Okay…I can’t really see you, of course. I don’t know what you look like, or what you sound like, all I know is that the YARN community brings us together…this is the beauty of the internet. And in the past few months, I’ve developed a new appreciation for the beauty that is the internet.
This past September I took a leave of absence from YARN and embarked on an online journey to get my MFA in Creative Writing at National University. This all online program seemed like a good fit for me. It would allow me to take classes on my own time and has zero residency requirement. As a high school teacher, with a tight schedule, this is all very good news.
When I started the program, I was a bit concerned about how the all-online experience would feel. Would the professors be available for questions? How would lectures work? What about class discussions? And most importantly, as this was an MFA program, how does one workshop writing when separated by distance and time?
These first few months have laid most of my fears to rest. National University has been offering classes online for many, many years and their online system can be used to create dynamic lectures and serve as the basis for healthy interaction. Professors attach lectures in document form, record their voices over power-point presentations, and add art, video and music to enhance their topics. Discussion boards are a huge portion of your class grade and your responsibility is often not simply to post but to respond to the posts of others (up to 5-10 times per week!)
As I completed my first writing workshop last month, I concluded that online workshops may even have an advantage over a face-to-face workshop. Writing workshops require that all members of a class read your piece of writing … then you sort of sit there whilst the entire room rips it apart, constructively of course. A few problems here in the face to face version: first, some people in the class may hesitate in explaining their real thoughts about the piece in order to not hurt the feelings of the writer. Or perhaps some criticism-givers may get over excited and dominate the discussion. Either way, the writer is sure to miss some well-thought critiques within the time allotted for her workshop. Second, it’s human nature to throw up a block when being pummeled. When over-zealous critiquers cut loose, the writer is going to be thinking of ways to defend her writing, “But here’s what I was trying to do!” Sob. Whine. And whilst sobbing and whining, it’s difficult to really hear what people are saying about your work.
The online version of a writing workshop practically eliminates these issues. First, every member of the class is required to write a 250-500 word critique and analysis of each piece of writing. Every voice is heard. No single person dominates. Second, the anonymity of the internet means that people feel a little more comfortable saying what they really mean. I know I did. The tone always remains civil, but it’s much easier to offer criticism when you’re not watching some poor person sitting on the hot-seat with tears welling up in their eyes. Finally, the writer gets these critiques one at a time. As you open each discussion post and read each critique, you have time to process the thoughts of each critiquer. Their suggestions are in writing. You can go back and peruse them the next day, or the day after that if you need more time to process their thoughts. Finally, double bonus, if you do end up sobbing and whining, the only witness is your computer and perhaps your cat. 🙂
Overall, the first few months of my MFA program have been very rewarding. Getting your education online may at first feel like a solo-journey. But, that thought turns out to be flat-out wrong. The internet was created to build communities. I’ve been seeing my classmates in class after class. I don’t know what they look like, or sound like, but I know what they write like. And each time we “run” into each other in a new lecture, it’s not uncommon to greet each-other, “It’s great to ‘see’ you again!”