As an advisor for online creative writing courses, without a doubt the question I hear most from students is some variation of “How do online classes work?” While the internet is undeniably intertwined with so many aspects of our lives—bill pay, reservations, dating, shopping, and the engines that support our social lives, Facebook and Twitter—many people are still apprehensive about online learning. “Is there a set time you have to log in?” “How do you talk to the instructor?” “Do you have to be good with computers?” Read on to get the answers to these questions and more, as well as some of the pros and cons of online learning.
To start, UCLA Extension utilizes the learning platform Blackboard.com for its online courses. Every class has a “course shell” in Blackboard, which is your hub for everything associated with that course—lectures (typically written, though sometimes video or audio), assignments, readings, links, video/audio content, the discussion boards (where workshopping takes place), and the occasional live chat. You communicate with your instructor and fellow students via the discussion board, so rather than discuss the week’s lecture, readings, and assignments in a 3-hour class, you discuss them over the course of the week.
As with any course, there are deadlines and requirements, but the format allows you to log in and participate in the discussion whenever it works for you, whether you live in Japan and can only log in at 11pm, or if you are in Los Angeles and set aside an hour before work. Which brings me to the first, and probably biggest, positive about online learning: flexibility! Since there’s no set time you have to log in (except for the occasional live chat, which is typically optional), you can participate if you’re in a different time zone, if you’re travelling, or if you just don’t feel like schlepping across town. As one online student puts it “It can be easier to do a half hour here and there throughout the week rather than being on campus for a set three hours. And you can’t wear your pajamas to class on campus like you can with an online class. Well, you could, but you couldn’t also eat a pint of ice cream at the same time.”
Because our students are located all over the world, the online classroom is also an exceptionally diverse environment to learn in. Similarly, we are able to tap into a much wider range of writers to teach our courses, so our online instructor roster includes New York based novelists, authors that travel to Africa for research, and even writers living abroad.
The online classroom also allows for open communication without students talking over each other or feeling stifled by their more aggressive peers. Shy students, who may be uncomfortable workshopping in-person, or those who simply prefer to remain anonymous, can fully participate in a course without the discomfort some feel reading their work aloud in class.
Another benefit to online learning is that everything is written out, so you can go back and reference the week’s lecture, or save the feedback that someone gave you during the workshop. You don’t have to worry about missing something the instructor said, or trying to remember the name of the great author your fellow student mentioned last week. Additionally, occasional live chats bring real time interaction to the course, giving you the best of both worlds.
However, online learning is not for everyone. You do need to have basic computer proficiency, regular internet access, and be open to learning new computer skills. You also have to be self motivated, since there is no set time you have to show up and nobody to look you in the eye and ask you why your assignment is late. Online learning does lack the in-person, kinetic energy you get from being in a small room with 15 other people. As another student puts it, “Personally, I thrive creatively more in real-time interactions. The immediacy of ideas being exchanged and the speed at which they evolve in a conversation is something that I think is best suited for a classroom.” But, the same student acknowledges of online classes, “If it’s a creative workshop, it can be pretty addictive. You constantly want to check back to see if another one of your peers posted notes on your work.”
The good news is the Writers’ Program has something for everyone! We offer nearly every type of course—fiction, memoir, personal essay, poetry, writing for the youth market, screenwriting, television writing—both online and onsite. If you’re not sure what course or format is right for you, feel free to contact us anytime and we’ll help you find the best match for your learning style.
For Online Creative Writing, please contact Alicia Wheeler at 310-794-1846 / firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Screenwriting (both Online and Onsite), please contact Jeff Bonnett at 310-206-1542 / email@example.com.
Katy Flaherty is the Program Representative for Creative Writing (Online) and Events. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.