Archive | September 2015

Brave Girls University Review

Have you heard about the newest offering from Melody Ross called Brave Girls University?  The doors to the school just opened on September 1st.  Here’s the blurb from their website:

“Brave Girl University is a one-stop gathering place for learning, growing and becoming, through hundreds of classes taught by dedicated teachers who offer soulful ways to make life better, happier and more authentic for every woman. From painting to gardening to meditation to relationships and much more. . . access it ALL for just $24.95 per month.”

I saw a lot of posts about BGU from several of the teachers: Stephanie Lee and Terri Brush, who both teach amazing metalsmithing classes, and Christy Tomlinson, who teaches cool mixed media art classes.  It sure seemed like an amazing deal at $25 a month, so I decided to cancel my Netflix for September and give Brave Girls University a chance for the month.

The first day saw a lot of technical glitches, with the server crashing immediately upon opening, and several of the classes showing as unavailable, which is not surprising considering this was a brand new venture for the Brave Girls and had sparked a lot of interest in the art community.  I wasn’t able to access very much on the first day, so I decided to wait until the next day to see if I could explore more thoroughly.

So far, I have to say that I love it!  There are a wide variety of classes in everything from metalsmithing to herbalism to mixed media paintings.  I love you that you can pop into any classroom you’d like to check out the classes.  I’ve finished two classes so far: One was Stephanie Lee’s Pipe Dreams, and it was awesome, which I know it would be, because I’ve taken her class Homesteader’s Metalsmithing Revamped, which is, by far, the best online class I’ve taken to date. I’m hoping to get into my studio this weekend to start on some pieces inspired by the class and I’ve already spent an evening working on making the silk cording she demonstrates in the class.  This class alone is worth the $25 fee! I will definitely be watching all of the videos again and taking some notes before the end of the month.

I also finished Fire Cider: An Effective Folk Remedy by Jennette Nielsen. I’m into herbal and natural remedies and had never heard of this one before.  I am always looking for great cold and flu remedies/preventatives and I had everything on hand for making fire cider, so I’m currently steeping a batch that will be ready just in time for when the weather starts to get colder.  I have no idea if it will help me avoid getting sick this year, but I’m intrigued enough to give it a try.  There are a few other classes on herbalism that I planning on checking out this month.

Last night while I was cleaning my studio, I watched Flora Bowley’s Brave Intuitive Painting class. It was very cool to watch her process from start to finish on her paintings and to see how everything changed as she worked.  This is a class I would probably never have signed up for otherwise, so it’s cool that Brave Girls University is giving me a chance to explore classes outside my usual interests.

So, overall, is it worth the $25 fee?  Absolutely! Even if you have only a few hours free each week to do the classes, if you focus on the classes that interest you the most, you can definitely have an experience well worth the price of going out to the movies with a friend. (Actually, given the price of movies and snacks, BGU is probably a way better deal!) Since I tend to watch tv shows while I’m packing orders each morning, I’ll have plenty of time to watch lots of classes & I’ll be inspired to create art once I’m done my work for the day.

Whether I’ll stay a member month to month will really depend on how busy I see myself being each month and how often new content is added — what I expect that I’ll do is add Brave Girls University into the rotation:  What I do currently is switch back and forth between the different online content providers: Netflix is my favorite, but sometimes I’ll cancel Netflix for a month for Hulu, if there’s a series I want to watch on Hulu Plus.  One month I canceled both and did HBOnow for the month — HBO has amazing quality content, but it’s a little more expensive at $15 a month, so I wait until I have a bunch of shows to catch up on (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones) then marathon that series for the month.

So I can see me adding in Brave Girls University every couple of months to learn some new techniques and once I’m ready to learn something new, adding another month. I could keep all of the content networks, but I’m limited in how much time I actually have to watch shows, so I just keep one each month.  Why waste the money, right?  I might have to change my usual policy though, because BGU really is great! I might just keep BGU and continue rotating the other ones as well (since sometimes I just want to veg out in front of a television series!).

Now, that all being said, there are still some problems with Brave Girls University that need some work, so if you are still on the fence, waiting until all the kinks are worked out might not be a bad idea.  For one thing, there’s currently no way to save your favorite classes and the search system is so clunky it borders on useless — so you waste a lot of time finding the classes you want.  It’s not like it takes hours or anything, but when free time is limited, it’s nice to be able to get right back to where you left off.  If Brave Girls University could add a feature to let you save your place, so that you could get right back to watching your class as soon as you log in, that would be amazing.  I’d also like to be able to have a section where I save all the classes that I want to take next so that I don’t have to keep searching for them.

Although the classrooms are beautiful and well-organized, the front page is clunky — you can see three classes for each section and you have to click a link to see all of the classes in that section — they are shown one at a time with descriptions underneath, which makes for a lot of scrolling and clicking to the next page.  If you don’t remember what page has the class you want, you  have to click through all of the classes to find them.  Again, it’s not like it’s hours, but it’s unnecessarily time consuming. Now, if you scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, you can click on a box to search the classes, which will take you to a page that shows 18 classes at a time… but they aren’t in any kind of order that I can see (i.e. alphabetical by class name or teacher name) so it’s still a pain to find what you want.

There are filters on the search page that let you narrow down the choices, either by topic (examples: authenticity, gratitude, starting over) or by techniques (examples: art journaling, food & cooking, sculpting). The filters are kind of weird though — Pipe Dreams, which is a metalsmithing jewelry class, is listed under authenticity, happiness, and individuality.  Searching by topic definitely doesn’t work for me, though I’m sure some people must find it useful.  When I searched using the “jewelry” filter, nothing was found, but I know for a fact there are at least 5 classes that involve making jewelry.  I know that Stephanie Lee has three classes, but when I searched using the drop down menu via teacher name, nothing came up for her. (Actually I searched a few other teachers as well, nothing, so I don’t think that function works at all.) So that functionality definitely needs some work. As it stands, it’s very frustrating to navigate, which sort defeats the whole vibe of the site!

Finally the part of the Brave Girls University that I find the most annoying and makes me *almost* wish I had waited a month to sign up is the fact that a LOT of classes are listed as “coming soon” — so when I signed up, thinking I would get to take some classes by Stephanie Lee and Dina Wakley. Unfortunately, most of the classes I am interested in taking aren’t open yet. So I feel a little misled, since all of the advertising says you will get access to all of the classes once you sign up.  If the class isn’t open yet, you can’t access it, obviously.

Now, granted, it’s only the 4th day, so hopefully a lot of the new content will be added in soon, but if you are looking for specific classes, you might want to check that the class is open before you sign up.  For instance, Stephanie Lee is listed as having three classes, but only 1 is open so far.  Dina Wakley has 4, with only 1 open. Christy Tomlinson was listed as a teacher in the advertising but doesn’t have any classes yet. (I saw a comment on Facebook that she was very busy in August so wasn’t able to make the launch; she’s not even listed on the teachers page at the site, so maybe she has changed her mind?)

The worst part about the “coming soon” classes is not so much that I have to wait for the content (but waiting is soooooo hard!) but that there’s no easy way to see if a class is open yet without clicking into the classroom, on the search page I mentioned above, when you first land, there are 18 classes currently shown, 4 of them are “coming soon” but you can’t easily tell that without trying to open each classroom.  If they had a text overlay over the image showing it as coming soon, that would save me a lot of frustration trying to find a class that I want that is available.

{Now I did find a tweak for that if you are already a member: if you click on the “meet the teachers” link on the main site, you’ll see all of the classes listed by teacher and these links have “coming soon” written next to the name of the class.  So I’ll be finding my classes from this page from now one!}

Despite my complaints, I have to say that all-in-all, Brave Girls University is awesome and well worth the admission fee!  I didn’t sign up for the Brave Box, so I can’t offer any thoughts on that, but for the school itself, I highly recommend it… but I’d recommend waiting a month or two before signing up so that all of the kinks can be worked out.  I think the school could have used a little more work before it went live, but I’m sure that it’s hard to iron out the technical details without having students actually using the classroom, so I totally understood from the start that it might be a little confusing the first week or so. I’ve loved all of the classrooms I’ve visited so far and I know that I’ll be inspired all month long.  I’ll probably end up keeping BGU next month, too, but the jury is still out of that one.

Now, as a teacher of online classes myself, I have to admit that I’m curious how this system will be beneficial to the teachers.  From what I’ve read, it seems like the teachers only get paid based on a percentage from people who sign up using their link.  Since I heard about the class from three different teachers, that means that two of them promoted the school but didn’t get the sign up credit from me joining based on their recommendation.

Plus, some of the classes cost significantly more than access to the school — Stephanie Lee’s class, Homesteader Metalsmithing Revamped, sells for $150 but it will be in the Brave Girls University classroom under the $25 monthly fee. (It’s “coming soon” though so don’t think you can save $125 by signing up for BGU instead, at least not yet.) Sure you get lifetime access to the class when you buy it direct (and, as a student, I have to say it’s 100% worth every penny!), but you could have 6 months of access for the same price from BGU which includes access to dozens of other classes as well.

I must confess, I’m wondering if teachers will be pulling out of the school if they aren’t making enough money, unless they are looking at the school as promotion, in that students who enjoy their classes in the University might decide to buy other classes directly from them. However, with as content packed as BGU is, I’m not sure how well that idea will work.  As a teacher, I have mixed feelings about the school and I’m curious to learn more.  As a student, I love it.

So have you signed up for Brave Girls University?  If so, what do you think?