I just finished one E-Seminar on Tuesday and started another one on Wednesday, and papers for the marking scheme are due on 1 February. This is sheer bliss for me! I love having seminars deadlines to meet and papers due at the same time. For me, the two form my own personal pedagogy, which is important in a self-directed learning program. For me, in seminars, writing papers, and when using Study Guides, it all comes down to questions asked and answered. The questions we ponder in seminars and Study Guides are didactic, of course, so I like to ask myself a few things before I begin writing, ‘What is this question telling me about the text,’ ‘why are these particular questions being asked by my tutor,’ are great ways to become more attuned to the question, and my process for responding to it.
Responding to questions is something I enjoy in seminars, especially when I am writing essays over the same week or two. The seminar questions teach me to focus on small sections of text, write short, concise answers, and use a series of questions to fully develop an idea. Studying short passages help me to remember quotes. It also helps me to look at the text in different ways, and actually requires me to produce concise answers.
Short, concise answers are important because they help me to stay organized while reading and writing. Rambling responses rarely answer questions. I try to keep focused on the question I am attempting to answer by writing a short sentence for each aspect of the question. For example if the question is about dramatic interaction, I try to write one sentence for every kind of interaction I see in the section of text I am studying. That is a lot of focus on a small section of text. I also have come to appreciate the series of questions the seminar tutors and Study Guides present.
The series of questions about a text, focused on short sections, is actually a great example of Socratic method. It is so helpful to study a text using close reading and a sequence of questions to form specific and detailed ideas about different aspects of a text, and to progress from simple observations to more complex and nuanced readings. Thinking through ideas from thesis to conclusion is a helpful thing to do. It helps me to see the relationship between things like theme and characterization, and dialogue, for example. It also makes it much easier to answer questions under exam conditions.
Writing under exam conditions can be a challenge in distance learning. It requires memory, organization, and some deep thinking before arriving at the exam room. While this program is ‘self directed’ it really is not auto didactic, at least to me. The study resources and their thoughtful questions are designed to teach about the texts, and also about the study process. Learning to use them has helped me to develop a personal ‘teaching’ style, even if I am only teaching myself. This year, my more thoughtful approach to my ‘personal pedagogy’ helped open the window of my imagination to better, more effective ways of reading and learning. That is a fantastic start to easier, more organized, more precise, and more interesting writing. This weekend I will be writing four papers and reading Ben Jonson. I can’t wait!