Well, look at that, me delivering on a promised post! I even went to the extraordinary step of pre-writing a good portion of this post; still, it’s just past six a.m. on a Monday and my coffee’s not quite ready yet, so there’s no guarantee of actual coherence here.
When I wrote about this previously, I gave some idea of how the course works. I’ll try not to repeat myself as I give my overall impressions now that the course is over.
It was pretty intense. The course began officially on May 15, with the first assignments posted about two days later. The final assignment was posted on June 22, with all course materials due on July 3 (July 4, for those of us in the eastern time zone). Because I started late, I was playing catch up from the get go, and put in a lot of work. I eventually did catch up, though I admit I also fizzled toward the end–I submitted my final assignment about two hours before the deadline.
I enjoyed the course quite a bit, despite what’s going to come in the critique section, which might make it look like I hated the course! Positives included a lot of reading, widely. Each week our required reading assignments typically included one or two pieces of fiction and one or two piece of nonfiction (there were usually three readings per week). The readings were high-quality works of fiction or journalism, no wild esoterica that leaves you scratching your head and saying, “WTF???” There was also a long list of optional reads, though I confess I did not quite have time for getting into all of those (I wish I had). Each week, guest authors provided a video mini-lecture (typically 20 minutes long, give or take). Guest lecturers came from all over the world and included scifi authors, journalists, memoirists. It was a nice balance. The instructors themselves provided interesting topics for discussion related to the weekly topics. Finally, there was the opportunity to meet and read authors at all levels of the writing journey from all across the world.
Holy non sequitur, Batman! One of the other things I really liked about this? In the video mini-lectures, when the authors wanted to illustrate a point about technique or weaving in social issues, they referenced…books! Not movies. Not TV shows. Actual books. This may seem like a small thing, but think about the number of times you read a blog post and the author says, “For a really great example of characterization, watch Forrest Gump“ (or something like that). It was refreshing.
Back to the course. There were problems. Some of these, maybe most of them, stemmed from the technology the course was built on. It was hitchy. Jumpy. On several occasions, I started to type in a comment and found that the first five letters on line one disappeared. Or I’d actually hit the post button, and my response would be missing the last half a line. If I clicked ‘edit,’ Instead of having my entire post there, waiting for me to re-type the first five letters or last five words, I’d have…nothing. I resorted to typing comments out in a word document and pasting them in. I also tried switching to Chrome, and it seemed a little better, but I don’t like Chrome and I don’t want to have to switch to Chrome. Firefox is still used by a huge number of people, and if you say this program works well on Firefox, you better make sure it does.
The other problem, and this was a big one, as far as I’m concerned, is that there was little actual discussion that I could see. Each week, the instructors posted thoughts for discussion, and asked for our thoughts/comments/experiences. But the interface itself did not really promote discussion; it promoted individual commenting. For one thing, you could not see all the responses to the main discussion, you could only see the last five. You’d have to click ‘show previous comments’ to get more. Also, on the few occasions where someone replied directly to a comment on the main discussion thread, you had to click a tiny little icon at the bottom to see the reply. Instead of a discussion where people responded to each other and freely shared ideas back and forth, what you had was more of a ‘stop and drop’ situation, with people stopping in, dropping a comment, and moving on. This is partly a product of the fact that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of participants, along with the fact that you got credit for posting and commenting. I think sometimes people were just aiming to do the bare minimum to get credit.
Along these same lines, course participants were able to set up their own discussion groups. I mentioned joining one or two of these. But again, there seemed to be very little actual discussion. Instead, when people posted assignments, they’d share them to the discussion groups and ask for feedback. (True confession: I didn’t actually start any discussions myself within these groups, so I guess I can’t complain)
Would I do it again? Yes, yes I would. Despite my complaints, I was exposed to a lot of different writers of all backgrounds, as well as a lot of different ideas, and some lessons on craft. I was able to revisit old works and new (the opening to PARALLEL LIVES got a workout here, as did both the WiP and the RiP), and anytime you are forced to think about your writing is a good thing, I think. I also met a few people who could become good crit partners/sounding boards/beta readers, and have already critiqued a piece for one of them.
This post has already gotten kind of long, so I will say farewell for now, leaving you with this piece of music from Pete Yorn. Though I have not heard it for years, it worked its way into my thoughts yesterday when I was sketching out this post. Enjoy, and see you next time. Please share your thoughts below!
Sounds like more positives than negatives to me!
I recently finished a Math course online and found some of the same computer glitches (although not nearly as many). I also found the same with the discussions – it felt to me like most people were just posting to get credit for posting and not really interested in actual discussions. That made me sad as I'm a bit of a Math and brain research nerd so I was having fun!
I consider a course a success if there was at least one piece from it that I could apply to my writing. Because, really, I don't expect everything taught is to my liking. We all write differently, that's for sure.
-Jemi: I suppose that is a drawback with any of these. Now, I thought they said in the course introduction materials that they would be reading the posts and not giving credit for 'drive-bys', which is good, but it may not help in an individual discussion.
-Stacy: Indeed. And I did think overall this was successful.
Definitely sounds refreshing all round, despite the few minor niggles. Good that you got to meet lots of inspiring authors.
It was worth it, Nick, and I think it was also good to get out of my WiP for a little bit.
I'm glad you found some value in the course, even if there were a few hiccups and problems along the way. My online course is having a somewhat opposite problem where not enough people are posting comments in the discussion forums, especially at the end of a semester, but I don't feel like the comments that do go up are 'drive-by' comments. Writing is such an ongoing process of learning, practicing and developing, so I'm glad you feel this venture was worthwhile!
-Bonnee–I think I would definitely prefer fewer comments of more substance. Sounds like you're getting that in your course?