I am currently developing an on-line writing school and moving my ‘real life workshops’ onto the small screen.
So why am I doing this? Not long ago I had no idea about the technology needed. I didn’t even know if the people I currently work with would want to go online for writing workshops. And most importantly, I believed that online learning was unresponsive to individual writers.
But then COVID happened. The world changed and we all embraced a different way of consuming art, entertainment and learning.
During lockdown I had a chance to learn the technology I would need to create an online school, and it became normal for many more people to access learning online.
But that still leaves the question in my mind that online learning is not able to respond to the individual quite so well as a live session.
Some years ago, I explored the dynamic of audiences experiencing dance performances live on stage, or recorded on screen. I even devised and taught an MA in Making Dance for the Screen. Live V Recorded was an ongoing argument then and still is; ask a football fan whether they prefer to watch their team play live at the stadium or on watch on telly.
Any performer will tell you that a live experience is about shared energy. And although they share similarities, workshops are not performances. The tutors’ role is to respond to the individual participants and draw out their creativity; to inspire, energise and focus the energy. Each workshop creates its own dynamic depending on the people in the room. They are fluid and responsive, not rehearsed in the way of a performance.
For example, any typical creative writing workshop, for whatever age, might look like this:
- I set the theme for the session and we introduce ourselves
- We warm up and I can gauge the group dynamic and respond
- We do an exercise all together and I can harness the energy from their participation and offer it back
- They write and share what they have done and we can all respond, learning from each other
- Then I set a further writing challenge in response to this group
- They write and share. More group feedback
That is the plan, and at every step, I vary the delivery according to the response. The same workshop, delivered for example, in 7 schools last week, was not the same twice.
I have revisited my formative years to draw on the experiences and learning from my dance on screen days, and here are some of the questions I ask myself now, in order to formulate a new response to a different challenge in the 2020’s
- How can I keep this responsive element in online sessions?
- There is a comments button at the end of each lesson, and participants will be encouraged to leave comments
- We have a website for sharing writing, accessible to participants and with curated comments
- A Facebook page will give the opportunity for live Q&A, comments and questions creating a lively community of participants
- There is also ‘live’ access via zoom, teams, webinars; all made popular this year
- Because the learning will be in bite-sized chunks and I can still alter sessions in reaction to this feedback
- Why move workshops online anyway?
- Because there are millions of people out there who would like access to creative writing workshops, but who cannot access a session in a London Library at X O’clock on a Thursday in February. I can reach more people across a broader demographic in more places. It democratises learning
- I can only deliver a creative writing session to one class of ten-year olds at a time. And only within an hour’s drive from my home. And only if it fits in with the schools schedule. Online, the school can access the session at a time to suit them, and roll it out across as many classes as they want
- Which means, simple, that by moving online, I can deliver once to many people anywhere in the world, rather than many times to a few people in the South East of England.
- How will this impact on the participants learning and the tutor’s delivery?
- Individuals learn at their own speed in their own time wherever in the world they happen to be; in their pyjamas if they want to
- They can review bits of the process and focus on the areas they need to know about. They can skip the bits they don’t need to know.
- As it is a different beast, the tutor’s delivery will have to adapt.
- The tutor can re-take and perfect the content through editing; and can also add downloads without having to use printed handouts; you can add imagery, sound and film without having to source a screen and projector in a draughty hall
In conclusion; whether delivering a performance or teaching, we are all more used to online platforms then we have ever been. There are many more ways we can reach people and as always, there are pros and cons.
Working live or online are simply different platforms for delivering the same thing. The participants will engage differently, but by focussing on their needs and using the many different ways to interact, I really believe I can improve and expand my workshop practice, making it more available to more people in many more places.
I will continue to deliver some face-to-face workshops, especially in schools. But online learning will be the focus of my efforts for 2021.
Next time, I will talk about HOW to create an online course.