E-Mentoring the Individual Writer within a Global Creative Community

E-Mentoring the Individual Writer within a Global Creative Community

Linda Venis (UCLA Extension, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-876-5.ch008
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Abstract

This chapter presents a case study of how the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, which is America’s largest continuing education provider of online creative writing and screenwriting courses and services, offers individualized feedback and mentoring to 1,000’s of aspiring and practicing writers worldwide. Writing creatively is singularly private and can be isolating; the Writers’ Program’s 220 annually-offered online courses in fiction writing, memoir, personal essay, children’s literature, playwriting, poetry, publishing, feature film writing, and television writing provide access to in-depth instructor/student, student/student, and student/advisor relationships designed to help meet individual writing goals. Writing education is particularly well-suited for online delivery because writers write: students submit their work in writing; the teacher and fellow students give their feedback in writing. For students, the act of learning to write online reinforces their accountability to create in a disciplined way and allows time to absorb and respond to critiques with reflection. For teachers, e-mentoring requires unusual rigor and preciseness in order to give thoughtful feedback on each piece of creative work, and the 80 professional writers who teach the Writers’ Program online courses employ a range of pedagogical strategies to do so. In addition, the Writers’ Program provides personalized guidance and advice on writing online through its student advisors as well as an array of services, including one-on-one manuscript and script consultations; feature film mentorships for which students sign up monthly and receive “on demand” guidance on their projects; and a first-of-its-kind course limited to six advanced students in which they hold virtual internships at production companies and studios as script readers. The chapter begins with an overview of UCLA Extension and the Writers’ Program’s history, mission, products, services, and managerial structure, and then describes the origins and current status of the Writers’ Program’s online curriculum and educational services. The ways in which writing education comprises a near-perfect match for a virtual delivery system are explored, followed by a discussion of what makes Writers’ Program’s products and services uniquely suited to deliver e-mentoring for a global, mostly post-baccalaureate student body who puts a high premium on results and quality of interaction. The chapter next outlines how clear expectations, course design, lectures and critiquing guidelines ensure successful response to creative work (instructor/student and student/peers), and then focuses on “best practices” techniques and strategies that online Writers’ Program instructors use to shape and deliver critiques, including a common critiquing vocabulary and methodology, use of technological tools to provide sustained, personalized feedback, and ways to cultivate the individual writer’s sense of place in the global literary and entertainment communities. The chapter concludes by addressing technological, pedagogical, and economic challenges and future directions of e-mentoring aspiring creative writers and screenwriters.
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Background

UCLA Extension: History, Mission, Products/Services, and Role in the Community

Serving students in Southern California since 1917, UCLA Extension is one of America’s largest and most comprehensive continuing higher education providers and is the community outreach arm of University of California at Los Angeles. Each year, UCLA Extension provides 4,500 primarily post-baccalaureate courses, conferences, and programs to 60,000 adult learners who seek career development and personal growth. The institution possesses an unusual profile among university-based continuing education programs: it is completely self-sustaining and receives no state funds; 95% of its offerings carry only continuing education credit and are therefore not UCLA-transferrable; and it does not grant degrees.

Driven by the mission to “provide knowledge and connections to help people achieve their personal and professional goals,” UCLA Extension’s business model is “entrepreneurial education,” offering UCLA Academic Senate-approved courses designed to meet the needs of “education consumers” who want to improve job prospects, change careers, acquire new knowledge and skills, and explore their creative sides. A recent analysis by a group of MBA students from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management sought to measure UCLA Extension’s impact on the Los Angeles economy, and using a conservative formula, calculated that the institution contributes $250 million annually, primarily through increased earning power of its students. Accordingly, the viability of many of the courses and programs reflect current economic, business, and social realities. When the real estate market boomed, so did interior design, landscape architecture, and real estate certificate programs; when the technology bubble burst, enrollments in technology-related engineering and business courses fell. After the attacks of 9/11, students sought out arts courses to find meaningful modes of self-expression. During tight economic times, UCLA Extension traditionally sees an uptick in enrollments in UCLA degree-transferrable courses and hot-button areas which offer new career opportunities. Most courses are held in the evenings and weekends at UCLA, satellite locations in Westwood and downtown Los Angeles, and online to accommodate adult learners’ schedules. A pioneer in distance learning, UCLA Extension carried 1,040 online courses with 18,148 enrollments in 2008, which comprised 22.35% of the institution’s total enrollments. UCLA Extension online students come from all 50 states, and in 2008, from 43 countries internationally. Currently, 23 certificate programs are available online.

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