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Alumni Children
Hone Writing Skills On Line

One young essayist railed against the suburban snobbery of his hometown. Another described the patience of her best friend, who has a terminal illness. A third justified his decision to shave his head.
   As Janet Ruth Falon learned, one way to peer into the lives of today's teenagers is to read their writing. She was the instructor for an electronic seminar on creative nonfiction offered to the 11th-grade children of Penn alumni this year through the University's Writing Program. Reading the 13 students' candid essays, she says, "I felt like they were letting me into their world."
   Falon, a writer and writing teacher who has taught for Penn's College of General Studies for 10 years, says it was the first time she had taught a course solely through this medium. "I missed the class chemistry and seeing their faces. But I felt like I was able to create in my writing to them a sense of informal group cohesion, and also because it was on some level anonymous, they might have been able to express things they couldn't in [a traditional] class." Students posted their own essays and comments about each other's work on a listserv. Falon, in addition to critiquing individual essays, relayed general writing tips and discussed her own work as a writer.
   Elyssa Fierstein, a student at Upper Dublin High School in Fort Washington, Pa., (daughter of Barbara Marimow Fierstein, GED'77, and Jeffrey Fierstein, M'77), came away from the seminar with tips for making her writing more cohesive and techniques for brainstorming topics and openings. She says, "The on-line course was much more relaxed than a classroom situation; I had more time to collect my thoughts. I really learned a lot and enjoyed myself at the same time."
   The course was the idea of Dr. Al Filreis, the professor of English who directs the School of Arts and Sciences' Writing Program and serves as faculty master of The Writers House, and Dr. Peshe Kuriloff, director of Writing Across the University. Filreis explains that he and others involved in the Writing Program are constantly thinking of new ways to teach the subject. One of his first on-line teaching experiments was an electronic poetry seminar, better known as "Alumverse," offered to 150 alumni two years ago.
   Filreis says he'd like to offer the 11th-grade seminar again and to develop even more links to alumni in the future. "I'm very interested in running a whole series of workshops, book discussion clubs, and mini courses for alumni under the auspices of the Writers House. And 'Alumverse' continues. There are still 80 people on the listserv," Filreis says. "Today we talked about Percy Shelley and Woody Guthrie."

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