E-Seminars and other Necessary Luxuries

Julia Child once called foie gras and truffles ‘necessary luxuries’. If you cook, you will appreciate the complexity a shaving of truffle can add to a dish. I like to think of my degree as a wonderfully complex sauce with many layers of flavor. For me, e-seminars and other support schemes are the foie gras and truffles in my ‘sauce study’. If you are new to distance learning or have not participated in an academic e-seminars you might wonder a bit about how an e-seminar can benefit you, what the process is like, and what you can accomplish in this learning support scheme. There are several benefits like the community of students, task coaching with a University of London faculty tutor, and engagement with learning process goals unique to the study of English & Comparative Literature. Each of these areas are very beneficial and have become, like a secret ingredient, the secret to my progress with my degree.

Pursuing degree level course work is fun and challenging. The ability to manage a large volume of information is certainly challenging and seminars help me tremendously with that aspect of study. These kinds of process and learning goals are actually the point of e-seminars, at least to me. The seminars are designed as a series of tasks presented by the tutor with a specific outcome goal. A typical seminar has 3 or 4 tasks to complete over a one week period. Our tutor posts an assignment with a goal and instructions; supplemental reading is frequently included. Seminar participants post responses, discuss the topic in an e-chat format, and the tutor comments on outcomes before moving along to the next task. The seminars always feel like cumulative learning to me with each task a logical progression from the previous task.

It sounds simple, but isolating tasks is a very helpful step by step focus, and a great way to group a large topic like ‘prose analysis’ or ‘genre conventions’ into manageable pieces. To extend my sauce metaphor, each task is an ingredient in the mise en place of my intended learning outcomes for each e-seminar. This kind of focus makes it very easy to understand what is expected in exams, and really helps me retain information. I always learn something in this process as I think about the text and task and discuss it with other participants.

Learning from and about other seminar participants is an amazing part of the e-seminar process. There is nothing like hearing about the learning and study process as other students experience it. I always learn something inspiring and important from my colleagues in the e-seminars, and have the greatest respect for the wide range of individual learning styles and goals they bring. There is always something unique and instructive about how these learning styles allow each of us to succeed. It is very helpful to discuss what challenges other students face with the e-seminar tasks and also with the broader study process. Because we write and communicate via email in the e-seminars it is a bit like reading an autobiography of each individual student. It is wonderful to discover how we are united in this shared love of learning and literature; and to enjoy an amazing, engaging, accomplished and talented group of people who each bring a fascinating perspective to e-seminar study.

E-seminar tutors always impress me with their insights and understanding about the unique experience of distance study. They set remarkable examples of professional distinction, accomplishment, and academic standards that I aspire to. E-seminars are a unique opportunity to engage with them on their areas of expertise since there are e-seminars on many literary periods or topics. The tutors who facilitate the e-seminars bring their lifelong passion for literature and learning to each session.

For me literature and distance learning began as a luxury; today I can happily report our e-seminars are truly necessary luxuries. To borrow a more famous phrase from Julia Child, ‘bon apetite!’

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