Friday, August 7, 2020

Introduction to the Pandemic Semester

So, I've been teaching at OU since 1999, and teaching online since 2002... but I have never faced a semester like the one that is about to begin. The summer has been filled with a lot of hard work trying to help people learn some new things about teaching online so they can feel more confident about that (a lot of schools are fully online this Fall, and I interact with lots of teachers at different schools using Twitter). Plus of course there has just been lots of just general worry and anxiety reading the news and wondering what is going to happen next.

I feel very lucky to still have my job (some schools have had layoffs), and also very lucky to be safely at home. I'm always glad to be teaching online, but this semester even more so, and I'm relieved that this class will not be requiring anybody to come to campus. Hopefully this class can be a chance for you to relax and get away from some of the stress of this semester... because it is definitely going to be stressful.

Each semester I enroll myself as a student in one of the two classes, but this semester I've decided to participate in both classes as a student: Indian Epics and Myth-Folklore. Since this semester feels completely weird right from the start, I thought I might as well try my own weird experience of taking both classes. I always have fun writing stories and doing a class project, so this semester I will be reading and writing stories and doing a project for each class!

I used reading and writing as a distraction this summer (I had some intense family stuff going on too, plus all the pandemic mess)... and I am really happy to have discovered my own writing niche: 100-word stories. I first started experimenting with microfiction over Winter Break last year, and then I included some microfiction options in the classes last Spring: people wrote so many great stories! Then when summer came, I made it my goal to write three little books of these 100-word stories, and I did it. You can see my three "Tiny Tales" books at my website (they are all free!), along with a guide I wrote for teachers, hoping that maybe these resources could be useful for writing teachers in both K-12 and college:


I even made audiobooks to go with the books, and that was really fun too. For example, here's the audiobook for the Tiny Tales from India:

Since the stories are so short, each one takes under a minute to read, and that made the whole recording process less stressful. It's nothing fancy; I just recorded myself as I did the final proofreading for each book. I used my phone for that! Then I just uploaded the little audio files to SoundCloud: instant audiobook. (I am a fan of audiobooks; given a choice, I would rather listen to books than read.)

To make the actual books I used a fabulous service called Pressbooks, and I was thinking that maybe we could make a class anthology this semester, publishing a book together! I have got a great system for managing the book production for these 100-word stories (each story fits on a page, which makes the layout is super-easy), so if people want to experiment with this particular story format, I would be glad to collect the stories and publish them as a book. I'll try to get that set up early in the semester so that people will have time to think about that and see if they have any stories they want to contribute.

I know this is going to be a hard semester, but I am a true believer in the power of writing and connecting and sharing to help make the world a better place, so I hope that we can write and connect and share as a class this semester. :-)

When life gets complicated,
choose to create.


  1. Making audio books of short stories sounds so fun! With the libraries closed around here, I'm going to have my three-year-old listen to 'The Lion and the Rabbit.' It'll be like he's being read to at the library. Have you tried writing your own stories and sending it to anthologies?

    1. Oh, yay for children and reading! There are so many great audiobooks for children... do you know about link? They have lots of children's audio books, and some of them are recorded by children, which is very sweet to hear if you find one of those. Maybe you can do a project for class writing stories for your little one! And doing the audio is easy: I'm hoping people in class this semester will want to try putting audio in their blogs; that's why I'm putting a little audio story in the announcements each day, hoping to inspire people! :-)

  2. Hello!

    First off, I think it is SO cool that you enroll yourself as a student in the class to interact on a whole new level. That immediately makes your students respect and appreciate you before we even interact! I love how interactive and fun your class is so far - all of the assignments are fun and low-stress, which makes me enjoy them more and work harder! I am really curious about the microfiction. It was a great idea to include audio versions, as I loooove podcasts and I will listen to your stories while I walk around campus!

  3. Hello Laura,
    Thanks so much for giving us this fantastic course! I have grown up hearing stories of India as a child, but it's been so long (with all the high school and college craziness) since I have been able to sit back and just read stories. It brings back so many memories for me, and I especially love the freedom to retell stories in my own way. I think writing 100-word stories sound really fun, I will definitely check out your audiobooks! I can't even imagine what the online classes would have been like in 2002; I bet the resources would be drastically different from what we have available to us today!

  4. Hi Laura, I've never had a professor who also participates in the class as a student too. So it was cool to find out that you did. I definitely think this class does relieve stress from my other harder science classes. I'll definitely have to look into the 100 word stories you wrote over the summer. I read the Tug of War one from your microfiction and enjoyed it. I think it would be actually difficult for me to write a 100 word story. I tend to ramble a lot and find it hard to condense what I'm trying to say. On my very first story I wrote for this class, it went up to 1500 words! So i had to go back and cut out some stuff because the max was 1000 words.

  5. Hi Laura! I really love the recognition of how different the world is right now. It feels like some of my professors are hoping that, by ignoring what's going on, it will somehow make it easier. It just generally makes life harder when everyone's stress levels are automatically higher because of the pandemic.
    I find it so interesting that you prefer to listen to books than read them! I love a good audiobook, but there's really nothing like sitting down and reading, for me. My favorite audiobooks are the dramatizations. I still listen to some to fall asleep at night if I'm struggling to and, after about six years of listening to The Horse and His Boy for probably an average of once a week or every two weeks, I have almost the entire thing memorized!

  6. Hello,

    I love the whole 100 word story thing you have been doing because not only are they easy to read, but they highlight the most interesting information and are always entertaining to read. Also, I am very impressed that you have been working at OU literally since I was born. That is so cool to me and it really says a lot about you because you have been so successful for so long. You really are the most caring professor I have ever had and you are so passionate about what you do. I am looking forward to the rest of this semester and hope I can become a better writer!

  7. Hello Laura, I really enjoy how open minded and upbeat you are in this course with us hectic students. I have never met a teacher that inserts him or herself as a student. This is such a unique trait that I know your students appreciate you for. I was also very shocked to find out that you liked to listen to books rather than read. I hated reading growing up, so I found it a lot easier to listen to audiobooks. This eventually grew into a habit, where now I listen to audiobooks often. Also side note... I am looking foward to more 100 word short stories this semester.

  8. Hi Laura! I think it so so refreshing how open and communicative you are with your students from the get-go! I love writing but have a hard time sitting down and doing it, and your 100 word stories have inspired me to try that and see where I go from there! I'm really excited about taking this class this semester and learning more about mythology and writing!


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