Friday, January 18, 2008

The Other Kind of Workshop

Maven Jacqueline BarbourThus far this week, the Mavens have posted eloquently about the energy and inspiration that comes from attending (and presenting) "live" writers' workshops. But the truth is, in this day and age, you don't even need to leave the comfort of your own home to attend (or present) a workshop. Online workshops for writers abound; I get advertisements for just a small percentage of them in my inbox or on Yahoo loops every week. Some of them are even free!

But are they worth it (especially if they're not free)? Can online workshops really hold a candle to the live variety? Or is there something about being there that adds something vital to the experience?

I have to be honest and admit that, as a presenter, I hate so-called distance learning. As a matter of fact, just yesterday I taught a course in my work life via teleconference and WebEx, and I found it as frustrating and irritating as I always do. The problem for me is that I take so many of my cues from the expressions and body language of the people sitting in front of me. But if I can't see their faces, I have to rely on them to tell me when I've confused them or put them to sleep. There's nothing worse than chirping crickets in a teleconference. The presenter has no idea what it means!

But while I'm all for the live version as a presenter, from an attendee's point of view, I sometimes prefer the online variety. Especially if I didn't have to pay for it. (Did I mention before now that I'm terminally cheap?)

Here are some reasons I like online workshops/conferences:

  • If the presenter is covering something I already know or that doesn't interest me for some reason (maybe a portion of the lecture covers the element of romantic suspense or something I don't write), I can either tune out the lecture or skip over it if it comes in writing. (I know, I know, people do this to me when I'm giving an online presentation and it drives me crazy. But I did admit to being the student I hate to teach.)
  • I can spend as much or as little time as I want reviewing a topic, particularly if the workshop lectures are delivered in the form of email. This, to me, is the single biggest reason to love online workshops--they're the ultimate in self-study guides.
  • If the presenter of an online workshop is engaged and responds to your questions, you can often get more "bang for your buck" (or no buck!) in terms of individualized instruction from an online workshop than you can from one you attend in person. In a classroom environment, there are always limitations on the presenter's time and attention. By contrast, in an online environment (again, especially a workshop presented in the form of email or other written forms of communication--like this blog, lol), the only limit to the amount of attention you can coax from the presenter is his or her willingness to engage with you and respond to your repetitive requests for advice/information/what have you.

Despite my enthusiasm for online workshops, I haven't attended very many. (See comment regarding terminal cheapness above.) The ones I have attended have varied in quality, from Cobblestone's excellent Words in Motion conference just a few weeks ago and a very helpful course on crafting pitches I took through Candy Havens' Write Workshop Yahoo! group last year to quite a few others I've found much less useful.

YOUR TURN: How do you feel about online workshops? Have you attended any that particulary stood out, either positively or negatively? And are you as tickled as I am that Maveneer (my personal favorite, I confess) has pulled ahead (as of the time I wrote this) in the voting for Maven term of endearment?

Whatever your favorite MTOE, remember there are just two days left to vote!


Carrie Ryan said...

For me online workshops have been hit or miss. With my day job, I just work through them, with the sound on in the background. For writing workshops I took a multi-week one once that was expensive ($100+) but highly recommended and right up my alley. Unfortunately, the teacher didn't have time for us and essentially blew the class off -- I was livid but didn't feel like I could say anything because the writing community is so small. That's pretty much soured me for quite some time, unfortunately!

Vicki said...

I’ve taken both and for the most part I like the live and in person ones. That said there have been a few online ones that have been great.

The ones online that I have enjoyed are the ones that have limited amount of people in them. I find you receive better response from the presenter if they don’t have tons of people.

At the same time there has been a few that once I started them I found very little interest in what was the workshop was about. Did I still learn something? Yep, always do.

The best part of online is I can do it at my leisure. If I have a crazy day (lots of them), then I can skim the lesson, making sure there isn’t anything I need to do immediately and then come back to the exercise the next day. Which speaking of exercises, this is just my thoughts. If you take an online course and there are exercises to do, posting them is great. You usually receive feedback from the presenter. :)

Okay, this is my shameless promotion, but over on my blog, I have a picture of a puzzle, that I was asked to write the back story blurb for it. Guess what??? It’s now in BnN. How cool is that.

Bill Clark said...

Since I've never been near an online workshop, I have no business commenting on your post, but why should that stop me? ;-)

To me it sounds like something out of George Orwell - e.g., the "feelies" in Brave New World. Like you, I prefer the actual experience, not something re-created at second hand.

But! If the Mavens were to do an online workshop, I would be first in line to sign up! :-)

PatriciaW said...

I'm big on online workshops because they fit into my current budget pretty easily.

The quality is definitely hit or miss so it's best if one comes recommended, like the Plotting Bootcamp given by Delilah Devin. I took that last summer and it was great.

The number of attendees needs to be limited so that it's possible to interact with the instructors as well as the other members of the class. Too many people, like some of the old B&N University classes, and it's a waste of time.

I also do a bit of detective work on the presenters, checking out their books in publication and their websites or blogs. If I'm not a fan of their work, or don't think I would be, then I probably won't take the class.

Evangeline Holland said...

I'm with Carrie--hit or miss. I've participated in workshops on message boards and on yahoo groups, and its success depended upon active and constant participation most importantly from the presenter, and secondly, from the participants.

There's nothing worse than having someone host a workshop who doesn't have enough time to respond to everyone, and nothing worse than a workshop where the presenter is the only one participating. I think that in order to undertake an online workshop, the person in charge must have a large block of time set aside to be on duty for most of each day's workshop, and for there to be a good number of participants.

Manuscript Mavens

Manuscript Mavens