Why Online English Classes (Probably) Won’t Work

By Lili Fishman

It’s finally happened. After two weeks of UConn students wondering what the university was going to do with spring break and COVID-19 coinciding at the same time, we finally have an answer. After spring break, UConn is switching to online classes for at least two weeks to minimize possibility of exposure. As most people seem to be focusing on the challenges of moving lab courses online, let’s see how English classes will be affected by this switch.

As a second-semester senior, I chose to take low-stress classes so I can focus on my Honors thesis and honestly, just to have an easier semester. Currently, the English classes I am taking are Creative Writing II and Literary Magazine Editing — you guessed it, LRR! Out of these two, Creative Writing will have the easiest time moving to an online format. Normally, we write our pieces, upload them, and have workshop periods to talk about each other’s works. That can be done on a discussion board in HuskyCT, though it definitely won’t be as fun or interesting as in person. But it can still be done. That’s why I believe creative writing classes will suffer the least, as having written advice and constructive criticism is similar to a professor grading your work. There would be sacrifices of a back-and-forth conversation, but the workshop value of the class is still there.

LRR on the other hand, is going to have some issues. Luckily, our admissions and discussion process is over, which is the bulk of the work, and we can do copy editing remotely. However, if the situation extends to the end of the semester, the journal may not have a strong release, or any at all (there cannot be any gatherings of more than 100 people on campus), and we’ve worked hard these past months, so to see no fruition would be disappointing, to say the least. 

As for other English classes … it’s not looking good for them. The main lecture courses, such as Brit Lit or American Lit, will likely show a decrease in performance. Let’s be honest here. If someone is just lecturing at you for an hour and fifteen minutes, you’re bound to zone out for a bit of it. Now, if that class is on Zoom, when you’re at your own house with other distractions, you’re even more likely to not pay attention to a class that you didn’t pay much attention to in the first place. Lectures of all subjects can be incredibly boring, not just English. If professors want more engagement, I would suggest including an interactive portion, like how in high school language classes we would play Kahoot!, a quiz app that makes retaining knowledge more like a fun competition.

As for more discussion-based classes, again, the discussion board on HuskyCT can be used, but will it be productive? Unclear. I’ve had classes where we used that feature anyway, and most people thought of it as a chore to post a lengthy response to a question, and then reply to three more people. It’s much more organic and interesting to have a discussion face-to-face with real people than typing on a message board. I think that this is because required posting feels so much more like homework, whereas debating the same things in person just feels like a conversation. This is similar to how online arguments are kind of useless because you can’t actually see the person who’s arguing with you and have in-depth discussions.

Lastly, I am in what is technically an art class, but it ties in to my thesis. Counterproof Press is a new class this semester that teaches how to self-publish, print, and produce books. So far, it’s my favorite class of the semester because it is hands-on and I am learning so much that you wouldn’t learn in a typical English class, such as the history of zines, how to use a risograph, how to use letterpress on a Vandercook, how to use typography effectively, how to use InDesign, how to bind a book. These are especially relevant skill sets to English majors who want to self-publish, as well as design majors. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the aforementioned lecture and discussion classes, as it’s only an eight-person class, it is collaborative, and the results are tangible. Of course, there is value in those lecture classes, but this is more engaging to me, personally; after four years of just sitting at a desk, being able to set my own type, and draw two masters for the riso and see how it all works is fascinating. I was planning on using this class to create a physical copy of my thesis, a creative poetry chapbook. We’re currently on that project, a collection, and I have no idea where the future will go with it now that we don’t have workshop time and in-class instruction. I was really looking forward to holding my chapbook in my (washed) hands, and now who knows.

I’d like to end this piece by saying that whatever concerns or disappointments you have regarding this situation are valid. As a senior, I am sad my last semester is so up in the air, and graduation may not be happening. I sympathize with the people who have worries about housing, financial aid with work study, and other pressing, important worries. As an Asian-American, I stand with Asian-Americans who have been harassed by racist people, and local Asian businesses that are suffering because of ignorance. All we can do is get through this together, with kindness, and with safety. 

Lili Fishman is the Long River Review interviews editor and a member of the poetry panel. She can be reached at lili.fishman@uconn.edu.

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