Adult Classes and Learning

Formal education ended years ago for me, the kind where you are in a physical classroom with other students and a teacher who can command relatively undivided attention. (the cute student two seats over is a topic for another time)  The subject matter is covered with lectures, assigned exercises, testing, and some combination of writing papers or some kind of projects to prove understanding and mastery of the material.  The best of these classes inspire action and love for the subject. The worst… well. we all have our horror stories of classes that fail these goals.

Now I’ve sampled most of the options in this brave, new world of adult education, but there just isn’t much education involved.  There must be some, but most I’ve tried are not worth the time and/or money involved. And several have the students providing the interesting/useful material, so why would we need a teacher or facilities if the students are doing the teaching?

Distance learning is just disappointing, as the lecture lacks any spontaneous interaction or responding to questions or problems.  (And you spend some time wondering how many getting the credit are actually taking the tests themselves or just coasting) Tricky test questions test language expertise more than the material or even ability to use the materials.  Then when you add in the shyster employment promises and high costs at too many schools, taking a class is just lost resources, with time being the biggest resource.  After several classes where there were no serious testing, papers, or projects, I came out without any inspiration or increase in skills.

speaker's podium

Speaker podium, image: 100_1860 by ttarasluk, per Creative Commons 2.0

I’ve also done seminars and speeches at college and cons. Some were invaluable, with insights advice exactly what I needed.  A few speeches about big lies and life in the trenches as a SF writer were fascinating at the time. It’s only twenty-five years later that some of the things I learned through osmosis from those stories have helped both my own writing and tolerance for the publishing process.

Online webinars sound like a compromise between the automated large classes  and interaction of a face to face class, don’t they? Some are very good and leave the student charged with using the new ideas. They often reveal to be a gateway sales  tactic for more extensive and expensive classes, but they should be a good example of the teacher’s lecture and organization skills.

But then there are the classes that lie there dead in the water.  Nothing quite riles me like wasted time  and/or wasted money for a class, even if it’s my employer’s and not my own.

What problems are common and never resolved in most adult classes? (especially online, which are once and done without any folowup)? Broken/incomplete interface that doesn’t allow questions from users and lack feedback capability. Lack of preparedness and organization in the base material, like if you say there are three things to know, list number one and never benchmark two or three(which  sound like number one) and then add a bonus number four. Don’t try to gear your class for all levels of experience, you can’t teach both neophytes about for-loops and and the more experienced about breaking recursion loops out to save resources.  This shows a lack of focus, one or both topics may not be relevant to the subject the class is about. Then relevant parts have to be dropped. Lecture notes and materials don’t contain links and references are another organization issue.  If you’ve dropped textbooks for schooling, students still need inks and additional materials, which should be available before or during the seminar.  Test those links, with different browsers and OS. If there are questions, address each clearly and one at a time, stacking them means none are answered very well. Give concrete or detailed information on the subject, not handwaving vague statement.   Most importantly, the class must add some value, some approach to make students eager to do more, and more importantly study more, hopefully with the teacher.

In primary education, even though there may be issues, a certain minimum in all areas is required for adulthood competence.  In adulthood, there isn’t that much of a vetting and value system. It’s all caveat emptor and finding valuable classes is harder.

The Roar of the Avalanche

Warning signpost for avalanch zone

Avalanche warning zone sign. Image by Peter Dutton, under Creative Commons 2.0

At some point in any project, it takes on a momentum and grabs at your time and energy, refusing to let go. I’m working on a project, not related to my original writings, and it has a deadline soon. It’s taking most of my creative energy, but I can’t stop or even slow or I’ll miss my deadline.  I have stories that I’d like to work on, like a flash-fic trilogy mystery, that are bubbling and nibbling at my concentration.

Can’t lose momentum on duller tasks, or I might miss the deadline. Should stop, or I might lose the momentum on the story ideas.  Can’t weigh it out carefully as I can’t afford to lose that time completely; I can do a rational detailed analysis on things like my NaNo 2010 and without that lost forward motion, my muse just sits there and can’t write to the outline.

But I need to do something new.

So my gut certainly is that I need to finish the more boring task as quickly as I can. Stopping to write even a short piece or detailed outline will derail me more than delaying the new stories. But the rocks are sliding for the project, and not doing anything new is so frustrating. (I already did one flash fic, but it took two days and getting back in the groove took another day. No new fic)

A Collection of Shorts

I released my first collection of short and flash stories on Kindle!  This is a mixed collection of science fiction and fantasy tales, all quick reads.

A Necklace of Garnets: Speculative Short Fiction… and Shiny

“This collection includes tales like a heroine pushed past her endurance when fantastic help arrives and another who discovers unexpected freedom from all servitude and obedience becomes the headiest temptations. Another must reclaim what was lost after losing a long and brutal war with little more than wits.

These short stories show what happens when desperation and temptation collide under great stress. But who are the heroes and who are the reviled?”

Now this collection was a long time coming, no matter how you measure it.  I started reading the Little House books before the Bicentenniel in ’76. The writing bug hit late, when other hobbies just didn’t express my mind’s eye enough.  So lets count that as forty years of wide reading, staying near SF, fantasy, and romance, along with visits to mysteries. But my writing usually has elements of all four genres.

I did the required compositions in school but without any relish.  I can’t even remember anything I wrote for school assignments outside a school paper on mass drivers as a potential replacement for rockets to earth orbit. (Mass drivers are now used as ship weapons and that rocket vertical on the Superman amusement park ride) I also wrote a handful of stories when a college SF club did a short lived magazine. One of those was a spear carrier POV of an original series Trek episode. In between I did a lot of tabletop gaming, making worlds, campaigns, and characters, some memorable and against trope. Other hobbies from painting, to stitching, to rubber stamping, came and went. Until I reached the end of a video game that left me outraged.  Really, really. This was not the later Mass Effect 3 ending, I dodged that outrage because I started writing a different fanfic ending some time before.  And then I wrote another. Without quite realizing it, I had written a million words of fanfic. So let’s count that eight years coming, writing for fun and creating new adventures for characters I loved or loathed.

A friend told me about NaNoWriMo a little over a decade ago. That just seemed a lot to do in one month: fifty thousand words. I still think the month before Christmas was a bad time to do that.  The dark part of winter always seemed a better time, thought with world wide participants season can’t be the only reason. But late fall or late spring are just times when people are preparing. Part of the importance of the event is the challenge part, where you and a writing friend are doing it at the same time. I’ve finished the challenge six times, with one attempt fail due to a lengthy hospital stay. But with NaNo is the encouragement to publish. Polishing something novel length and original is a lot more than fanfic. So as part bootstrap following Holly’s writing advice and part fund raiser, I’m doing short stories first. Short stories as training ground have a long history in SF, so if that honed my favorite authors, it seems a good plan. So I wrote my first original novel length for NaNo ’12, but it was hopeless and I lacked the skills or even the budget for editing or serious classes for that. This winter I started another challenge to get stuff published this year and make actual money, with short, short stories as a starting point. So let’s count that as two and a half years that I’m getting serious at writing original stories.

Now publishing stories where you want something more tangible that the occsional squee of a good review has really only been since last year.  And along came the epic computer meltdown and scams mentioned earlier. No fiction was lost but lost tools, time, and certain kinds of stress really slowed down my efforts. Writing  projects aren’t that slowed down, but all the logistics of finding betas, covers, mailing lists, blog entries and just web presence get to be back burnered during the extended technical issues. Some of the pieces have been ready since February. A recent breakup made the nest less empty and more angsty too.  So let’s count that as five months of getting the publication ready.

And now it’s out.

I expect to be adding more collections, probably bigger. I need to find very low budget business address because of the spam and mailing list laws. But I’ve started!