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” […]
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 […]
Writing I and Writing II are required as part of the gen-eds, a fairly normal thing for all universities. This universal requirement means that students who fear writing or who simply do not value writing as a part of their future must take it anyway. Enforced education is problematic and leads to resistance. I could expect a certain percentage of “problem” students who resist the course in some expected and unexpected ways, some fairly creative. Despite past experience, I choose to expect the best, most motivated students instead. They will aim for writing that connects to their interests and they will have interests. If they don’t, the class will be the place where they discover their academic interests through writing about them. It may well mean a change of majors, a small thing weighed against a lifetime of working at something they are indifferent to or actively don’t like just for the money. They may learn to like writing, be seduced by its ability to lead to new insights or to a greater understanding of self. They may not and continue to dislike it, but even then, they can gain the comfort of feeling competent at writing, an assurance that whatever writing task shows up in the future, they can analyze what is needed and succeed. This is what I expect and most of the time I get it.
Each semester the dance between expecting the best and the unexpected roadblocks play out. There are times teaching composition is a long, hard slog, and the last week of classes and finals week can lead to despair. Students that disappeared because of a heavy class and work load reappear in a panic. Students on the edge between grades begin to negotiate, give reasons why work “is not that bad” or question assessment categories such as audience. These truly are the weeks that define them, but it is also when I especially need to stay true to myself, to be the writing teacher I aspire to be. I vow to be that teacher. I must also acknowledge though that students need to bring a reasonable amount of effort to the class too and if they don’t, it is their choice. In order to stay fair to the students who did put in the time and effort, I need to play fair there too and have clear vision when assessing work.
Today is the last day of classes for my university, a good day to look back and think about my classes and the last things that need to be done. It is often a time for regrets and occasional triumphs. For example, I also teach a Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature class this semester. Its primary mode of assessment is writing, with fairly spirited discussion about the readings leading to that writing. They were engaged with the material and developed the habit of leaving the class together and continuing the conversation as they walked, settling in a spot across from the student union to talk more. This is not a required classes for anything, but it does fulfill a need for a certain number of hours of 300-level and above courses to meet the requirements for the B.A. Thank you, degree requirements. I have to ask myself, could this happen with composition? Could the academic writing approach (WID) engage students just as thoroughly as this class where students admittedly have a prior interest in the material?
My answer remains yes and no. Yes, they can be engaged in writing about the hot topics in their field, in building an approach to a subject that is uniquely theirs, However, not all Writing II students are passionate about their major, and preprofessional majors will always be difficult to write about on the undergraduate level. That is why that even though I stay with a WID approach in Writing II (modified WID in Writing I), the assignments are designed to give students experience in different kinds of writing that they could reasonably encounter later, either in future undergraduate courses, in graduate school (the focus of my 300-level Writing II), or in their work life post college. Postponed rewards are not always appreciated, So this day, a day of grading for me, I will celebrate what they have done and attempt in my comments to express and celebrate the progress they’ve made. Every single student has made progress, even the ones who stopped coming because of hard times and enrolled with me for a second try in the fall. That too, is a victory.
This is the time of semester when I should be grading, grading, grading, but as a result of that grading I also find myself reflecting about the assignments given and how to improve the assignments for the next time I teach a course. I regularly teach ENG 310: Writing II for Graduate and Professional Schools. It is one of several Writing II options, which at my university is taken after the freshman year so that students can realistically participate in a WID course. After all, if students are to practice writing in a discipline, they need to have some notion what their particular discipline is. Writing II generally requires Writing I and a 30 credit hours prerequisite, but the 310 version ups the credit hours prerequisite to 45, thinking that students by that time will know if their plans include education beyond the BA or BS.
I’ve been using Writer/Designer for the main text and am generally pleased with it due to its superb chapters on rhetorical persuasion and on analysis. Based on this semester, I have already decided to return to the website analysis assignment that is so well detailed in Writer/Designer. The more difficult change that I have struggled with is what to do about the multimodal research essay assignment (video, audio, or webtext), an assignment that in the past has been the keynote of the semester, but this semester was a struggle for many students. I believe the difference was that I have not been able to snag the Mac classroom since the first semester with Writer/Designer. That classroom has priority use for Media Studies and Journalism, an understandable priority. I was hoping that once a week in a composition computer classroom would work. It didn’t, not because of limited time, but because the classroom was a PC classroom. I had Windows Moviemaker added to the room before the semester started and Audacity could have been as well. About half the students even brought their own laptops. It didn’t matter. They struggled with the assignment, and a lot of that struggle was because they couldn’t/didn’t work on the assignment in class and/or didn’t bring any versions to class for feedback.
Oddly enough, this assignment works fine in online Writing II classes where they have to dig up their own resources rather than rely on a computer classroom. This may be a difference in motivation, but for now, I need to make this assignment viable while not scrubbing it of any visual and aural rhetoric components.
Here is my plan: I will have them do a meme. It can be either a photo/poster-ish meme or one of the now popular GIF memes that have a movement loop. Memes are great for getting a point across and the heart of a good research paper AKA something that could turn into an academic article is that it has a strong thesis that doesn’t just repeat what everyone already knows. It has to aim for “a gap in the literature.” A meme must do that too in order to be successful, and it does it in ways that mimic the research paper too, such as using a well-known image or combination of images and using that to support what the meme-meister wants to say.
This meme would be accompanied by a detailed process paper, one that not only gives the decisions made in making the meme, but analyzes why those choices were made over other possibilities. It can also detail visual choices, aesthetic choices, and layout choices–all of these play into the meme’s effectiveness. I would have to do a sample for this, but I think I need to do a sample so that I will know what is doable in terms of how long the paper needs to be.
And now, back to the grading.
At this point, blogs are the old technology of the social software world. Along with wikis, blogs were around before any of it was even called social software. I created my first blog using Blogger over fifteen years ago, so the chances of blogs being […]
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 […]