Saturday, 26 January 2013

Starting 'Storylines' and stalling.

Last November I decided to continue my creative writing studies with the Open College of the Arts. I like the structure and challenge of formal study and feel that their degree pathway offers just that. Also I find that following a formal course pushes me to write in a more organised manner. I was able to get accreditation for my Open University Diploma in Creative Writing so need to complete two level 2 modules and two level 3 modules to complete the BA(Hons) Creative Writing. I opted to start with 'Storylines' which is proving to be extremely frustrating.
        I was advised when I enrolled that the module was being updated but that for the duration of the module I should follow the version of the workbook that I was sent. Having received my materials I set to. 
The Storylines workbook introduction contains the following;

'Your learning log
Your learning log is an integral part of this and every other OCA course. If you're new to the OCA courses, read your Keeping sketchbooks and learning logs study guide for further information.

Use your learning log to record your progress through the course. Your learning log should contain:
  • the work you do for each exercise (clearly labelled)
  • your thoughts on the work you produce for each proect
  • your ideas and observations as you work through the course your reflections on the reading you do and the research you carry out
  • your tutor's reports on assignments and your reaction to these.
If you wish, you can post your learning log as an online blog on the OCA website so that your tutor can see how your work is developing between assignments. It's particularly important that your tutor sees regular evidence of your development if you're planning to have your work formally assessed.'

    That seemed self explanatory to me. As an existing OCA photography student I am familiar with the concept of learning logs as 'easily navigatable' online blogs. They are frequently discussed on the student forum by both students and tutors. The OCA have produced informative guidelines and videos about them. So I spent some time setting up my writing blog. Probably considerably longer than some people given my mediocre IT skills.

   Following the coursebook instructions I emailed my profile to my tutor along with a link to my learning log. My tutor advised that Creative Writing tutors don't look at blogs. I was a little confused and forwarded the above exerpt but my tutor assured me that it was incorrect. Fair enough, but I decided to continue to develop the blog as a home for my writing in general and my own reflections on my progress through the course, so it hadn't all been a waste of time and effort.

   I moved onto the coursework only to find that there isn't any. After giving this some thought I felt that this was a good thing. There's no point repeating exercises that I've already done elsewhere and this would enable me to focus on developing a body of work. I emailed my tutor to ensure my understanding was correct:

  'It seems that the course consists of my studying the concept of short stories, submitting 5 as assignments along with my learning log and a self assessment against the criteria.and a final critical review and reflective commentary.  Have I missed something or do I just set to with the assignments? '

This was indeed the case, minus the learning log, and we established that the critical review for Assignment 6 was not  'a critical review of up to 2000 words on a contemporary work or movement in children's writing, or a critical essay on a children's author' as stated in the workbook, but the same sentence minus the word 'children's'. This was a relief as one of my other module choices may be Writing for Children so it seemed a bit incongruous to find it here. 

Next I got a little muddled regarding exactly how much leeway I had in moving from the Assignment brief. There are ten short stories in the workbook with an assignment after each pair. Assignments 1-5 are worded identically, the first part being:

Write a short story of between 2000-3000 words based on the last two short stories and the ideas contained in the commentaries.

You may approach this in a number of ways, by imitating the style of either, by using ideas suggested by the plot of either story or by using ideas which come up in the commentaries or a combination of these.

I didn't want to imitate styles or directly relate to the plot or commentaries so checked with my tutor. I was advised that I could write what I want. This left me a little mystified as to why the brief didn't just say 'write a short story' but from a positive perspective it gave me plenty of creative freedom.

Having clarified these issues I cracked on, reading lots of short stories and working on my own story.

As I began work on the final draft I re-checked the Assignment instructions to ensure my work met the remit. Once again I hit a problem as the second part of the Assignment instructions states:


Before you send this assignment to your tutor, take a look at the assessment criteria for this course,which will be used to mark your work when you get your work formally assessed. The assessment criteria are listed in the introduction to this course.

Review how you think you've done against the criteria and make notes in your learning log. Send these reflections, along with work, and your learning log (or link to your blog).

Given that my tutor didn't want to see my learning log or blog I wasn't sure what she wanted with regard to my reflection so emailed again. I was surprised that her reply said

  "You also have to send a reflective commentary of about 500 words on the writing process, what changes you made from draft to draft and why.'

 Once again I read through the whole workbook. There was no mention of a 500 word reflective commentary. I had initially been surprised at the omission of a reflective commentary as it had been an integral part of my Open University assignments, but had reasoned that it balanced out with Assignment 6 which included a 1500-2000 word reflective commentary. 

Having previously been a bit frustrated at the discrepancies between my written instructions and my tutor's expectations I was now very concerned that we seemed to have different instructions so I scanned my Assignment instructions to her and expressed my concern. Following this she arranged for OCA to send me an updated version. I was relieved about this, thinking that it explained why we had got off to a bad start. I had wondered if my tutor thought I was not bothering to read the materials properly and asking for information that was already available in the workbook. I looked forward to receiving the updated materials and being able to proceed with the confidence of following accurate instructions. The new workbook duly arrived and turned out to be exactly the same as my existing copy. My frustration escalated.

This leaves me in a position where I have absolutely no faith that my course materials correlate with the formal assessment criteria that will be used to mark the module come assessment time. I find myself in a dilemma. Do I plod on hoping that despite not following any of my written instructions I'm doing the right thing? Do I ask for a deferment until the module is accurately updated? Do I ask for a transfer to an alternative module and return to the updated version of Storylines at a later date?  
I will be having a discussion with the Curriculum Director next week to determine my next steps.

Meanwhile the final draft for the short story for Assignment 1 can be found by clicking this link :

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