Teaching in the New Normal: The Practice of Writing with Emily Barton
May 25, 2020
These days, the classroom has taken on new meaning for both faculty and students at Oberlin. In this series we are sharing stories from faculty on how they are navigating this new normal. Please share an example or anecdote that addresses one of these areas.
Emily Barton, assistant professor of creative writing, describes how students in her course, The Practice of Writing, successfully completed a demanding schedule of assignments even through upheaval and the move to online learning. Originally, the class final project was to be a physical book they made to house each students’ favorite piece, but with students in different locations this plan had to be rethought. Barton shares their process of creating, instead, a digital anthology that will live online indefinitely in the libraries’ digital archives.
The creative writing course The Practice of Writing (CRWR 195) has a simple but rigorous premise. Each week, students read two texts that approach a topic or element of craft from different perspectives. They then write five short pieces in response to prompts, engaging with and springing off from those source texts. Later in the week, they break into small-group workshops to discuss their responses.
In any semester, writing 45 such pieces to deadline would be an accomplishment—each student had a full course load, with other classes demanding time and attention, as well as jobs, extracurriculars, and the demands of everyday life. But spring 2020 offered new challenges when we made the unprecedented mid-semester pivot to online learning. Suddenly, some students who had formerly dragged themselves out of bed for a 9:30 a.m. class were calling in from the West Coast at 6:30 a.m. For a student who had gone home to Singapore, our class started meeting at night. Working from home, often with little privacy and without their peers’ fellowship to sustain them, these students still managed to read, write their own work, and read each other’s stories with support, care, and keen eyes. I was grateful for the students’ continued commitment to each other and the work of the class and delighted to see that we could transfer our working community online.
One challenge remained, however. Our plan at the semester’s beginning had been to hand-produce a chapbook of student work as a collaborative final project. One student volunteered to design a cover, and another offered to do the layout. We were ready to photocopy, bone fold, saddle staple, and distribute. But when we scattered to the far corners of the globe, we had to rethink this plan. Thanks to Megan Mitchell, academic engagement and digital initiatives coordinator for the Oberlin College Libraries, we were able to make a digital version of our chapbook, which is now housed in the libraries’ digital archives.
We invite members of our community to enjoy this anthology, which the students have titled I Have Not Adhered to the Honor Code on This Assignment. In it, you’ll find one short piece of writing from each student in the class. The pieces represent diverse styles, subjects, and points of view.
As much as we would have loved to give each of you a handmade zine, we are glad to have been able to produce this work, even given these extraordinary circumstances.
- Associate Professor of Creative Writing
- Chair of Creative Writing
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