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Another Reason to Blog

While writing a response to an email for my Teaching Writing Online class, as often happens, I quickly transferred it to an announcement instead, thinking that if one student had this question, others would too. I use Blackboard and this has an “email this announcement” option which makes the announcement both immediate yet available in context on the opening page too. I started the announcement early this morning, thought I could knock it out in a couple of minutes, but suddenly found it was 9:45 AM and I still had to finish my hair before dashing out the door for choir. I’m back now and once again, I find that I need to shift how this is done. It is now way too long–make that complex–for an announcement and the means it’s blogging time.

I began writing this in response to a question received by email after I went to bed last night about how the Sample Writing Module upload works and exactly what is uploaded. I give these behind-the-scenes details because I want my ENG 704 students to know that even when they have information in their syllabus about when to expect a same-day response and when not to expect it, students do this, perhaps thinking the instructor will answer it at her/his convenience, but the inner teacher will most likely feel guilt about not responding right away. After close to twenty years teaching online, I still do that! I also take a deep breath afterwards, remember that my own policy is same day during business hours with a possibility of slower response on weekends and remember why I set that policy. This is why: We are all entitled to our own lives outside of teaching and do not, as I imagined my high school science teacher Mr. Judy doing, hang ourselves up on a hook in the coat closet when class time is over. This is me saying, teaching online expands to fit all available space and a part of the job as an OWI teacher is to not let it. Set boundaries or go crazy with guilt.

The Teaching Writing Online students are currently finishing up with a sample writing class module centered on an assignment they developed earlier in the semester. This module was done using their choice of CMS, options also discussed earlier. Most went with either the Blackboard development site I provided, Canvas, or Google Classroom. The emailed question was about the upload, what was supposed to be uploaded, and what was meant by a reflective paper. The upload page read as follows. I had a planned announcement with more details scheduled for today.

This is the place where you upload your reflection paper about the decisions and the process that went into constructing the module. Make sure you give me the URL (for locations other than the Blackboard development site provided) and any passwords needed for access. Upload your file as [lastname]WM.

That is what it said before the email. The post-emailed revision:

This module is done using your choice of CMS options discussed in class. This upload area is the place where you upload a document that has the link and/or access instructions for your sample module as well as the link for your Module 6 blog entry you made about the theories, decisions, and the process that went into constructing the module. Make sure you also give me the URL for any other materials locations that you may have (if outside of your CMS) and any passwords needed for access. Upload your file as [lastname]WM.

This is why I always reserve the right to change course materials and assignments to better fit class needs. Based on feedback, the instructions were confusing. Unfortunately, the changed instructions may be too and unlike the f2f classroom, I can’t see eyes and body language to judge if the new instructions are better. Sometimes you just have to roll with it, and that is what I’m doing–trusting my students to let me know when things are unclear or in this case, insufficiently redundant.

In both the f2f classroom and OWI, redundancy–or lack of–is where instructors commonly find themselves making changes on the fly. I’ve been reviewing the sample modules as they have developed and all have assignment instructions, but not all followed the rule of three for redundancy–yet. For example, the announcement, now an announcement and a blog entry. As I mentioned before, I had an announcement planned for today, but received that email late last night, five days before the due date, an email with a concern that the planned announcement (this one) would address. In January, I thought five days before the upload date was the sweet spot—not too far in advance that people would forget, yet early enough that the more detailed instructions would have meaning. However, the email showed me a clarity issue I did not anticipate. I guess my point is that OWI more than any other kind of teaching will be in flux; it’s not ever really “done.” That means that if as an instructor your teaching expectation is that the beginning-of-semester set-up means the course is ready to go without changes, chances are you will be disappointed. That is one thing the ENG 704 students could reflect on in their Module 6 blog entry about their sample module. Can you anticipate all situations? Should you? Do you see your module as set in stone and perfect? What will you do when it isn’t? I can give one hint–it won’t be the writing class students’ fault if they don’t understand. It won’t be the instructor’s fault either, especially if she/he triangulated for redundancy. Real students are always different than theoretical students, the ones prepared for in good faith.  I suppose that is the fun of it all—always surprises, never the same thing every single time.

I moved this full version here to my blog, which is a good place for more lecture-like pieces that are helpful yet not suitable for a quick video or PowerPoint. Some things are just complicated. Some things take some unraveling. Luckily, blogging is good for that and I hope my ENG 704 students keep that in mind not only as a part of their sample module but for future teaching as well. Yet another reason to blog.

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