Teaching Creative Writing Online
This is a companion post to my post in Just a Blog about the benefits of a Teaching Writing Online class. Given that OWI (online writing instruction) is so heavily centered in composition studies, of what use would a Teaching Writing Online class be to a creative writer, especially writers who intend to teach creative writing after they get their MA or MFA? The online introductory writing class, usually a gen-ed, has the advantage of flexibility in scheduling. If a section or two of Intro to Poetry or The Short Story needs to be added, an online section can be added without worry about where to physically put it in the building. Combine that ease with GAs eager to gain teaching experience in creative writing and you have a winning situation, at least financially and for the university. Even more often than with their composition counterparts, creative writing GAs are selected to teach online writing classes without preparation, sometimes in their first semester of graduate school, the rationale being “Chris is such a talented writer that she/he won’t have any problem teaching online.” I remember an especially talented poet a few year back who was going to teach online the first semester, literally months from being an undergraduate and with no teaching experience or coursework. I gulped and offered to share strategies and even some of my hard-won materials for the very course he/she was gong to teach in three days with nothing prepared and got the look. I know the look. It is a bit pitying and says “You mean well, but don’t insult me; I got this.” I don’t know how it went. No one really does, including, I think, that grad student.
This is all too common and it doesn’t have to be. No one would place a GA into a composition classroom without at least a concurrent pedagogy class the walks them through that first semester. Especially good programs, and I think my university’s composition program falls into that category, add a first semester required course in composition theory and pedagogy offered the first semester besides the required praxis class. Creative writing GAs get those classes too that first semester, but good as that background is, it does not counter the stresses and needs of teaching a writing class online. Another thing my university does is to have the creative writing GAs answerable to a master teacher. We have several faculty members serving as master teachers, but the online sections are usually outside that system. Informal mentoring will have to do, but much of that relies on the student and how willing they are to be mentored without it being required.
Taking the required composition courses and applying the theory learned there to their creative writing teaching is a good start. If a grad student is selected to teach creative writing online, it would help a lot to either already have credit for Teaching Writing Online or to take it concurrently. I have two poets this time and one has already restructured his class based on readings for the course. I heard from his/her creative writing mentor and he is very happy with the student’s initiative and the result.
So, what can a course in teaching writing online do for creative writers who plan on teaching online? Here are a few things:
- Familiarize them with a variety of LMS. These change and where you get a job may not have Blackboard. If you learn the needed functions rather than the needed steps for a specific software, you will never become outdated.
- Emphasize building in redundancy and different channels of communication. Triangulate. If a student missed the announcement on the site, they might read the email instead. If they miss the email, they may view the video reminder.
- Learn assignments that are multimodal. With the rise of erasures and other techniques that are visual, the online class is the natural place for visual techniques.
- Learn basic video–at least enough to have regular 3 minute or under videos that either give the bullet points for an assignment or encourage students, that say yes, this may sound hard, but you can do it.
- Learn other uses for blogs besides a diary-like personal space.
- Gain an essential view of the online classroom as much more than a container for files.
- Develop a forgiving nature for students who get confused even though the instructions seem obvious to the instructor.
- Learn ways to workshop online. I can think of three without trying. Both groups or whole-class can work.
- Learn ways to conference with students online. This is vital and needs to happen at least at the midpoint so that students can discuss their portfolio with you.
This is a far from inclusive list. The most important though, I believe, is like with the online composition classroom, to see the online creative writing class as living, breathing space, not a warehouse for files. This is studio space and real people need to be able to live in it and to grow as writers.