Notes from An Alien

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Tag Archives: Lansing Community College

Author Interview ~ Dan Holt

We now have 35 Author Interviews on this site—some writers still working on their first book, some with many books to their credit—ranging in age from their teens to their sixties.

Today’s interview is special because the author is also a creative writing professor as well as a productive citizen of the virtual world Second Life.


Welcome to our blog, Dan :-)

Recently, a few of your students stopped by one of our book chats on Book Island in Second Life and told me they were part of your creative writing class. Please, tell us about the work you do with students in a virtual world like SL.

I teach primarily writing classes, both first year composition classes and creative writing classes for the English Department at Lansing Community College, Lansing, Michigan. The classes that I have meet in SL are online classes, where we meet together once a week, much as f2f [face-to-face] classes do on campus. One of the assignments I have students do, particularly in the creative writing and novel writing classes that I teach is to explore the writerly communities in SL, much as I might ask students to attend a reading in a f2f class. It gives them a chance to hear other writers, talk about fiction/poetry, and even read their own work.

So, Dan, what led you to teaching writing classes in SL?

I’ve been teaching online classes at LCC for fifteen years, since 1997 when our campus offered the very first online degree available through a community college in Michigan. When I was first approached about teaching online, I agreed only on one condition: that the class could be as interactive as a f2f class. And it was, with asynchronous discussion forums and synchronous text chat. But I soon realized that something was missing, a sense of place and proximity that so enhances the development of a writing community which fosters writing improvement in f2f classes. A sense of presence, and working with others, can be created through 2D tools, but it was difficult, and not as effective as I wanted. Meanwhile, I remember the interaction that took place with my kids in exploring the virtual worlds of video games and thought that having an online class in a virtual space would be much more effective. I did explore text-based MOOs in the late 90s, but found them to be too much of a learning curve for my students.

In 2008, I took a sabbatical to explore Web 2.0 applications for education, and one of my primary focuses was on Second Life, to see if it was possible to be immersed in the virtual world so that a sense of place and a sense of presence could enhance an online class. Through my exploration of virtual communities that took place in educational spheres, such as the Virtual World Education Roundtable, I found that SL afforded what I thought would improve the sense of classroom community that f2f instructors took for granted.

How, exactly, do you use SL with students?

First off, we meet weekly, like we would in a f2f class, where I can give brief lectures and answer questions. And students can work on their writing by reading and giving feedback to each other and participate in whole class and small group discussions about fiction and poetry. And, as I mentioned earlier, attend writerly events in the virtual world.

Do you think it’s essential that writers take college courses in writing?

Essential? No, there is only one essential activity that writers must do regularly. And, that is to write! But it can be beneficial. The value of taking a class is that it gives one a writing community to work with, an instant audience, someone to bounce ideas, stories, poems and such off of. But even more valuable, a writing community helps a writer build his or her own critical skills. By giving thoughtful, well reasoned critiques to other writers, and doing so over and over during a relatively concentrated amount of time, a writer builds his or her own critical chops that can then be applied when writing and especially when revising.

The fact is, writing is often a solitary pursuit. But the end result of a poem or a story is for it to be read by others, to offer an experience to an audience, to expand their imaginative worlds. A writing class gives writers an opportunity to do so. Certainly it’s not the only way—the writer/reader events on Book Island in SL do so as well. But it can be a very fruitful way, especially if one wants to earn a degree down the road.

What about your own writing, Dan? What have you been working on?

This summer I published a story cycle, The Annunciation of Jack, which is a work of urban fantasy/magical realism set in the San Francisco Bay Area of the early 1970s, available as an ebook or paperback at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. And I’m currently working on a novel in the high fantasy genre, about 2/3s through the first draft. As a full time professor, though, my writing time is pretty much limited to summers!

Well, Dan, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule and letting us know about the many approaches to writing you pursue in your work :-)
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