book cover, “Grace of Falling Stars.”Online learning helped students in the Publishing Practicum course work together to produce Bruce Meyer’s poetry collection, “Grace of Falling Stars.”

Online tools foster connection between publishing practicum students

What happens when a signature experiential learning course must move online due to COVID-19 restrictions?

For students in the English and Creative Writing course “Publishing Practicum,” where students work in teams as interns with the publishing company Black Moss Press to create and launch a book, the answer is they work even more closely together, and many become friends.

“In this class, having your camera on is almost integral because we’ll talk over one another,” says Bryanne Bates-Ewanyshyn. “The reason we’ve been able to connect so well is that we have to. We have to be on the same wavelength, we have to run things by each other to get the tasks done. We’re invested in the success of this book.”

Marty Gervais, publisher at Black Moss Press, is the University of Windsor’s resident writing professional and teaches the Publishing Practicum course.

This year’s project is a book of poetry titled Grace of Falling Stars by Bruce Meyer, an award-winning Canadian poet, broadcaster, and educator. Dr. Meyer has authored more than 60 books of poetry, short fiction, non-fiction, and literary journalism — many published by Black Moss Press. Meyer teaches creative writing at Georgian College and is a visiting professor at the University of Toronto.

“He is a long-time friend and a person that Black Moss Press has published many times,” says Prof. Gervais. “I also knew that he would work really well with students in this practicum.”

Holding all lectures, presentations, team meetings, and interactions online brought new challenges as well as advantages. Each week students attend an online lecture or presentation from Gervais and other publishing, design, and marketing professionals. Students are assigned to one or more teams, each working on a specific aspect of the book and its launch: cover design, interior design, launch crew, teaching kit, press kit, and the keepers of the logbook, who have the weekly job of summarizing and reporting to the class where each team is with their tasks.

The students utilize a number of digital platforms and apps both to communicate and to keep tasks on track and access materials. Each team has a panel on Trello containing all their materials created using a variety of software. Teams meet over Zoom and FaceTime and use Facebook Messenger for quick questions and chats.

“This class is different. It relies on communication,” says Victoria Hecnar. “This class would not be feasible at all if we didn’t communicate with one another. We had to get to know one another. So, we built friendships working as a team together.”

She says she found this teamwork easier during the pandemic.

“All of us can be in completely different places and we can still get this done using our computers,” Hecnar says. “If any of us need to meet, we send a quick text message, we come on to Zoom and we don’t have to worry about driving back and forth.”

Rebekah Voegeli agrees that this course offers a completely different experience.

“Even the classes when we were physically in the buildings, I didn’t have this kind of connection with people, and we were literally sitting right next to each other. I would go in, do what I had to do, and I would leave and not talk to anyone,” she explains. “In this class we are all spread out across Ontario and we connect in such a different way. I feel like I’ve known these people for so long. We’re becoming friends.”

The students will host an online event to launch the book Wednesday, April 7. Learn more on the project Facebook page.

—Susan McKee