Sunday, 6 June 2010

Creative Writing On-Line


Part of this writer’s life is tutoring an on-line creative writing course for the Open University. It started about 6 years ago and I was one of the first tutors recruited. Since then we’ve all, as a group, pioneered the teaching of creative writing on-line through what is now called (abominably) the Virtual Learning Environment. This means that we set up conferences on the internet where our students can post up work, comment on each other’s writing and chat. As tutors we set group exercises, mark assignments, arrange on-line tutorials and oversee the on-line forum. It works well, though I much prefer face-to-face contact with students. Suggestions for improvements to precious, often sensitive, material are so much more palatable when conveyed by the human voice, modified by discussion, and not contained in the cold print of an email.
Today - Saturday - was the marking moderation meeting at Milton Keynes. This is essential, because we all have to give the same levels of grade to our students for similar work. So I had to get up at 4.30am to catch a train, participate in a mock marking exercise with other tutors and then get on another train back to the Lake District. The journey takes 4 hours each way, so it’s a long day. For me it’s several hours of soul searching into the value of teaching creative writing.
Can it be taught at all? You certainly can’t give students the talent to write - all you can share is the technical expertise. I often wish that there’d been a course around when I started out, so that I didn’t have to learn by hit or miss.
Can it realistically be marked? Or is that purely subjective? We try to mark by rewarding demonstrated techniques - the craft of writing - with a little bonus in reserve for manuscripts that have the ‘Wow’ factor.
Is it ethical to turn more writers out into a world with diminishing markets? When publishing is in its worst crisis for decades? But I think so long as you don’t give students unrealistic expectations and warn them how hard it’s going to be, then that’s ok. It’s ironic somehow, to encourage others to compete with you in an already over-crowded profession.
But students are learning for different reasons anyway - some of them simply do it for themselves. Some are writing as therapy, or to make sense of past experiences. Others are doing the module as part of another degree. Some European students are studying to improve their English. Only a small percentage want to be writers.
So now home, very tired, to crash in my own bed after a long day. It was great to meet the other tutors - almost the only time we get together. And in another month the course will be over for another year. Not sure whether I’m going to be tutoring again next year. I’ve decided that, with such a hectic travelling schedule, I need to cut my work load before I fold under the pressure! In three weeks I’m off to Cuba and three weeks after that I head off to New Zealand and Australia. After that I think I need a holiday .......

4 comments:

  1. Fascinating post, K, as I did think about doing the OU course at one time. One of the members of my writing group has just finished the second course, so have been following the highs and lows of her experience.

    I do hope that Cuba thrills - I'd go just for the music! And, sadly, that answers the question I was going to ask you about maybe saying hello when I'm staying in Cumbria, en route to Scotland in mid-July. But you won't be there . . .

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  2. Look after yourself Kathleen. It simply isn't worth running yourself ragged.

    You're coming Down Under again?
    To WA again, or are you coming over East?

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  3. Hi both,
    I will be back from Cuba by mid July (15th) and would love to say hello if you're passing through. My email is kathyferber@yahoo.co.uk and if you mail me I'll give you my tel. number.
    The same Al, I take my phone everywhere - I will be in Sydney, definitely, though not sure that I'll have time to fly over to Melbourne this visit, though I'd love to as I haven't been there yet. If I do get there, then it would be great to meet you and Debs and the family.

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