Grub Goes Online
In addition to teaching, I always take classes at Grub each term to keep up with my own writing. So, when Grub offered online classes for the first time in the fall, I decided to take Grace Talusan's Art of the Personal Essay online class. I had taken an in-person class with her a couple years ago (which was fabulous), so I had high hopes for her online class. I was not disappointed. Since I've taken probably about 20 Grub classes in the last five years, I know what to expect when I walk into the classroom. But, with an online class, I had no idea what to anticipate. I am writing this piece to share my experience so that if you are thinking of taking a Grub course, you'll feel familiarized with the concept and components.
First things first:
Why did I join an online class? I have a 7 month old at home, I work, and I live an hour from Boston, so almost every single minute of my day is accounted for. The time needed to drive in and out of Boston and attend class three hours a week was a luxury I couldn't afford. What I could commit to, however, was a one-hour weekly computer call on Wednesday nights at 8 o'clock. I could sit in bed, heating blanket over me, and scarf down the remains of my dinner while listening to my instructor. I could even mute myself while I said good night to my son. Throughout the rest of the week, during my son's naps or during a quick break between teaching gigs, I could read course materials and work on my own writing.
How did it work? There is a website that all online students log into. Everything is organized by folders. So the first thing we were prompted to do was go into "The Living Room" folder and introduce ourselves by writing a bio paragraph and uploading our pictures. This takes the place of actually meeting people in person the way you might while lounging on the red couch at Grub. Then, I read the syllabus to get the lay of the land, and found it similar to the course introduction that instructors usually give during the first face-to-face class. I found that each week, there was a craft article and a published excerpt to read. All of the documents were organized in appropriate folders--like "Craft Essay Week One," etc. After reading the craft article, there was a forum--a text-box space--in which to write a few sentences about our reactions to the readings. I could view what everyone else had said, and they could view my comments as well. Next, I read the published piece, which inspired our prompt. For example, one week there was a piece that was a sort of an apology-note story titled "Swerve" that was originally published in Brevity. We read this and, inspired by it, wrote our own apology essays. After writing our one-page apology note rough-draft, we could upload it to the online Grub course site (as simple as attaching a word doc in an email). At that point, the class participants and instructor typed in feedback about each person's piece.
What was the weekly "live meeting" like? I was afraid that, if computer cameras were involved, my classmates would be able to see me in my pajamas, but the weekly meeting was basically a big conference call. Students clicked on an online link and were lead to an audio meeting site where you could mute and unmute yourself and see on the screen the names of all the people present. If you did not want to verbally speak or were having issues with your computer microphone, there was a text box one could type into. I really enjoyed the live meeting because I got to hear other people's voices, so I felt that I was able to connect personally with my classmates and instructors. For me, when a class is lacking a video from the instructor or a conference call component, it can feel a bit distancing. The live meeting prevented this isolating aura from settling upon the class. During the talks, we discussed the readings and we had either prompt writing time or workshop time. Although it may seem strange to have a few minutes of silence on the conference call while everyone writes to a spontaneous prompt, I found that it held me accountable to write something. I knew that, no matter what, I'd be writing on Wednesday nights, and usually that 5-10 minute writing period led to larger material. During the last three weeks, we used the end of the online meetng not for writing, but for workshopping people's essays. If it was your night to be workshopped, it functioned the same as an in-person workshop--the writer stays quiet while the classmates and instructor talk about what's working and what questions they had.
I left the online class with six new pieces of memoir material and an even deeper love for Grub. Grub Street has catered to its students by offering 3-hour, 6-hour, weekend, week-long, and multi-week workshops. Now they have classes for even the most time-strapped, and I'm totally hooked (so much so that I am leading an online Memoir Builder this term). If you are thinking about or in the process of writing a memoir and you need weekly motivation with minimal commitment, this class is for you.
I hope to "meet" you on the 28th:)