Virginia S. Little Ph.D.

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Previous Students Say:

"This online course created an environment where our creative ideas could flourish and where learning became authentically integrated with life and discovery."

Sean Moiles, Secondary Education major, WMU. 


"Learning online is like an onion, peeling layers. It's multi-layered and the learning is all interwoven. Like in our cafe, we talk about everything from physics to music to whether we believe in God. Learning is not fragmented as in regular "school."

Jessica Ott, student participant from Geneva, Switzerland

"The biggest thing about this class is the writings. That is what I will remember most. I have printed out so many pieces from different folders to hang in my bedroom and on my locker. I have poems in my folders at school and on the mirror in my bathroom. I have learned through the experiences and expressions of others."


We go about doing things in an ever constructive manner (staying focused on the intent of your writing piece, make sure you take everyone's comments into the picture and follow through on suggestions) This way, we learn the ways of creativity and quality writing.


 Since improving writing was one of the students' primary goals, students were asked  this  question:

What is creative writing?

      Students defined and characterized their expressive art in the following ways:

     " Creative writing is the easy and natural expression, and the most difficult chore. It can flow from us like water, or bead in small droplets from hours of labor. It is about abstract ideas or unreal people, and it is the mirror of our Selves. Creative writing is recording the colors,  faces, events and feelings inside of me. It is converting ideas into words, taming the flames, and molding the clay into forms palpable on paper."


     "Creative writing not only creates a great work but it creates the person who wrote it."


    " If everyone had their own language of being and their own inner world, creative writing  would be the great translator; a bridge that links us to each other. Creative writing is freedom made literal."


     "To create literally means to cause to exist or bring into being. You are bringing an idea or image into being where there was emptiness before. You are causing a thought to exist for others, where it lived in your mind alone."


     These student definitions created a shared meaning base to apply to their work and growth as writers. The students expressed an understanding of writing process as a search  for Self, as a window within, and as a bridge to the human spirit of others. At the end of  each year, the students compiled a book of their favorite works. Chapter themes included: Worldviews, Family, Love and Relationships, responses to Writing Invitations, works on Being a Writer, and Looking Inside-out. As writers students ventured into composing and re-creating their visions of reality and their sense of Self; writing became a process of discovery and the central focus of our community.

Another student commented about the difference from regular school learning:

    " I am so used to teachers looking over my shoulder at every moment that the adjustment from that to a free environment has been difficult. I see myself as a self-motivated person in most things I do, but in school I have never had to be that way before."

     This kind of thoughtful reflection about difference from regular school environment was mirrored in an online interview of our visiting author, later instructor, Launz Burch (penname-Dirk Flinthart), when I asked him "What dynamics do you see at play in the environment?" He responded:

     "It became apparent to me that much of the actual work of writing was carrying on in the background and my role was less that of an online "question and answer" mentor than that of a Devil's Advocate and to some extent exemplar of a working author. I began to transfer more of my own writing process online and rather than wait for questions, I have tried actively to engage students in what I am doing. "

     He continued to note the difference in pedagogical approach from the more traditional format and how he and my co-teacher at that time were learning to make the shift along with the students:

     It's been interesting to watch the other online teacher who clearly has some idea of the formal  teacher student relationship in the more traditional sense, start to transcend that idea. Gentle peer pressure, especially as exerted by Ginny, seems to be bringing to the fore more of his natural sense of exuberance which in turn makes him a more accessible figure for the students. While I tried to bring no preconceptions to the forum, I must admit that initially I was concerned at the apparent lack of a 'creative writing thrust.' Dialogues wandered from  topic to topic in a fascinating manner, but only rarely touched on writing process. I worried for quite some time that I wasn't fulfilling my expected role in this fashion.

     This reveals how as the primary creator and facilitator of the program, I trusted emergent structure. But also, I had envisioned the steps of creating the environment from creating community to responding to student needs for more structure, but not imposing it without cause or request by the participants themselves. As a facilitator my intent was to be as "invisible" as possible, while still guiding interactions and creative writing content focus. 

      In response to comments by regular school classmates that an online course must be an easy grade, one student reflected: "This is not a slacker class but could easily be turned into one. I feel like the only thing school ever taught me was to do as little as possible to get by. Now that I have this incredible opportunity to grow and explore here, it's hard for me to actually take it. Make sense?" 

     The following represent excerpts comments taken from online archives relate to this goal statement:

     "We cannot create greater freedom. Freedom is all over these pages. The students were given a blank sheet. Many students were initially scared of sharing emotions with virtual strangers,  but the program is not to blame, only time and the students themselves. It takes time to gain  trust."


     "Completely free is probably something that we as a class can never truly accomplish. The only true place we are truly free is inside ourselves. Other than that we will always face some degree of oppression."


     "We can't have complete freedom except within ourselves. Feeling a lack of freedom comes  through fear of disclosure."


     "I learned a lot here because I wanted to learn. Part of the problem is students don't know what to expect at first. It's a new class and you can't find 100 people in your high school to ask what you should do or what they did for the class. You have to take responsibility."


     In the beginning, when students started items on religion, politics, philosophy and other sensitive life issues, I became a bit uncomfortable as the "teacher." I worried about how this kind of open dialogue might be viewed by outsiders as "inappropriate." I voiced my concerns to the students online and discussed them with my co-teachers. The students vehemently responded that they did not support censorship, wanted to explore these issues which were of high importance to them, and could be responsible in doing so. I acquiesced, though as their teacher I was careful about how I expressed my own opinions and focused on posing questions which I believed could help them move forward in discovering varying points of view. I also made sure that I read all postings in a timely fashion to gauge the appropriateness of the discourse within a "school environment." 

     Their poetry then began to reflect these deeper social and personal issues. They learned to respect diverse viewpoints, to support and question their own ideologies, and not to hold too tightly to their views, but to inquire deeply and thoroughly. One student reflected:

      Although writing is the primary focus of this class, I don't believe it is the greatest gift. I have been exposed to lots of writing and done lots myself but the life skills that      I have learned I believe are more valuable to everyone here. Gifts of diversity and tolerance make us all better people.


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