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Class Archive - Class Etiquette - How to Write a Class

Warning

While this covers a lot of basics on writing a class at the Grey Tower, some of this information is a little out of date, or reflects older forums. Any questions should be directed to members of staff.

Introduction

The first thing that I want to say is that writing a class, a lecture - or writing anything for that matter - is not a process that is set in concrete. The method I use is highly structured, but there are other more fluid methods that work just as well. In this page, I'll go through the steps I would use to write one of my classes, with examples - just follow the links, and have fun!


Phase One - Deciding upon a topic

When picking a topic, make sure you pick one you know a good bit about. It's important to be able to answer the questions that your students might have, because they might be about things that aren't even directly in your curriculum and there's nothing worse than having to tell a student that you don't know.

There's another important thing to remember here at the Grey Tower - there are actually at least two of you: the person sitting behind the computer, and your character(s.) There are things that you know, that although they might be very useful, your character does not know. For example, I am an accomplished sailor - Feo is familiar with boats, but only with the shallow-water punts that were common in the swamp he grew up in. So, there's an early decision you need to make: IC, OOC, or NPC? OOC classes are on things that you know, like HTML, or Creative Writing. IC classes are anything that your character would logically know, based on his or her background or on things he or she has learned since coming to the Tower. NPC classes blur the lines - they are a good idea when you know something in real life that can be applied to Randland (such as weapon skills or herb-craft) that your character does not know..

Here's a table to illustrate my point:

What Feo Knows What I know that Applies IC What I know that Applies OOC

-Hunting and Tracking
-Plant Lore of the Swamp
-How to make Indigo Dye

-Sailing
-Knotwork
-Geology

-HTML
-Troubleshooting
-Creative Writing


Phase Two - Material

Now that you have selected a topic - I have chosen to teach a class on knot-work, using an NPC - you need to start planning your curriculum. First, decide what audience you want to teach to. Although only talents and weapon skills have actual point scales, it is a good idea to think of the level of knowledge you expect your students to have. If the subject you are teaching is a common one, then it might be a good idea to teach a higher level of skill, as there will be a good number of people interested in improving the skills they already have. For example, there is are sword training class for many different skill levels because so many people are intersted in having their characters learn to wield swords. On the other hand, if you are teaching a subject that is not particularly common, then you should probably teach a beginner's class, as there won't be enough people with the basic skills needed to support a higher level class. In my case, I am going to aim my class at beginners. As there has never been a knot-working class that I know of, I assume that there aren't too many intermediate knot-workers dying for a chance to better their skills.

Now, we need to decide what information we want to include. It's important not to try to teach too much in the course of the class - don't expect your students to go from beginners to experts. At the same time, don't stretch too little information too far, or students will get bored, and might leave the class before it's finished. In real life, you shouldn't teach more than one or two practical skills per lesson - but in writing you can get away with a bit of a faster pace. You'll also want to select topics that blend easily into one another, so that there will be a sense of flow between the lessons. Here's a list of some basic knot-work concepts I might want to teach to beginners.

  • Basic knots - overhand, reef, bowline, figure-eight, half-hitch, clove hitch
  • Theory - terminology, categories of knots, purposes of different types of knot, rope theory
  • Bends - Sheet bend, carrick bend
  • Splicing - Back Splice, short splice, long splice/grommet
  • Whipping - Common, West country
  • Fancywork - Wall/crown knots, cocks-combing
  • More fancywork - Turk's heads, braiding, sennants

I've decided that I'm going to cover some basic knots and hitches, which will follow into whipping and some basic fancy-work. Instead of making a lesson of pure theory, which some people might find very tedious, I'm going to sprinkle it throughout my lessons as necessary. I have left out bends and splicing, as they don't fit in well with the other material - and splices are really rather complicated so I wouldn't want to teach them to beginners. I've left fancywork for the last lessons because it's a good springboard for future classes.


Phase Three - Lesson Plan (and) to Final or not to Final?

Now what we need to do is make some decisions about what our class is going to physically look like. Try to combine small concepts into one lesson, as you want your students to be able to write a nice long response - it's tedious to write a lot of really short ones. In terms of organizing your entire lesson plan, you want to move from information that your students already know, or will learn very, very easily, to information that they don't know - and you want to make the transition as smooth as possible. There shouldn't be any points when you expect your students to make large leaps in reasoning, but instead they should feel ready to learn each new piece of information.

I'm going to start with a lesson about the simplest knots - the overhand knot, the reef knot, the figure-eight knot, and finally, the bowline. I have them arranged in order of difficulty, and they all help to build on the same concepts. The Bowline and Figure-eight knots don't really blend well into hitches, but they do help a persons hands become accustomed to handling rope or twine, which is very important. No-one wants to struggle with handling twine while they are also trying to learn a complicated knot.

Next, I'm going to cover the next item in order of difficulty - hitches. In this class, hitches are like a practice round for whippings, because whippings are basically hitches on a very small scale. I'm going to start with the round-turn-and-two-half-hitches. It sounds complicated, but it's really very simple, and it will accustom students with hitching a rope to a spar. Then I'm going to move onto the clove hitch, because it's a little more complicated, and involves things like rope direction and order of operations, which they'll need to know for fancywork. Then I'll cover the Marline and Timber hitches, since they both use half-hitches, which are the foundation of most simple fancywork. I've included the timber-hitch because in my experience people like tying them. As far as knots go, the timber-hitch is sort of a playful knot. Yeah, that's right - I assign personality to my knots.

So, now I have two lessons, and I'm ready to ease into the fancywork - sort of. I'm going to start with whippings, because a lot of fancywork is just complicated whippings. Usually I'd start with the common whipping, but since my focus is fancywork, I'll start with the West-country whipping. Then I'll teach the common whipping, which should give my students some good ideas for finishing techniques. Since whippings take a long time to actually make, I'm going to cut my lesson off here. In real life, beginner students wouldn't have enough time to make more than a few whippings in the course of a class.

Now, the fourth lesson - finally, the fancy-work! I'm going to teach cocks-combing, and variations of cockcombing, like the spiral, the double and the offset. There's a lot of creativity involved in this, so I'm going to allow for a lot of 'practice time.' In this format, it isn't really necessary, but it's good to involve as much realism in your class as possible.

Finally, in the fifth lesson, I'll cover the Portuguese sennit, and the slight variation on this, the Portuguese twist. Between the two of these and cocks-combing, a person can make some tidly fancywork. (Tidly is sailor-talk for "spiffy.") Because of all the knotworking we have done so far, these two concepts will be easy to learn - but if I had tried to teach these right off the bat, they might have been confusing.

Now there is one more decision to make - the Final. Some people like to have a final exam at the end of their class, to make sure that their students have absorbed everything that was taught. This can either be a written final, or a practical final. Kiryn Asha'man's Illusion class final was an interesting idea - his final took the format of an exhibition, where his students showed off their Illusion skills. Practical finals like this one are often the best way to go with a practical class. A good thing to aim for is something that will require your students to blend their new skills creatively. As for theory or discussion classes, a written final is usually both realistic and fitting. Creative essay questions, like in Chyane Sedai's Studies of Evil class, are good because they require a student to really understand the concepts that were taught or discussed. On the other hand, a more objective final like in Kalitina Sedai's Philosophy class is a good way to make sure that your students learned the terminology and facts and such that you went to so much trouble teaching them!

There are also some people that don't add a final to their class. Sometimes there are enough assignments with the lessons that a final would feel like too much work. Or, as in Tricks with the One Power, the lessons aren't directly related to one-another, so it would feel forced to try to consolidate them into a final.

I've decided to use a creative, practical final - I'm going to ask my students to decorate something, or make something, using the fancy-work they have learned.


Phase Four - Assignments

Assignments are another thing that teachers debate. Not everyone uses them in their classes, and those that do use them do so to radically different degrees. For myself, I was believe that it is important to review what you have taught at the end of every class, so I always require a response from my students. There are different ways that you could do this. In Durent Ashaman's Beginning Unarmed Combat class, students are asked to show that they understand the concepts from the lesson by explaining it in their own words. On the other hand, in Lagon Asha'man's Basic Battleweaves, the students must demonstrate the weaves they have learned for their teacher. In Stefyne Sedai's Brown Ajah Lesson of the Ajah Class, students are asked to ask three questions, which she then answers. Some classes don't warrant long responses, though, like Ashfalcon Asha'man's Become a (Better) Trainer class, and have no assignments.

The amount of response you intend to give is also a big variable. In some classes, the teacher doesn't respond to the individual responses. Some teachers write N/T passes. Still other teachers require a short RP to pass the class, or an interactive response between two students. (This is especially popular in combat classes, with spars - but Ellisande Gaidar made use of this for an Old Tongue. class as well.)

Try not to make your assignments too difficult - most people don't like assignments where they need to do a lot research outside of the class. If you're going to require spars or interaction between students, remember that often there is only one student working through a class at a time, so make sure there is an alternative, like working with an NPC or offering to NPC a character yourself, so students aren't discouraged.

I'm going to ask my students to write out a scene of them tying the knots I asked them to tie. As I like to RP my responses, I'm going to request that there be a small interaction between teacher and student with each post - but remember, don't bite off more than you can chew. There might be a lot of students interested in taking you class, and you don't want to end up swamped with long replies unless you have the time for it.


Phase Five - Actually Writing the Class

If you're writing an OOC class, then your work is almost complete! All you need to do is expand on your lesson plan so that each lesson includes a full explanation of your key points, and add the details of your assignments, and you're pretty close to being finished.

If you're writing an IC or NPC class, though, there is a little more to consider. With an NPC class, you basically have to design a new character around the idea of the class. Lucky for me, I already have one who is well suited to my lesson, but there's a good chance that you might not. So, think to yourself: what sort of person would be likely to know the information I am teaching? When Lembirt Asha'man's player (AKA me) wanted to teach a class on Crossbows, she created a mercenary called Luhrsa Penra for that purpose. When Amora Sedai wanted to teach Word Manipulation, she used a Blue Aes Sedai called Beatrice Sedai. Aric Asha'man has a large number of NPCs that he uses for teaching subjects his character would not have the knowledge or ability to teach.

Next, we need to write the bodies of our classes. Each of your lessons should probably be somewhere between 400 and 700 words in length - shorter, and your students won't feel like they're getting enough information to write a reasonable response, much longer and your students might be intimidated by the volume of writing. In IC classes, it's a good idea to break up long stretches of dialog by inserting physical details about the classroom, or including your character's thoughts and emotions. Including responses from an imaginary NPC audience, like in one lesson of Amora Sedai's Word Manipulation is a good way to break up monotony - and it can be entertaining. In real life, you would maintain your audience attention by varying the pitch and intensity of your voice, using gesture and body language, and involving the class by asking questions - you'll want to replicate these things in your prose, and in the actual actions of your character. Don't be afraid to include character development in your lessons!

Oh, and another point - if you write your lessons through in one session, you might get somewhat tired toward the end - try not to let this show through in your prose, as your character is not teaching these lessons one after another. One final tip - something I like to do to try to make a class a little more interesting is to use creative and amusing lesson titles - for example, in the knotwork class I have written, the titles represent Baracaius Asha'man's over-the-top foppery. (By their overuse of the letter 'e' and inconsistent fancy spelling.)

So, here are my lessons - delivered by everyone's favourite dandy, Baracaius! Link. As you can see, they're littered with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors - that's why we do a rough draft first.

Here are some more tips, broken down by lesson:

First lesson - try to introduce your character while you introduce the topic. In real life, it's always important to introduce yourself before you begin teaching a class, and remember, art imitates life! If you're writing with an NPC, you'll be introducing an entirely new character to your students, so try to put a lot of work into explaining the character.

Second-middle Lessons - these are the lessons where you are most likely to lose a student's interest, because once a person has completed half or more of a class they are unlikely to abandon their progress. Make sure these lessons are interesting and attention-grabbing, and that the assignments, if you have them, aren't prohibitively long. It might also be a good idea to introduce some sort of plot point involving your character in the mid-point lesson or there-about, as it will help draw your audience in.

Middle-to-last Lessons - the middle is the easiest place to lose your audience's attention, so you might want to try little tricks like teasing them at the end of lessons with more interesting things to come. For example, "Next class we're meeting in the Channeling Yard to practice Fireballs."

One more thing - I've been talking about writing a good class, in the sense that in a real life setting it would be successful. But, here on the Grey Tower, it can be fun and interesting to write a poorly conducted class; and sometimes to stay in character a class needs to be poorly conducted. Take, for example, Oshari Sedai's Other Worlds class: Oshari has a quiet voice, very little body language, few aids, and seeks absolutely no interaction with her class. If I were actually a student in her class, I would be terribly bored and probably annoyed - but as a writer, I enjoyed writing reactions to the material. Not to mention that for the character Oshari, it would have been unrealistic to expect her to do the class any differently.


Phase Six - Aids, Visual and Otherwise

Now that you have the meat of the class written, you need to ask yourself if it is enough. In many class settings, practical concepts are hard to convey through writing, so it is a good idea to include either images, or links to images. I've decided to include links to diagrams of the knots mentioned in each lesson at the end of the lesson.

Another thing that you have to consider in Grey Tower classes is whether or not OOC notes are necessary, especially when it comes to the assignments. Often an assignment that would be clear in a physical class can be a bit confusing when a person has to sit down and actually write it - so, I'm going to add notes about my assignments at the end of the lessons, asking for a certain word count and giving suggestions. Also, a practical final like mine is a bit vague, so I'm also going to explain it in an OOC note.


Phase Seven - Moving to a Message Board

At the Grey Tower, to have a class, you pretty much need a message board - although teaching a class by e-mail or over the public message boards is possible, just not very common. Frankly, I've never taught or taken a class that was hosted that way, so I'm not qualified to give you advice on the subject.

Now, to get a message board, you use one of the GT hosted message boards by contacting the MoE for general classes, MoT for Weapon skill classes, or GC for classes based on Advantages. When using a GT hosted board, you have the advantage of editing the stylesheet, and edit text using the GT utility tool, which will be supplied to the teacher when given a class. Of course, we'd be happy to host images and stylesheets for you, if the Grey Tower does not already have it on the server.

So, what's the first thing to do when you have a board? Why, decide upon the appearance, of course. You might want to match it to your class in some way - there are several stylesheets hosted on the Grey Tower already, including one to match each and every Ajah. Many people like to use background images, but there's no reason you can't use plain colour. I'm teaching a seamanship class, so I've chosen one that looks like the surface of a spindle of whipping twine to me. I found this image by searching for background images on google - remember to pick one that text will show up on, so a background with large colour variation or that is overwhelmingly visual might be a bad idea. You might also want to visit this site and this site to browse for images, both background and otherwise. Next, think about which colours you want for your MB - I'm going with black text and 000000 links that turn slightly lighter 000000 when hovered over. You're probably going to need to know the hex codes for this - here is a site with lots of colours and their codes, and even a colour-mixing utility to define your own.

This would get incredibly long if I tried to make this into an explanation in CSS - but luckily, here's a tutorial if you need to make a stylesheet. If you're hosted on the GT, one of the Admin can probably make one for you. The other thing you might want is a header image - like Ashfalcon's lovely martial-arts-people-dealie title image on Become a (Better) Trainer. I myself prefer to just format the text into a nice font and colour, like [<]font face="Garamond" size="+2" colour="000000"[>]. Making an image out of plain text is a good way to make sure your title looks the same to your students as it does to you.

Now that the appearance of the board is taken care of, the next thing you need to decide upon is header text. This should contain at least the title of the class, your name, and a contact address. In Lagon Asha'man and Jenna Sedai's Traveling class, the header is short and functional. On the other hand, Lembirt Asha'man's Playing with Fire uses a semi-IC approach. Also, you'll need a sign-up post - unless you decide not to include one as in the Introductory Class. You'll probably want to ask for at least the name, rank, and e-mail address from your students to make writing a pass notice easier. In some cases, other information be might necessary - such as in Jesriad's Dual Wielding where he asks which weapons his students want to dual-wield, or Ashfalcon's Writing Combat, where he wants to know which weapon his students will be writing combat with. Also, it is sometimes a good idea to include a short note about the nature of the class, to let students know what to expect, as in Jesriad's Dual Wielding. Finally, sometimes it is a good idea to have a 'completed all lessons' post, such as in the Ajah Class or the Intermediate Class, where the class is non-linear and a supervisor might have trouble telling if a student has completed all of the lessons. This kind of post sometimes replaces a sign-up post and sometimes might include an 'honour roll' of students who has completed the class.

Here's my class, with a sign-up post and an honour roll, a message board header: http://www.grey-tower.net/boards/knotwork/

I wrote my lessons in Word and pasted them into posts, then added in the links for my images. Make sure you put them up in order, because there's no way to reorder posts using the editing utility without deleting something.


Phase Eight - Implementing

If you're a middle-rank and you want to use this class as a raising requirement, then you need to send a link to the class message board to your appropriate MoNSTer for approval. Classes with less than five total lessons (including a final) are typically not approved, as are ones with gratuitous spelling mistakes or short lessons. Similarly, MoNSTers might not allow classes with little in the way of assignments to be used as a raising requirement, especially if you are teaching a class for a Talent, Weapon Skill, or Advantage point. Even if you aren't a learning rank, you should still send in the link to you class, the title, and which/how many students you want to join to a MoNSTer (along with your name, rank and e-mail) so he/she can add it to the class listing.

Now, there's very little point in having a class if no-one is taking it (unless you wrote it for the purpose of a tutorial, or something crazy like that) so the next thing to do is to advertise. Everyone should advertise new classes on the main message board, and the more eye-catching your ad is, the more likely you are to get students. I like to use a 'game-show host' or 'cheesy infomercial' tone, but then again, everyone knows I'm a little on the odd side.

If your class is related to advantages or weapon skills, then you should probably also post to the Warder's OOC - although it might be a good idea to ask first. Advertising on the Learning ranks board is also allowed, as is posting on your Ajah's OOC board or the Indigo OOC if it involves Talents/Abilities. Generally try to place ads in places where people who would want to take your class will find them, and always remember to ask permission if you aren't sure you should be posting on a particular board.


Phase Nine - After the fact

Now, actually running a class is a lesson in itself, so I won't get into it. There's only one thing I want to say - when you're finished with your class, make sure to tell the MoNSTer who is responsible for taking it off the listing, and be sure to send a copy of your lessons to the Archivist for archival. Various admin can archive it for you, though usually it would be the MoE, MoT or GT; perhaps even one of the Keepers.

Happy Writing!