learn online |  The Manila Times

learn online | The Manila Times | Pro Club Bd

LIKE from fish to water I had no choice but to delve deep into online learning platforms when Covid-19 drove us out of the classrooms.

I was Head of School-English at the University of Nottingham Malaysia at the time when we needed to quickly transition to using Echo 360 and Microsoft Teams. Thanks to our top management for giving us two weeks to attend online workshops on how to use MS Teams. This two-week academic break allowed both academic staff and students to purchase or upgrade the equipment they needed.

I only relied on my mobile hotspot and was lucky to live in a part of Kuala Lumpur that had a strong telecom signal. I also asked my seven research associates to familiarize themselves with the online learning platforms. We had no problem with Echo 360 as we were already using it to record our lectures, which in turn were sent out to the students who missed our lectures.

The problems came when I returned to the Philippines. I used to live in a part of Quezon City that was just steps away from Caloocan City. The area was not intended for fiber optic technology. I had to switch providers three times before I found one that worked.

Other problems included students’ weak WiFi connections and the fact that some of them were working part-time – yes, even during the pandemic – and therefore missed some classes. The saddest thing was that some of them got infected with the Covid-19 virus; or their family members did, forcing them to skip classes or miss deadlines.

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As I have said to my fellow teachers and other people who have emailed me, in a pandemic we should be more flexible with deadlines and reading choices for our online classes. We should be less suspicious of students’ reasons for submitting a term paper late or skipping a class. The older I get the less paranoid I am that the students don’t like or dislike my teaching methods, that’s why they’re never in my class. Think weak WiFi or a pestilence pandemic; it’s not always about you


Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style remains the most concise and helpful guide for anyone wanting to write well. PHOTO FROM AMAZON.COM

What about content? I have decided to use shorter texts in my lessons. Instead of Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray for a discussion of LGBT reading, I needed Robert Louis Stevenson’s shorter – and less obvious – novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The latter’s splitting of personalities into two split selves is a springboard into discussions of closed personalities and submerged selves in oppressed Victorian England.

I also asked the students to watch the film version available on YouTube – but only if they wanted to. I have been teaching English, literature and creative writing since 1986. For the past 36 years I have used multimedia texts to enrich the discussion of a text or a topic. In my poetry class I used to ask my students to go to the Ateneo Art Gallery, look at a painting and describe it in two or three paragraphs. Whoever wrote a poem got bonus points. In my discussion of the haiku, I asked the students to draw their impression of the haiku with their hands, since this poem is a painting in words.

In my fiction class, I learned a technique from my teacher, Professor Lourdes Hernandez Vidal. She drew a map of a small town, on which the main characters were also sketched, and then she asked the question: Mr. X was killed one night, who could the killer be?

The students had a lot of fun searching through a sieve for motives to find out who they think the killer was. It was a good characterization and motivational exercise and the students liked being asked to tell their own version of the story.

In my creative nonfiction class, I would ask students to read a concise story, such as Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” or Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour.” Kincaid published her story in 1983 and Chopin published hers in 1895. While the former was acclaimed for her one-paragraph feat about a young girl growing up in the conservative Caribbean, the latter was brushed aside by the American public. Her books were rarely reviewed and were never part of the literary canon. They were not rediscovered until the 1960s, when the last wave of feminism came.

I would advise my students to look at the techniques of fiction that both authors used – performance, narrative, point of view, imagery, motivation certainly and voice, especially voice – and use those in their own creative non-fiction. I also ask my students to revise and only give me the third draft of what they have written. The first draft is a skeleton; the second design is a half-clothed being; and the third draft, I should say, has the beginnings of a full work.

In addition, of course, I require them to read The Elements of Style by William Strunk and EB White, the only book they need to write good prose. And for advanced students, I ask them to read The Reader Over Your Shoulder by Robert Graves, who even criticized the prose of Nobel Prize winner TS Eliot.

If your students do not have access to these texts, you can send them excerpts of the more meaningful and important rules of good writing.

This last tip will make you work harder, but it’s worth it. I ask my students to send me an outline and then a first draft of about 250 words so I can give them feedback on their work. An outline gives form and structure to the chaos of ideas in them; A first draft is like being given the state of the country.

I read the outline and draft and give my feedback quickly. It may be late, either because my WiFi is down or I’m sick, but feedback will come. After all, practice doesn’t make perfect; Practice leads to good, even great, work by both masters and amateurs.

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: Danton Remoto

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