stanford university wallenberg hall

Chinese proverb #1: Learn and live

31 July 2010

Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.
– Chinese proverb

I channeled my inner Rodney Dangerfield this summer and went back to school. Six weeks (and several 5:00 a.m. bedtimes) later, I have a blog. Time will tell if this is a good thing, but at least it’s SOMETHING. A shout out to Stanford Continuing Studies, my fantastic professor Allison Carruth and my wonderful classmates. Taking this class (“Writing Online: An Introduction to Blogs and Blogging”) was the kick in the pants I needed after 10 years of telling myself I was going to get back to writing.

What I learned in six weeks:

1. I’m much better at being a student at 38 than I was at 18. Now that I’m a real adult, the generational gap between student and professor is gone. Now I listen, I understand, I relate. This makes class much more interesting. It’s also refreshing to be freed from the tyranny of grades.

2. Deadlines are awesome. Without a class, writing was a pipe dream ranked at about 5000 on my list of things to do. Class assignments gave me the external force I needed to push other things off and do this for myself.

3. Everyone has something interesting to say. I loved hearing the unique contribution offered by each of my classmates – a combination of specialized knowledge, personal experience and writing style.

4. Online, everyone can find a community of readers. This number is much more likely to be few than thousands. However, as author Clay Shirky states in one of the course books, Here Comes Everybody, “Bloggers with a dozen readers don’t have a small audience…they just have friends.” My goal in writing online is simply to connect with people. In my real world, I call kids to mealtimes; I mediate disputes; I listen with amusement to the conversations my kids (ages 8, 4, 6 and 1) have with each other. In my online world I can communicate with grownups – friends – and hopefully hear back as well.

5. Small steps add up. I loved seeing my classmates take tentative steps forward each week – and taking those steps myself. I had always been impatient with little steps. But after years of full time parenthood, I’ve learned to be satisfied with one small step at a time. And six weeks of class-assisted small steps added up to more than I would have otherwise managed in two years on my own.

I give thanks for teachers who open doors and for the inner courage and humility we all need to walk through.

* * *

Here are some resources for those of you who might also need a little inspiration on your own journeys:

Stanford Continuing Studies: For those who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, Stanford University’s School of Continuing Studies is an amazing resource. For a mere course fee (in my case, $295), anyone can take one of the 350 classes a year the school offers in liberal arts and sciences, professional and personal development, and creative writing. No screening, no application – open enrollment to anyone interested in learning. No wonder that 9000 people a year take advantage of it.

Writing Web 2.0: On Blogs and Blogging: For those interested in blogging, my professor, Allison Carruth, is offering the class again this fall. Registration begins August 16. Be ready to sign up – the summer class filled up in days, and I missed the opportunity. Fortunately they opened up another section, but Allison says she won’t be able to do that this fall. So if you miss the fall class or aren’t in range, Allison is planning on offering the course online in the winter through Stanford Continuing Studies Online Writer’s Studio. If you want to get on the Stanford Continuing Studies mailing list to be notified of classes and registration times, you can sign up here.

Harvard Extension School: For those in the Boston area, Harvard University offers a similar program to Stanford’s – extensive course offerings (650 this year) and open to the public. They also offer 150 courses a year online through Harvard Extension School’s Distance Education program – and you can view the first lecture of any course for free. In general the courses at Harvard are pricier than Stanford’s, but there are also more sessions per course, as Harvard runs on semesters and Stanford on quarters.

Harvard Extension School’s Open Learning Initiative: Harvard University’s Extension School has a few courses available in full online for public viewing or listening.

Gotham Writers’ Workshop: This is another great place to go for writing classes – in person if you are in NYC, or online otherwise. I took a class here during the tail end of my Gotham decade and thoroughly enjoyed it. Overall the classes are also more affordable per class-hour than Stanford’s (Harvard’s writing classes tend toward academic writing).

New York Times Knowledge Network: The New York Times has partnered with a number of educational institutions (including Stanford) to offer online classes in a variety of topics, including world issues, health, science, media and writing.

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