WebWorkshops: A NZSA Professional Development Initiative

Originally published in NZ Author – Spring 2020

In many professions continuous development is a requirement: if you want to call yourself an ‘architect’ or a ‘doctor’ you need to keep training regularly throughout your career. We don’t have this kind of mandated requirement as writers, but it is risky to think that attending one course or completed one degree will set you up for a lifelong career. I think many of us know this and so look for opportunities to grow and develop our style and range, and to make sure we are thinking about contemporary issues such as representation and the marketplace – that’s where NZSA is here to help.

WebWorkshops are a new, ongoing NZSA professional development programme, delivered online for all writers wherever you are based. They have been running for a few months now, so I decided to catch up with the WebWorkshops coordinator, Kirsten Le Harivel, to hear how people are responding to them so far.

Tell me a little about yourself, how did you get involved with running the NZSA WebWorkshops?

I have been working with the NZSA for the last few years, programme managing the National Writers Forum. When COVID 19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 event, the team at the NZSA decided to launch WebWorkshops and I am the lucky one who coordinates it!

What would you say to someone who wonders whether online learning can really deliver the same level of professionalism and knowledge as an in-person workshop?

I think that the quality, professionalism and knowledge delivered is the same – all of the writers who teach WebWorkshops are experts in their field and have lots of experience imparting their knowledge – but the experience is different because you’re not face-to-face with the teacher or the other participants. You can do almost all the same things online as you can face-to-face: discussion, exercises, small group work, formal instruction, visual aides, etc.  88% of participants in the WebWorkshop series have said they would participate in another one, so I think that tells you a lot!

“Great to get a more ‘live’ kind of interaction than merely reading, watching or listening to YouTube etc.”

“Was pleasantly surprised that it worked so well.”

Doesn’t technology just make everything harder?

Not necessarily! We provide really comprehensive instructions for accessing Zoom and participating in the session and we’ve found that everyone has got the hang of the system very quickly, even people who have never used video conferencing software before.

We are over COVID 19 lockdown now, why still run things online?

Because our members love it! Online enables us to provide writers across the country with great professional development opportunities which they may not be able to access face-to-face. Our sessions range in size from 20-60 participants depending on the subject and format, so we can reach a much wider audience than through face-to-face workshops alone.

“Can I just say that I am so enjoying these online classes – so much better than having to go out in the cold, wrestle for a park etc. Please keep providing these! I live part of the time on a farm and it is just so wonderful to be able to participate in these sorts of things when I am not in the city. Makes all the difference!”

What should authors look for when deciding if a WebWorkshop is right for them?

Something that interests you and supports your writerly ambitions, whether they are to deepen your craft, try something new, learn more about publishing or applying for awards!

What level of skill or experience does a writer have to have before they can participate?

The workshops are open to all. If a workshop requires a particular level of skill or experience this will be specified in the workshop description.

Can you explain what people should expect when they sign up?

You will need to download Zoom which is free. We provide instructions on how to do this and how the session will work when we send out the Zoom link to participants. We like everyone to have their video on, so that we can see each other. The important thing is to be comfortable! Wear what makes you feel good (in a public situation), sit in a comfortable position in front of your computer screen, and have everything you need to be part of the session next to you (materials to write with, water, tea, coffee, etc). It’s good to jump online a few minutes before or use the test function within Zoom to make sure your microphone and speakers are working and that you’re sitting in a position with suitable light that shows you from mid-chest height upwards.

Find out more about upcoming WebWorkshops

written by Elizabeth Kirkby-McLeod

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