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The problem with courses

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Have you ever felt excited about taking a course, full of enthusiasm and keen to start, only to discover that the course isn’t what you were expecting and isn’t meeting your needs?

I regularly experience this disappointing situation, most recently in the Critical Reading course I’m in the middle of.

There are lots of free courses available on the internet but I paid for this one because it seemed to cover exactly what I was looking for. And it started off well; I was fully engaged and eager to participate. Then we returned to the same poem and short extracts from novels and I became slightly disillusioned. Week 7 of 10 took a nose-dive: it was focused on essay planning. This week, 8, centres around reading about essay writing, and the entire focus appears to have switched to the final assignment. I have to say, I feel cheated; this is not what I thought I was paying for, and is made worse by the fact that I invested quite a bit of money in it.

Why do I feel let down?

Firstly, I thought we would examine novels as a whole, not a couple of paragraphs from a couple of novels. In other words, I was hoping to look at character and plot development, an exploration of the ways writers explore themes, the overall structure of the novel, the images and their significance, and so on. Instead, we have conducted a close analysis of a passage.

Secondly, out of a 10 week course, only 5 weeks so far have been devoted to critical reading; we are now concentrating on the final assignment.

It’s not that the course hasn’t been good; it’s that there is a huge mismatch between what is being delivered and what I was expecting. I’m not blaming the course for this; it is as much my fault and I am sure many participants are more than happy. It’s not the right course for me, and I think I often set my expectations too high.

I am debating on whether to complete the final assignment. There are a variety of close analysis questions, the most appealing of which is looking at a short story by Katherine Mansfield as I don’t want to analyse a poem but would rather focus on prose. However, the question is about choosing a passage from the text and I want to explore the story as a whole. I don’t need to pass the course so I may deviate from the remit – naughty, I know, but why not?

Anyway, this has got me thinking: I’m a teacher by profession and more than capable of designing my own courses – so why don’t I? Apart from buying books – which I do anyway – there would be no additional financial investment. I can cover what I want to cover, in the manner I desire, and to my chosen timescale.

Consequently, I am in the process of doing just this. I have a collection of magical realism novels arriving this week, together with an academic guide, and will then search for additional resources on the internet and put something together.

It will be interesting to see how this works out.

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