was on still life photography. At the beginning I made a list of possible class ideas. The one topic which i thought I could do immediately without much extra work, which was a plus, was on still life photography which is one of my favorite types. Throughout the years I had a lot of pictures on the subject so I could use that to illustrate the main points of the class. This is exactly what I did. I went through my archives, it took me about a day because I have a lot of pictures, and gathered photo material. Also made some extra pictures too. Class turned out to be very short, just over 30 minutes but I realized back a lot of information about light composition, background and a lot of other stuff. Everything I knew about the subject.
Which maybe was a bit of a mistake because currently SkillShare actively promotes bite size classes. In the beginning if I knew I could take one subject like light on a photography and make a class on that. Financially speaking it is better because you can make five short classes or one. In five short classes it is more likely that you will have more students, meaning you will have more payment for every student involved.
Kari: Right. It’s funny because I ran into the same thing. When I first got started with SkillShare they weren’t so much promoting that you should do bite size courses. I’ve been, I did courses on other platforms and it’s only really in the past couple of months that they’ve really come out and said here are the type of courses that are doing better, the shorter ones. Now I’m trying to figure out well how do I condense because I’m long winded and I talk a lot. I’m trying to condense my courses or break them up and see how I can use them on SkillShare like you’re saying in smaller pieces as opposed to these long pieces because that’s what people want on this platform that we’re using.
Mariya: Yeah. Another thing, I discussed it with my relatives and friends and many say if that first class wasn’t that good and useful maybe I wouldn’t get so many students. It’s a trade off. You never know how it will turn out.
Kari: For anyone listening, hopefully after this you go online and check out Mariya’s classes on SkillShare. The still life photography is really awesome. I’m totally not graphic oriented or into photography but it’s so helpful and it’s helped me. I’m practicing with my photos because of her class now so thank you.
Mariya: Thank you.
Kari: I know that you’ve taught over 3000 students now on your SkillShare platform. That’s a lot of students. How important is it for you to interact with your student? How do you make sure that they have a good experience?
Mariya: Okay, so I checked yesterday. I have about just over 3800 students across all three classes. I love interacting with students but I don’t really get a lot of projects. It might be that it’s just too much information in the class and making a project will take time but whenever I get a work submitted or question asked I always answer to the best of my knowledge. I’m horrible at criticizing. I always try to find something nice, anything and I always encourage people. If I can make suggestion I always say this is my personal preference but you can go your own way.
Kari: I know. It’s hard to get into the habit of giving constructive criticism. You don’t want to tear people down but at the same time you want to help them. Totally understand.
Mariya: There’s other things that it’s sort of interaction but it’s one sided. It’s the reviews that people leave on the class. I really have a lot of those. Those are so nice. People who leave those kind of beautiful reviews, they don’t have to do that but they do. They spend some time saying something nice and even though they’re not many projects, the most come out of awesome views is really hard for me. I feel that my classes do add value.
Kari: Absolutely. I think for a lot of us instructors at the end of the day, we want to add value to people’s lives. Yes, we want to make money of course but we want to add value and we want to feel like people are getting something out of what we teach. Because otherwise why are we sharing it?
Mariya: Yeah exactly.
Kari: That’s awesome. Okay, tell me a little bit about, I know before we started the call we talked a little bit about the course creation process for you. Tell us a little bit more about how that process works, what you find difficult, what’s easy and then anything else you want to throw in there.
Mariya: Okay, actually my creation process is quite lengthy but okay. I’m still working on making my class creating process more efficient. I know that if I need to I can make a class within a week. I know some instructors can actually make a class within a few hours. These are classes that do not require additional work like extra shooting or audio recording that records separately. Yeah, usually I get distracted by other things so typically I spend about 20 days putting a class together. I know it’s a lot.
My process is like that. First of all I come with a class idea. This may be the hardest part. Whenever I have an idea of a possible class I write it down in a notebook so that I can revisit it later. I have this small notebook with class ideas. It’s about 13 of them there right now, which I can go if I want to make a class. Then I write the outline of the class. For my last class it was ten iPhone photography hacks. This is not the name that actually the class was published with. I change it later because I get more than ten points. Yeah, I just sat there and brainstormed what do I do in terms of iPhone photography that can help other people? Some things were very small like cleaning off the lens before shooting. Because if you don’t your image will be blurry and will lack contrast. As small as it is, I know, I do it every time so it might be useful to others too. Most of my classes I do ten things how to improve this. This is the outline.
Next I expand on every point. I do everything in writing. I treat every class as if I was writing a book.
Kari: That’s a good idea.
Mariya: I write a lot. Everything I say in class I have it written. For example if i wanted to publish a book on this, I have most of the text. Like 99% of the text is there already.
Kari: That’s awesome.
Mariya: Then I make a list of pictures I need to find or make for the class to show my points. I also do the actual shooting and start making presentation. I do my presentation in Keynote. It’s an alternative for PowerPoint.
Kari: For PowerPoint, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mariya: I do the presentation, start making the presentation, making the slides and putting the pictures there. At this point I realize that I need some extra pictures and some text has got to be edited because it doesn’t go with the slides. It’s all work in progress. Finally when I have my presentation and my text I’m ready to record the voice. I’m taking a slightly different path of class making most photography courses on SkillShare use a lot of videos to show the actual shooting. As of now I manged to make my whole class in just a presentation format without any video. I’m not even doing the introductory videos anymore as I did for my first class because it took me three days to make a two minute video. It was so frustrating.
Kari: The thing is, we all find our own different styles. Let me just say, I love the way that you lay your courses out. To me, it never even dawned on me that you weren’t doing video with it. It’s so easy to follow so keep doing it that way because it’s easy to follow.
Mariya: I hope that it is easy to follow but it’s also easy for me to do because video recording will require some other person to record me. As of now I manage to do pretty much everything on my own.
Mariya: I’m not doing the introductory videos anymore. I take my laptop with my text, my iPhone and my iPhone headset, which as a mic in it and go to the room where I can be alone and no one will add additional noise. Then I record my text using iPhone’s voice memos app.
Mariya: I don’t know how to transfer it from my iPhone to my computer so I just send all my voice memos that I record for every block via email and then download it from there. The process should be better.
Kari: Hey, you’re making it work. You’re making it work.
Mariya: I’m taking different road.
Mariya: Once my voice memos are on my computer I move them to Final Control. It’s a video editing program for mock. I edit my voice there. I remove any unwanted words and pauses like um or anything because this program has great tools to make audio very clear. It removes the noise, the hum. Anything which is distracting.
Kari: Yep, I got you.
Mariya: I really struggle with that word. It is very important because you want your students to understand you especially when English is not your native language. You want to make it as clear as possible. Sometimes I record again if I download the voice memo to the computer and I listen to it and I understand that the word I’m saying is unclear so I go back and record the whole block again.
Finally I add the presentation slides to the Final Control. It allows to do that too, and merge it together with the audio. Export the class, the units.
Kari: That’s amazing to me. I’m so, I’m like okay, i put my presentation. I’m recording over the presentation as I’m doing the slides. I’ve heard of people, a couple of people who do it the way you’re doing it. That’s really interesting to me, how you end up merging the audio. It just goes to show you, there’s so many different ways to get to the end result that we have.
Mariya: Yeah. Actually I record, not a lot but a few classes that teach students how to make better presentation or how to record the voice or the video. I picked up quite a lot of advice from there. When you are recording your voice try to smile. It actually shows in the presentation. I’ve actually be commented in the review section that it feels like I’m smiling all the time while I’m talking. It’s amazing. It really is.
Kari: I really, I think there’s something to that. I end up, like right now. I’m talking and I’m smiling but I end up laughing a lot when I’m recording or talking to people. I think there’s something to that. I think you’re right.
Mariya: Another very very cool device that I was given in one of the classes on SkillShare was that your normal voice may be too slow for the recording. Because recording sort of slows everything down. If you’re talking as you’re in normal life, it will be very boring. For my recordings I’m usually too overexcited. It really sounds weird when I record it but when I listen to it it actually sounds okay.
Kari: That’s actually really good advice. I’m going to have to pay attention the next time I’m recording a course. I can’t think now, how am I talking but I feel like I talk fast as it is. I don’t know.
Mariya: Actually I think you are enthusiastic enough.
Kari: Okay this is good. I should not speed up my enthusiasm in my courses. Very good to know.
Mariya: I like your pace. Maybe it’s for non native speakers it’s harder because you can’t really talk fast in non native language. Yeah, you have to practice and rehearse and speed it up a bit.
Kari: That’s really good advice. Then just for anyone who was listening and you’re a non native English speaker, that’s not your first language, just know you can do this. Clearly Mariya is doing this and she’s doing it well. Don’t let that be a barrier to your success. I hope that’s a key point that you get from what she just said because that was some amazing advice right there.
Mariya: Thank you.
Kari: I was going to ask you what tools you use but I think you hit on that unless there was, are there any other tools that you didn’t mention?
Mariya: No I think that’s it. It’s just the Final Control, it took me about two days to learn. Again, it was a very frustrating experience. I would start watching classes on how to navigate Final Control. Then I close them and try something on my own and then I go back to class. It took me about two days.
Mariya: Now it’s actually very intuitive and it’s a good program.
Kari: That’s for, that’s if you’re using Mac?
Kari: That’s good for people to know too because whether you’re on a PC versus a Mac you’re going to have different tools you have access to. I don’t use a Mac, I use a PC. For my video editing I do some of it in my screen casting tool. If it requires a lot more editing I use We Video. Wevideo.com. I use their editing to add music and to move around different audio pieces and cut and slice. I guess that’s good for some people to know. Can you give me a quick rundown of the tools that you just mentioned in your course creation process?
Mariya: Okay, so it’s my computer.
Kari: Everybody you must have a computer.
Mariya: Yeah. It’s a good starting point.
Kari: Right, good starting point.
Mariya: My iPhone, which I use for my voice recording with a headset with a microphone, which actually goes with an iPhone. There’s no extra spending there. This Final Control program and I use Keynote, which is alternative to PowerPoint to make slides. That’s pretty much it.
Kari: Awesome. Awesome. There you have it folks. If you’re using a Mac there’s a list of the tools that Mariya’s using. There are other tools out there but hey, that’s a starting point. You can start with using exactly what she’s using. My next question is what made you choose SkillShare as your initial platform for launching your first course?
Mariya: Frankly at that point I didn’t know anything about any other platforms. I want to try You to Me because that’s the only one that I know too about now. For now SkillShare is great and it works for me right now.
Kari: Awesome. What do you think has most contributed to your success? Like you just said you have over 3800 students now. When did you post your first class?
Mariya: I think it was middle February.
Kari: Okay, my goodness. From February to what we’re now at June 2nd, in this short period of time she’s amassed over 3800 students everyone which is awesome. What do you think has contributed to that success?
Mariya: Honestly I have no idea. It may be the case that I actually managed to make a good first class and then two more. It just all started with 25 students. As you know, in order to get to the trending page. That’s the page which all students can see. You have to have 25 students enrolled or in your class before you get there. I wasn’t shy to ask my friends and networks to enroll with a special free enrollment link. My class is pretty new but SkillShare allows you to create a free enrollment link for some number of enrollments to get your enrollments rolling. I bugged my Facebook and Instagram and my dad even bought a premium membership before I posted the free link.
I also enrolled in classes of other fellow first time teachers. I met them on the teacher’s challenge. I guess it’s just a combination of trying to make good content. Not perfect, otherwise I would have never published it. Not being afraid to ask help from your friends and just being helpful to others.
Kari: That’s so important. Knowing what you just said a second ago about not waiting until it’s perfect because I think a lot of us get trapped in oh my goodness this isn’t good enough. I can’t release this out. You can make tweaks along the way. I had a class that I almost completely redid after I got some feedback from my students I redid it and they loved it much more after that. You never know until you release it out into the world.
Mariya: Sometimes even when you’re complete making your class and you find some small points that can be improved but improving them will take a lot of time because you’ll have to voice record again and then put it all together again and then upload again, you just have to go with it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to be good but it doesn’t have to be perfect because you have to start somewhere.
Kari: Absolutely. Start where you are. I say that all the time. Start where you are. Use what you have. Then teach what you know and you’ll go far with this. Okay. What is your favorite part so far about creating online courses?
Mariya: Okay, apart from payments I think reviews. I feel so much love. You’re doing, you’re minding your own business, doing your own things and then you get an email that someone submitted a review and people say such wonderful things. It’s so inspiring.
Kari: It is.
Mariya: It just makes your day.
Kari: It makes you want to, like you said this before, it makes you want to keep going. Let’s you know that you’re adding value.
Mariya: Yes, yes.
Kari: You might have been having a bad day before that and then you get that notification. You’re like yes.
Mariya: Yeah, yeah. Exactly.
Kari: That’s fantastic. Well we’re going to wrap up here. What I wanted to know, is there any advice that you can give to other people who have been thinking or maybe even over thinking about creating their first online course?
Mariya: Yeah. The usual one. You just have to try it. Don’t consider you’re going to do it or not do it. Just consider it as an experiment. You experiment if you can teach. Maybe like me you actually can, which was a surprise. I would never know that if I didn’t try. Kari thank you again for pointing me into the right direction. One more thing. The teacher’s challenge on SkillShare, you have to do that. Because they help every month and provide a great structure of deadlines. You also get to know other teachers when you publish your class and you get a free year of premium membership I talked about before.
Mariya: There’s literally no downsides in this scenario.
Kari: Absolutely. I think that is really good advice. So many people don’t, they do promote it on SkillShare but I run into a lot of people who don’t know about it and then I feel like they need to move their little button for it and make it more visible because I feel like I stumbled across it and it was one day before it was starting. This was last year in January. It was the best thing ever. Like you said, you meet other people. You get to learn the ropes of SkillShare. It’s just a good foundation. It leaves a good foundation for your start if you decide to create a course on SkillShare.
Mariya: Yeah, yeah.
Kari: Thank you so much Mariya. I really appreciate your time. You just don’t understand. I’m so excited for you and I feel like you have, there’s so much more. You have so much more to come and looking forward to enrolling in more of your courses.
Mariya: Thank you.
Kari: Keep up the good work. For anyone who’s listening in, if you want to check out more on Mariya’s courses, I’ll have a link in the post that will lead to her SkillShare page and also to her Instagram page and any other page she wants me to lead you guys too. Thanks for listening in. This is is our first interview with Mariya for Epic Instructor on TeachandFlourish.com.
Mariya: Thank you Kari.
Kari: Thank you so much. You’re awesome.
Mariya: You too.