Wondertree Self Design is such a great concept for child led learning. We can school or not school as we please. We follow our own lead, and more importantly Lily’s with nary an interference from anyone. The best part (and reason we chose to use Self Design) is the funding. We get a large amount of money to spend on “learning” for Lily every year. This means books, craft supplies, museum memberships…. We enjoy talking to our wonderful learning consultant and telling her what we’ve been up to each week and she turns what we do into school speak the government likes to hear. We’re happy we get funding, the government’s happy having more confidence that my child is learning something despite being at home (ha) and Self Design employees are paid.

So many things work in concept and are a struggle in real life. I’d like to voice my issues with Self Design here, mainly because I don’t have any clue who to broach these many problems with at Self Design.

That’s one of the biggest problem for me- who to contact in case of problems and who to contact instead if you aren’t having your problems resolved. Oddly there isn’t anyone listed on the Who To Contact page under “complaints”. When you send someone a message, you can see that they’ve read it, passed it on, other people read it, there are replies- but not to you, and then if you hear back, it’s probably from someone different.

This online school is rife with technical problems. After 25 years of operation, you’d think that they’d have a better handle of all these problems that come up again and again. At the very least, they’d be attentive when adding new features to limit the issues that seem to inevitably come up as a result. I remember being on bulletin boards more than 15 years ago with Wondertree students and hearing about various problems with the school. Perhaps they’re constantly biting off more than they can chew. Maybe they don’t have the money to hire adequate technical expertise. These are only a few explanations I can see from this outside view.

It really is an outside view that I have. It’s incredibly hard to feel a part of what’s going on with Self Design.¬†Last year I was using a new learning consultant and we had a number of problems. She was a wonderful person but it didn’t seem like either of us knew what we were doing or how to help the other. When the year was coming to a close, I knew I wanted a new learning consultant. Someone with more experience and yet someone we could meaningfully communicate with. Picking a new consultant was so hard. It was like you needed to know all the learning consultants beforehand. The list with bios might say a consultant is available but that wasn’t necessarily the case if they had made plans to keep students or had unofficial plans to take on specific new ones. I ended up frantically contacting my three choices when I realised that in waiting to find out, I could lose a chance to find a different good fit because I’d be the last to know that they were taken. Thankfully one of my choices was available and unofficially willing to take us on. I feel for the poor parent that waited (and waited) only to hear that their choices were actually taken and was left with little to no choice in learning consultants.

Waiting to hear has been my biggest mistake when dealing with Self Design. You wait to hear because as a client you think someone must be responsible for you but they aren’t. You have to ask and clarify and push for further help. Just because you contact someone about a problem doesn’t mean they’ll follow up with it. You have to get back to different people to find out if things are happening. You end up talking to multiple people when you wish you could just talk to one person who cares and is able and willing to help make something right.

All the technical problems aside, because really these things can happen (maybe all the errors just happen to me?), what about good service? There is little point in hiring anyone to work at an online school if they can’t effectively communicate or help a client over email. I moderated busy Freecycle groups for many years and as a volunteer, I offered more care and assistance than I’ve received from paid employees with Self Design. Okay, that’s not completely true. My learning consultant has been exceedingly considerate and someone called me on the phone to help last year when I was struggling working with the program. This year, however, I’ve heard from multiple people that the problem is “this” and “this” is different each time I hear it. I’ve heard more justifications than I’m interested in listening to. It’s easy to lose confidence that they aren’t just paying lip service.

At this point, I’ve reported 12 weeks of schooling and have not received any funding. My visa has been “lost in the mail” twice despite having changed my home address with Self Design (I tried before the end of last year and throughout the summer to be met with technical error after error) finally more than a week before my visa was ordered AND having a change of address in place at my old home. Why was it ordered to my old address in the first place? Further to my frustration, the visa company can not/will not change my address with them over the phone. The second try, sent a month ago, had to be sent to my old address in an effort to get here. I’ve now asked that Self Design reorder my visa to my correct address. I’m not sure what else I can do. It’s been such frustration dealing with the Self Design program.

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5 Responses to Getting Things Off My Chest

  1. Debbie says:

    You sound most frustrated Annie. I’m sorry this has been such a struggle for you. I don’t know anything about Self Design but can definitely relate to that frustration in other areas of life.

    It’s really challenging when it seems as if you aren’t being heard…or responded to in a manner that feels adequate. I hear you.

    I hope this gets resolved for you soon.
    Will you consider another option for Lily?


  2. Annie says:

    Thanks Debbie. ♥

    I remember saying in one of my messages to someone at SD that all I wanted was my funding, but that’s not true. I do want to be heard and I do want to feel like I matter and that someone is willing to help. This problem certainly isn’t as simple as (or true that) “they suck and I’m right”. Writing this out really does help me with the process of moving through the problem.

  3. natalie says:

    We’re in Self Design also. This is our first year and my son is doing kindergarten.

    When we got started, we wanted to choose another homeschooling mother, locally, to be our learning consultant. She was ‘full’ so we painstakingly chose others who also became full. Then as we chose yet more I met our first choice at the grocery store who said she had added more vacancies but it was too bad we didn’t know before. So we sent in a new list and got her! I am so grateful to have her but what a twisted and backward process. And I wish that your painful process had worked out better also… without the hassle.

    We’ve also had technical problems. Even logging in seems to give us little hiccups! Another friend has become a technical support staff at SD but feels overwhelmed and under-supported. One suggestion he had (which you may have figured out on your own but it was useful for me so I’ll pass it on) was to write your O4L’s in a word processor and save them there. Then copy and paste to submit it. Then you have your own record and copies.

    Good luck moving through this. I hope you feel heard and that you get your funding!

  4. Annie says:

    Ah yes, the O4L issues. “Observation for learning” is what we write every week talking about what we did. ie. went for a walk and talked about mushrooms. This is a classic case of many simple problems with no solution. For me the problems aren’t that I lose information, like I’ve heard other people experience. My trouble has always been the formatting. I share many pictures but I can’t get it to NOT wrap text around them. Fooling around with the html etc hasn’t worked either. I stopped trying sometime last year. Now I put all my pictures at the end and all my text above. That said, I always save the html version before I publish it, just in case.

    It’s always good to know I’m not the only one with issues! My luck couldn’t be that bad, right?! “Overwhelmed and under supported” is how I’d say I feel too. I wonder if this is the downfall from being online? We’re all just not connected enough. This is especially difficult if you don’t know or haven’t met someone irl or don’t have many things in common. Misunderstanding and miscommunications can be too common, I think. It seems as though SD is missing some real leadership. Someone who is that magnet that ties everyone together and someone you can go to make things happen and fix situations. Someone that does nothing but this.

    I’m so happy that you got your LC selection of choice. What a way to get it though!? My LC is also “local” in that she lives in Northern BC but hours from me. I’ve met her though irl when I had the chance and so happy for it!

    I will stay with SD for the money. It’s quite good- if you actually get it.

  5. Shannon says:

    I just realized this morning how much I wanted to try this “school” out next year. I told you I was going to see how this year went, and visit your home to see how things were going and then make a decision. This morning I was happy because I finally felt confident enough to scrap what we were doing, and happy that I was not going to have to subject my daughters and I to the constant frustration and sometimes tears of our school program. I decided to enroll and was feeling so hopeful about how I could foresee our “new life” and BAM. It looks like Self Design is full for next year. I feel sick thinking I have missed out on the opportunity to drastically change the way we do things. I now KNOW I will not be doing our school-at-home distance ed., but I don’t know what to do now. I will have to register SOMEWHERE. Any suggestions? Do you know if they generally fill up, or if this is new? Did you have to wait on a waiting list for your family? I realize you are having your own problems with them, so you may not be able to answer my questions, but any advice would be great. Ahhhhh.

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