So, the Cheeky One has been MIA for a few weeks, but I have a good excuse! Well, actually no I don’t…all I can say is my first UCLA class finished Sept. 4th, my new one began last week, and in between I did zero writing because I didn’t feel inspired. But, I did promise a more in depth review of that Fiction I class, and so, here goes!
I’ve had a good month to reflect on my return to University, and overall I’m pleased with what I experienced and accomplished. Would I recommend the UCLA Writer’s Extension Online classes? Yes, with a few caveats. To keep things simple, I’m going to get lazy and just put my thoughts in point form…let us call them my Ten Tenets of Online Classes.
1. Believe the class syllabus when it says online study requires self-discipline, because it’s true. It’s so damn easy to kiss off something that you aren’t personally invested or connected to, and relationships with teachers and fellow students formed behind a keyboard, aren’t as compelling as real life classroom interaction. There’s also no set time you have to be online in the virtual classroom, so it’s up to you to decide when you’ll do the work.
2. The instructors were excellent, dedicated, and available. They also posted extra material and information as questions came up which showed they really do care. I believe this is largely why the class was so successful and enjoyable, and I credit UCLA with putting instructor expertise and their approval ratings as a priority. I doubt there are any “duds” in this program simply because non-credit/non-degree programs rely on people paying good money for what is often nothing more than personal interest. In other words, they’ve got tons of competition for your hard earned “extra-curricular” cash.
3. Know that you’ll be limited in word count for most assignments so as not to overwhelm the class. In this case it was 500-700 words max without exception. I understand why this is necessary, but there were a few weeks I felt the editing forced my story/scene to be less than it could have been.
4. Be prepared to have varying degrees of student participation that declines as the course progresses. I’m highlighting this because it’s the one disappointment I had. The reality is, despite the collaborative nature of a writing class/workshop, most people aren’t taking these classes for credit. They’re doing it for personal achievement and therefore there’s no real incentive or interest to participate beyond posting their own work. Out of 15 students who started, only half stayed till the end, and only 3 or 4 of us participated fully on a weekly basis. By participating fully I mean giving thoughtful, detailed feedback to more than one or two students.
5. Optional forums set up by the instructors are designed to encourage more participation and collaboration, but it didn’t work in this class (see #4 above). In one example, there was an optional workshop where we could post a longer work up to 8-10 pages, and have it critiqued by the instructors either in a private phone call or one that’s recorded and posted for the class. A few of us took advantage of this and I got TONS of valuable feedback…but only from the teachers. As with all the other workshop pieces, no other student commented, not even my fellow workshop contributors. From the start I made a point of commenting on each submission because I felt it was selfish to invite feedback on my own without giving it to others, but it didn’t matter. No one seemed to care what anyone else was doing (see #4 above).
6. Be prepared to be humble and accept you don’t know as much as you think you do. Basically, most of us taking this class had little to no formal education in creative writing or literature, so it required we learn and then practice all the basics like point of view, narrative options, dialogue, description, etc.
7. Know that the class won’t meet at specific times, everyone will be submitting and commenting at any time they choose within the one week deadline for each assignment. I believe there are some classes where the group dynamic is more collaborative and they “make it happen” where there’s a real time chat, but my group didn’t feel at all like that.
8. Since the forums are already created based on the class outline, only the teacher can add extras. I wish there had been an “idle chat” forum because I think people might have been more inclined to socialize if they could do so within the virtual classroom. There is one in my new class, but so far nobody’s contributed, so perhaps I’m alone in wanting one.
9. Respect the deadlines and due dates or be OK that instructors won’t comment on, or grade late assignments, unless arrangements have been made ahead of time, of course. Other students will likely ignore you too. I know I made a point of not commenting on the one or two students posting a week or two behind schedule because I found it disrespectful to everyone.
10. Understand these classes aren’t going to magically turn every student into a published author. These courses are a fantastic way to learn about the craft, practice it with like-minded people, and get valuable feedback from experts. Getting an “A” doesn’t guarantee you’re a fabulous writer however, it means you participated, learned, and submitted your work on time. Know the difference or you’re bound to be disappointed.
Done! There you have it in a very large nutshell. I know I’ve probably forgotten important details or points I wanted to make, but this covers all the important stuff…I think. Anyway, you know how to contact me if you have any questions, and I’m more than happy to answer them!
The Cheeky One