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” […]
Tag: online writing courses
My student blog posts for ENG 704: Teaching Writing Online are rolling in and it warms that cockles of my bloggy heart. I think back to when I was a grad student taking Computer-Mediated Pedagogy from Dr. Kristine Blair in the early 2000s, then at […]
Any way I look at it, teaching writing online is more work for faculty than teaching in the face-to-face classroom. It is also more work for students, but this post will be looking at it from the faculty side and counting the costs, most of them personal and paid for by faculty rather than the university. The 2003 Article by Kristine L. Blair and Elizabeth A. Monske in Computers and Composition, “Cui Bono?: Revisiting the Promises and Perials of Online Learning” accurately detailed those costs for that time, but that was thirteen years ago and there is more tech, more options, and potentially more expectations for what can be done in OWI (online writing instruction). It isn’t enough to be as good as a face-to-face classroom anymore. Now we need to do all that, reduce classroom costs for the university, and increase enrollment, all while making education more convenient for students.
One trend that Blair and Monske hoped would stop was the choice of the least prepared and the the least-powerful for online writing instruction. Given that it is harder and takes some individualized pedagogical choices, it only makes sense to have experienced faculty be the ones who teach online. However, grad students are paid less than full time faculty–much less. As a result, second and even some first year MA grad students commonly get the honor and the challenge of teaching writing online, the reasoning usually being something along the lines of, he/she is such a good writer/poet. fiction writer, literary scholar that she/he will do a great job. Often they end up doing a pretty good job, especially if they get faculty mentoring along the way. The dedication that such students bring to their own writing and in the case of second years, what they know or intuit about the face-to-face classroom combine to create a writing teacher ready to overcome obstacles and do a superior job. What this steep learning curve means for their personal life and their own course load is another matter. Monske, Elif Guler, Chris Harris, and I held a roundtable at the 2015 CCCC in Tampa about solutions for this. No one in that room believed that universities will listen to the ethical argument and stop placing inexperienced grad students as primary instructors in online classes. The best solution we could agree on is what my university has done, institute a Teaching Writing Online class. The second part of the roundtable recommendation was to require the course for grad students slated to teach writing online, but that has not happened. To be truthful, it never may. However, I have hope for it happening informally, in the same way the grads chosen to teach basic writing have credit for Theory of Basic Writing. Since that is offered every spring, it is only reasonable to choose GAs who have taken the course over ones who have not. However, Teaching Writing Online is only offered every other spring (odd-numbered years) and is an elective for the MA Writing rather than a required course for the Rhet/Comp track. That means fewer GAs available with course credit and the continued use of GAs without coursework in OWI. Chances are that every single one of our MA students who go on to teach will be teaching online at least part of the time. They need the class. Also, not only composition classes teach writing online. Creative writing and secondary dual credit courses are other venues.
So, what can a course in teaching writing online do? here are a few things:
- Familiarize future teachers with a variety of LMS. These change. If you learn the needed functions rather than the needed steps for a specific software, you will never become outdated.
- Emphasize building in redundancy and different channels of communication. Triangulate. If a student missed the announcement on the site, they might read the email instead. If they miss the email, they may view the video reminder.
- Learn the Discussion Board from the faculty viewpoint, i.e., using open-ended prompts.
- Learn other uses for blogs besides a diary-like personal space.
- An essential view of the online classroom as much more than a container for files.
- A forgiving nature for students who get confused even though the instructions seem obvious to the instructor.
- Learn ways to workshop online
- Learn ways to conference with students online
This is a far from inclusive list. The most important though, I believe, is to see the online writing class as living, breathing space, not a warehouse for files. The most commonly used LMS, Blackboard, was created using the file cabinet paradigm, and remnants of that foundation still haunt it. Learning alternatives and enhancements can only help.
This is based on an earlier post, now retooled for ENG 704.
This post is for my ENG 704: Teaching Writing Online class, but others are welcome to read it too. Oh, the wiki. So lightheartedly named, so prone to being fundamentally a part of what we do online that we don’t even think of it unless we think of Wikipedia. Much of the muttering about Wikipedia takes it from the wrong angle anyway. I will mention the topic Wikipedia and academic writing, then move on to the real topic, which is wikis. We who teach at the university level should not waste our breath on debating Wikipedia as a source. Why should we? It is an encyclopedia, which is already a category of sources we do not accept for source support. World Book, no. Wikipedia, no. However, it IS a great place to get general knowledge and find other sources in the works cited for first-year composition students who otherwise have a hard time getting started.
So, what should be a minor and dead debate masks what should be lively investigation into a pretty powerful tool for the writing class: the wiki. Matt Barton, who has also written about wikis in Computers and Composition, started using Tikiwiki over ten years ago as his main interface for his classes. Matt Barton’s Tikiwiki is no longer in use, but is still visible through the wonder of the Wayback Machine and is worth looking at to see how a wiki can be used as a multi course LMS.
When Barton started using Tikiwiki I also began using an open source solution for writing classes–Drupal. I still remember talking with him at either Computers and Writing or the CCCC about our different approaches. He struggled in those early years with the blog component of Tikiwiki and I had no real use for anything but the blogging in my classes; it was like we were in different universes: wiki-world and bloggy-world. I bring this up because both approaches were very effective; there was no one right way. Since then, I see that his students do set up and use blogs and I have used wikis in my writing classes for compiling a glossary or for topic brainstorming and source collecting. At one point he had his students write a rhet/comp textbook using Wikibooks, a project that my students collaborated on with them one semester. It is still up and usable, but I would not currently recommend Wikibooks for compiling a text. When I did a similar project for basic writing using my ENG 721: Theory of Basic Writing students, we started with Wikibooks, but switched to Google Sites the second year due to Wikibook’s administrators and their inflexibility. The book, Not Just Basic: A Basic Writing Textbook is still out there and ready to use.
Now, I don’t think many people will see FYC (first-year composition) as a place to write a textbook; graduate students were a big part of those projects. However, FYC is a good place for the kind of compiling and categorizing that wikis do best. Here are some ideas for wikis that are especially good when teaching writing online:
- Brainstorming for topics. Use a wiki like you would groups and the board in your classroom and have a multitude of topics compiled, only this way, they can also easily be categorized and searched.
- Collaborative research. Separate the class into four or five research groups that each have a general topic, possibly based on a readings section of your text. Have them do collaborative annotated bibs–full citation plus a brief abstract for each source found.
- A glossary. This would be more useful in a creative writing class where there really is a lot of specialized vocabulary learned in the first course. When students compile the glossary themselves, the knowledge sticks with them better. It also lets you see and correct areas where they misunderstand what a term means. Make sure they paraphrase rather than simply quote the book. I’ve found that quoting by rote in this assignment leads to incomplete knowledge or even the wrong idea, like a student who asserts that “a line” in poetry is a sentence because that’s what the book said. Well, the book didn’t say that of course, but the incomplete phrase quoted made it sound like that. In other words, help them break out of rote-answer legalism.
- Something else. Wikis are very flexible and I don’t claim to have the only ideas about their use. Remember, Google Docs is based on a wiki engine, which is why it has “histories” and can be worked on by more than one writer at the same time. Collaborative writing using a wiki is the one way to make collaborative writing truly accountable.
The good thing is that most LMSs have a wiki component built-in, even Blackboard. Go ahead and use it; they are fairly simple to figure out and use. However, if you have your own domain anyway, set up a new subdomain for a full-powered wiki. Try it out first for yourself. Back in 2006-2007, I used Dokuwiki to organize my project research; it ended up being a great space for project management and for spinning out threads of research. Do something like that for a while and you will be more apt to be successful when you add in classroom projects for your students.
An earlier version of this post was written for a ENG 725 on “Teaching Writing Online” I’m teaching a graduate seminar in rhetoric and composition this semester and next week is the first week, the week to get our collective feet wet, and while we’re splashing in that virtual […]