Taking workshops online


Liam Al-Hindi

Some classes may be tougher to hold online, such as writing workshops, which are traditionally done face-to-face. Photo courtesy of Pexels

Classes moving totally online has been a process with many moving parts, be it getting people the computer or internet access that they need, or getting Zoom to work consistently, among other challenges. But one group of classes particularly affected has been those involving workshops. Poetry, fiction and nonfiction all have classes that require workshops – face-to-face exchange of ideas and critique that happen in real-time and require everyone to be on the exact same page.

“Writing workshops can foster solidarity and closeness that other classes don’t, so missing that definitely adds to the sense of isolation for students and for me,” said Lisa Fay Coutley, Ph.D., a professor in the College of Communication, Fine Arts, and Media. “Though I will say a group of writers can also make Zoom a pretty fun place to learn.”

Coutley spoke to how moving online has cost students and faculty in workshops a sense of community but may provide students with the opportunity to “shine in a digital classroom in a way they might not in person.” She also said that she worries about accessibility for students.

“In terms of the actual online workshop, I think our first workshop actually went better than I expected,” said CFAM professor Kevin Clouther. “I never expected that it would be a complete reproduction of what we had in class, and so I was pretty heartened by the first workshop overall.”

Clouther talked about how there is something that is lost in the transition with online teaching, namely in their engagement with the writing that they work with.

“It’s harder to disagree on teleconference,” Clouther said. “It takes some of the spontaneity out.”

“I learn better in a classroom, and I enjoy the social aspect of being on campus,” said Nicholas Diaz, a UNO Writer’s Workshop student. One of Diaz’s classes is not on Zoom and has been moved entirely onto Canvas. “The level of effort required in discussion boards is just plain frustrating, and I don’t think it pays off. It’s just stressful.”

“College is already ridiculously stressful, both in terms of labor, and also in terms of cost. Most of the people I know were already suffering from mental health issues from being overworked and anxious about the future,” Diaz said. “It’s 10 times worse now. Yet, the university wants us to just carry on.”

Coutley said the most important thing students can do right now is find ways to stay motivated.

“Pay attention, listen, read the instructions given by professors who have likely worked hard to make this transition clear and seamless and even fun,” Coutley said. “And, as always, take good care of yourself, be easy now and reach out when you need help.”