Writing for the Screen: Skill Development

March 11, 2021

This story is part of a series entitled “Teaching in the Time of Covid.” The series explores how the UTSA Honors College transformed its experiential curriculum into a virtual curriculum and how the pandemic has shaped students’ experiences within the virtual classroom. The curriculum emphasizes interdisciplinary work in Service Learning, Professional Development, Intellectual Achievement and Research, Cultural Exploration, Engaged Living, and Skill Development. In this article, we highlight an upper level course in Skill Development. We hope you enjoy the series! – Jill Fleuriet, Acting Dean, UTSA Honors College

For the summer of 2020, I was scheduled to teach a face-to-face course for the UTSA Honors College. The course, entitled Writing for The Screen, was supposed to meet four times a week for five weeks in a small classroom on campus. Once the pandemic happened, my plans, just like everyone else’s, completely changed. The whole campus went virtual. My course went from in-person to an online asynchronous course (online with no scheduled meeting times). This meant that I had to redesign the course and change how content would be organized and delivered.

I am a relatively new teacher, with no online teaching experience prior to this point, so the learning curve was quite steep for me. Thankfully, I had lots of support from UTSA and the Honors College. I took a Quality Matters training course and attended a series of workshops offered by the Office of Academic Innovation. Both of these helped bring me up to speed with the best practices in online education and the technical challenges I’d have to face. My next challenge was to find creative ways to enhance the virtual student experience.

The goal of Writing for the Screen is to teach students the skill of screenwriting and all that entails (including structure, format and character development). To achieve this goal and increase student engagement, I brought in virtual guest speakers and even incorporated a live student script reading into the course. The script reading was probably the most exciting development. As a theatre major, I have many actor friends from my undergraduate days. Thanks to COVID-19, they all had a lot of free time on their hands. We got together on zoom one Sunday afternoon in early August and read thirteen student scripts over the course of several hours, while students and a small group of guests watched.

After the reading, several students came to me and told me that they found the experience very valuable. “It was a truly unique experience hearing the words I wrote spoken out loud,” said student Brandon DeBlanc. “It gave me insight into my writing style, and I received some great comments and feedback from the actors.” He went on to say, “the reading was definitely a motivational moment as I hope for my work to be read by even more people in the years to come.” This reading was very well received. I plan to incorporate it into future iterations of the course, if the actors are free and willing to participate, and it all happened because the pandemic forced us to go virtual.