Wed 14 May 2008
I’ll be teaching two online creative writing courses through the Piper Studio this summer, starting June 2. Discount summer rates of $100 for an eight week course. Same ones I mentioned earlier this spring, and still buckets of fun!
I’m suprised by what a fan of online writing courses I’ve become over the past four years– before I started doing it I wondered if you could create online the “warm fuzzy” atmosphere needed to encourage new or sensitive writers. As it turns out, you can. The trick is in the persona– the teacher has to have a very strong presence that sets the tone and erases the antiseptic feel of plain black letters on a white screen. Some people go the mothering route; others the philosophical route; I go the zany-yet-thoughtful, faux bossy route. It’s sort of like blogging in that you take some true version of yourself, and highlight/intensify certain aspects of it so they carry through a two-dimensional medium. Or like public speaking, where you still speak from the heart but change your pacing and volume from normal conversation. The teacher has to be the leader in humanizing the environment, and then the students usually follow suit. The medium itself becomes a way for everyone to develop his or her writing.
The other thing I’ve noticed about online teaching is that you need so many more instructions! We have no idea how much information we exchange via eye contact, tone, and body language. In a face-to-face classroom, I can give a one-line verbal assignment (“Write a poem in which an inanimate object complains”), judge from people’s expressions if they understand what I’m asking them to do, and follow up with just the right amount of explanation. Online, obviously, that does not work at all. I’ve been on the receiving end of opaque instructions and find the experience exasperating. “Answer the review questions.” What review questions? Where? Do I just answer them in my head or is there a screen where I must enter the answers? Online teachers, do not exasperate your students. Sometimes the poet in me cringes at the wordiness of online assignments, but if the person can just get straight to work without feeling confused about what needs to be done, every word is worth it. Even if there are very few requirements, I write that down: “Choose any subject, style, and length that you want.” I want my students to spend their energy on the creative process of writing and not on mindreading.