Lisa Geichman Prosek, who holds Master’s degrees in Victorian Studies and Creative Writing, began teaching at Antioch University Midwest in 2008. She taught two writing courses at AUM that were then combined to create Experience and Expression, which was eventually brought into the digital classroom through Antioch University Online. Prosek specializes in working with adults returning to higher education after time away and enjoys helping them work through anxieties that often arise around the writing involved. She thinks that the course being taught online adds to the learning experience. “Our weekly discussion forums help to ease that nervousness,” she said.
Students read three memoirs during the course: Angela’s Ashes, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, and Why I Left the Amish. “The authors of these books found themselves caught in difficult circumstances, seemed to have extremely limited options, and yet found ways to free and nurture self,” said Prosek, about the readings. “It’s sometimes easier to see more clearly the events of others’ lives than to take a direct look at our own and see where changes need to be made. By reading these memoirs we learn from others how we might free ourselves.”
The class, which empowers students to explore the pressures of society on the “self” through writing, as well as the study of rhetorical modes and grammar and punctuation, has gained a reputation as a transformative experience.
In their final assignment, they examine four transformative events in their own lives as memoirists. When one really thinks about what this assignment requires of the writer, one might find themselves inspired to… write a memoir. Or at the very least, explore and express a part of themselves that has been hidden or buried.
When I think about writing a personal memoir I start to feel kind of sweaty and uneasy. I make excuses to myself and others about why nobody would want to read my memoir, anyway… It’s hard to look critically at our lives. It’s hard to share our lives, at the risk of being criticized. Aware of this challenge that many share, the course is sensitive to instinctive reticence and offers students the brave role models who have gone before them. Students are, through the natural progression of the coursework, given the opportunity to take lessons from literary memoirs and then turn the examination toward their own lives. “The students get to know each other and communicate as though in a face-to-face classroom while they practice writing,” said Prosek. “In addition, they actively support each other’s efforts.”
As with any transformative experience occurring within a group context, there is often a collective moment when things shift.
In Experience and Expression, Week 3 is Magic Week.
“By the third week of the course, I see changes in the way students write their classroom posts and assignments and the way they interact with each other in our forums,” said Prosek. “I’m seeing students become scholars. They come into the course with passion and strong ideas, and this course helps them develop the skills to express those ideas strongly, clearly, and confidently for the rest of their lives.”
It all makes self-reflection with a smattering of grammar and punctuation sound pretty appealing. Doesn’t it?
Experience and Expression is part of the core curriculum of Antioch Online’s bachelor’s degree program.