Was that a wrong turn back there? A reflection on a recent experience.
Fair warning: what follows is something halfway between a gripe and a query. If it sounds like sour grapes, it probably is, but it’s also me putting my experience out there, what I got out of it, and asking The Internet a simple question “was I crazy?”
Halfway through March, I learned that a Massive Open Online Course was going to be held about creating comics. As I’ve been floundering in this area for upwards of two years by this point, I thought to myself, “this might be a good way to get myself the perspective I so desperately need”. Also, it had a comic writer I respected greatly as part of the guest instructor lineup, so I could hardly go wrong there.
Well, either I didn’t read the description right or something because the course wasn’t about making comics - exactly - but about making comic pitches. A useful skill, I’m sure, but not what I was looking for. Still, the course was “free” (it did cost me a good chunk of my monthly bandwidth for the video calls, which actually caused my ISP to shut me down at one point - a fun experience, that. Also I had to plunk money on a proper webcam for the final exercise - more on that later), and the instructors talked about how building a pitch was a wonderful way to solidify a story. So, I soldiered on.
We had to come to the course already with a comic idea. I was drawing a blank at the time, so I took an older idea and an older character I’d been toying with for some years, dusted them off, and set them up for the course. Maybe I could breathe new life into them, I thought.
The course started March 23, and “ended” April 20. So, four weeks of effort. Week one had us making elevator pitches and starting pitch outlines (but not finishing them). Week two was supposedly about worldbuilding. Well, having to make a map or two could qualify, but making Pinterest accounts and grabbing images across the Internet to describe your comic seemed odd to me. That exercise I bombed, because we needed a minimum of 20 images and by the deadline I could only nail 13.
It was here that I was introduced to the two “tools” used to assess the work being done. One was a weekly article on 13thDimension dot com about the course, where some of the work by the students would be showcased. Of the 200+ students, only two or three students would be showcased in each article. The other, was what was called the “32Q” approach: list 3 things you liked about the submission, 2 things that needed work, and finally a Question designed to push the person being assessed forward. This sounds useful, but the instructors didn’t do this for the students. Instead, they wanted the students to do this for each other.
This strikes me as suspiciously like the instructors copping the hard part of teaching - grading the work - on the students themselves. But, I figured we’d all be graded at the end of the course, when our final presentations - a video outlining our pitch - would be presented.
The third week was possibly the most useful, as the required reading articles had some actual practical application to that week’s subject: i.e. setting goals and building a schedule. The fourth week, the video presentation, was the final exercise, and seemed to assume we all had some basic knowledge of video editing. I did not - I knew this going in and tried to enlist a friend of mine who did know video editing somewhat to help. Only he wasn’t able to show up, and I had to wing it.
At the end of the course, there was no assessment of our work done by the instructors. No final grade or critique. The final 13thdimension article never materialized as of this writing. Instead, we were asked to fill out a survey about the MOOC, and invited to sign up for daily mini-challenges.
The instructors themselves were largely absent save for weekly “status updates” and the weekly video sessions where they hobnobbed with the guest instructors I mentioned earlier - picking the brains of their guests with only a few questions from the students. They did have “office hours”, where students could talk to them in a videoconference - but those vanished at the end of the second week.
It is now two weeks since the course ended. I’ve been puttering with the comic pitch I cobbled together, but the drive and direction I’d hoped to acquire is gone once more. I hope what contributions I gave helped some of my fellow students (a tough thing since, as an introvert, helping others isn’t something I do easily - or well), but overall I cannot shake the feeling that the course was more harm than help. That, at the end of the day, I wasted my time, and am now poorer for the experience.
It’s possible, since I was also dealing with changing employers at this time, and dealing with a nasty cold and with numerous small crises with family and work, that I simply had too much on my plate when this course was running and that might have sapped my ability to glean anything truly useful from it. It is also possible that my not getting anything tangible out of the course might be a big clue delivered by my subconscious that maybe making comics isn’t something I can do. Which, in turn, makes the last ten years of my life a huge waste and leaves me even more rudderless for the remaining 40+ years of my life.
Or maybe, the fact that this whole course felt like a class run by a demoralized and apathetic substitute teacher - who gets us to watch a video and maybe write a test on what we saw (but then never grades) - meant that the course itself was not suitable.
I don’t know.
So, Internet, I put the question to you, given the above: am I crazy? Was I wasting my time?