Where is the Love?
Where is the Love? avatar

Wow, where to begin.  This is my first semester teaching fully online (City College); the transition from traditional to hybrid was fairly painless, however, the jump to fully online has been a challenge.   I often miss the relationship with my students, and I have become hyper aware of how I may come across with only   text and video and how my comments if presented in a conference or in a casual remark on a paper paired with a “you’ve got this!” can seem more like I am cheering for success, rather than judging.

Traditionally, I use rubrics more for a guide than to evaluate.   I attach the rubric to each prompt, and we use it as we scaffold the assignment both in groups, on discussion boards, and face to face.  I created an outline template that identifies where the elements of the rubric might appear. (Kind of like the game Operation) 😊 This visual with color seems to connect well.  I make minimal marks in the margins and on the text, and then write (hopefully legibly) a personal comment reflecting struggles, but also success since the last version.

Another element I use to prior to comments is the color coding.  I ask students, during the first draft to final draft process, to highlight certain elements of the paper using colors.  For instance, highlight all topic sentences blue, textual evidence green, analysis/discussion yellow and so on.  The colors connect to a rubric, and this allows me to use colors if a portion of the paper needs more attention.

Google Docs have served me well for both online and traditional paper conferences.   We can both log in (or groups can share for peer discussions) and we can look at the paper in real time.   I make suggestions and ask my student to re work a sentence or offer more clarity with an assertion.

For some reason, I feel like online is so much more formal, and my traditional classes are less formal’ they are more of a safe space for ideas, challenges, and even celebrations.  The perceived formality of the online class seems to amplify the Teacher/Student line. I am experimenting with ways to change my feedback or feedback philosophies in order to comment, connect, and celebrate my online students in more of a learning community.  I want them to feel we are in this together

Finally, Zoom seems to be a path I will continue down.   I love the options of desk top, or white board. Also, I hold my office hours using meetings.  I am playing with changing the way I comment by using more of these types of response, and I loved the section titled, Audiovisual Response. This might be what I am looking for to create a less formal, personal way to respond.  My goal is to make my online classroom more inviting and collaborative, and providing personal, not canned responses seems the only way.  But. . .  it is so time consuming.

Feedback with a face
Feedback with a face avatar

It is ironic that feedback is the discussion topic for this week as I am using this discussion to take a much needed break from grading. I had a very difficult time with grading my submissions through Canvas as I did not know I could still grade through Turnitin’s feedback center (where my comment bank lives), so I had to type out all of my comments in canvas and did not realize my mistake until half way through my second class, but it was too late. However, one of the positives of this mess up is that it did allow me to rethink my comment bank.

I was part of an online feedback learning community at CSUSM a few years ago, so I have a comment bank I have been using for a while. While that has seemed to serve me well the last couple years, I do worry about the comments not being…. Legitimate? I am blanking on a good word to choose here, but “cookie cutter” comes to mind as well. A comment bank is obviously extremely helpful for in-text comments, but I do worry that a student could see those cut and paste comments as laziness on my end. I give a decent end of paper summary/response/justification which tends to be more personal and specific, but there is also the issue of managing time. What good is a page of feedback if a student is not getting it back in time to use on his/her next paper? So I can see how the comment bank is good, but I worry about how impersonal it may sound.  Honestly, I would prefer to grade all of my papers by hand as I love to use symbols/shorthand to help speed the process along, but the logistics of managing/handling 100+ physical papers make me nauseous.

If, or when, I transfer into the OWCourse, I definitely foresee using the video/voice comment tools. I love discussing a student’s paper face to face during office hours, and while a video comment section won’t necessarily be synchronous, I imagine it could produce a more authentic discussion on my end. My voice/face in conjunction with those dangerous, bordering on cookie cutter, comments/annotations could fix my worry about sounding lackadaisical. I think it would be helpful to reinforce the idea of reading/responding to a paper out loud as opposed to just skimming it. Students could hear their errors, and would hopefully see the benefit of breaking away from the screen for the revision process.

I am also very intrigued with the peer-review section Warnock discussed as online peer feedback is something I am trying in my f2f course this semester (with the help of Google docs). While I would love to eventually cobble together something like Chad’s video response activity for peer feedback, I am fascinated to see how taking the peer review discussion online is going to pan out.

In the end, I think the concept I am most excited for when it comes to feedback is to make the process less digital and incorporate more of my lovely face into the mix (with the help of the best webcam money can buy).

Explorers avatar

So much technology to explore…so little time! Every time I start to explore the myriad of options for providing online feedback, I am a bit overwhelmed with the number of options. So far, my online feedback has been very standard, mostly using the features built in to Blackboard and now Canvas. I’m sure I have yet to uncover all the options Canvas has to offer. I looked through the Kairos link curry provided, which features the work of Lara Whelan. She recommends using Jing for screen-capture feedback, which is something I would like to explore. I am not sure if Jing offers any advantages over screencast-o-matic. I think that using screen-capture feedback would be especially powerful for the online classroom, as it very closely mimics giving a student feedback in person.

As with traditional, written feedback, I think there is a distinct possibility that some students won’t spend the time really watching/listening to the screen-capture feedback. Of course, students with the time and motivation will probably like it a lot, but other students might find it too cumbersome to listen to my in-depth comments. And, while I always offer my students the option to revise their essays, only a modest number of them take advantage of the opportunity. It seems worth a try to require a revision, but this comes with its own set of problems, not the least of which is setting myself up to have to re-evaluate the whole stack (virtual, of course) of essays a second time. Nonetheless, I do plan to explore this kind of feedback with my f2f classes, and I imagine it will be even more valuable to online students.

Beyond the issue of feedback, there is the question of how much of the online classroom communications should be formally graded. In chapter 12, Warnock claims he is “a glutton” and that he likes “to grade everything” (137). He says grades “can be used constructively as a means of generating an ongoing conversation with students about their progress” (137). While I agree with him that grades can be useful in providing feedback to students, I’m not sure I would want to do that in the informal spaces of the online classroom, such as on the discussion boards. I can see having minimum requirements, such as an assigned number of posts or a minimum word count, but the idea of grading these informal discussions makes me uncomfortable. I think it’s important that we not forget how stifling it can feel to get graded on things–even if it is a low-stakes, low-points assignment. For example, if I was writing this post “for a grade” I would feel stressed, and my creative thinking would be suppressed. Rather than allowing myself to explore ideas, I might be focused more on formalizing my communication and thinking about what I am “supposed” to be writing. I think this can be a lot of pressure for our students, and that there is a lot of benefit from having required, but ungraded, assignments (much as we are doing here!) The work of Daniel Pink suggests that we are better off focusing on ideas and discovery than on extrinsic rewards. If you haven’t read his work or watched any of his talks, here is a link to his Ted Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation  I highly recommend it!

In short, my musings lead me to believe that feedback and dialogue are always valuable, but formal grading can be stifling. In the online classroom, as in the f2f classroom, I like the idea of having ungraded spaces that encourage exploration. Just being good listeners to our students has great value.

The “Plus Them” Factor or, How I Can Still Learn from My Little Brother
The “Plus Them” Factor or, How I Can Still Learn from My Little Brother avatar

I recently finished responding to three sets of drafts, which is to say, the timing of this first topic is timely. Of course, given who’s facilitating the discussion, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that our first topic of discussion comes at an opportune moment. Thank you, WwM hosts, for this great opportunity to reflect!

What I’m Doing Today – In my online sections, I’ve mainly been using the Canvas discussion board (DB) to assess writing. Specifically, during these past few weeks, I’ve used the board for weekly discussion board questions (DBQs) and essay drafts. I’m also using Google Docs toward the end of the workshop process as a formative tool. How does it work exactly? For each major essay, students complete three formal workshops prior to submitting a final draft. For first drafts, I use the Canvas DB to facilitate the workshop process. I find that it creates a more inviting, less formal space to generate, share, and respond to ideas. Students don’t have to worry about margins, spacing, or other MLA issues. It’s all about ideas, appropriateness, and development–elements I addressed in my response to the question about that which often prompts feedback. In terms of workshop format, since this is a my first time teaching 100% online, I’m keeping things relatively simple. How simple? For the first Canvas DB workshop, students complete two steps:

  • Part 1 – Copy and paste the first 1-2 pages of your draft directly into your post. Do not post a link to a Google Doc. Although we will be using Google Docs this semester, you only need to paste your draft into your post for this first workshop.
  • Part 2 – Provide feedback to the draft posted before yours by replying to the post and using the following workshop questions. If you are the first to post, you can reply to the draft of your choice. If you are the last to post, I will respond to your draft.

While this approach certainly limits the amount of feedback being received, I think limited feedback is actually beneficial at this early point in the semester because it’s less overwhelming, especially for those new to the workshop experience and/or those less confident in their writing.  During this critical part of the semester, I’m far more concerned with easing students into the workshop process, posting drafts and offering feedback, and fostering an online culture and community that is comfortable and constructive. By the third workshop, however, students are posting active links to their Google Docs and offering focused feedback to key passages based on guiding questions and prompt guidelines. So, whereas the first two workshops ask students to post and respond to the Canvas DB, the third workshop asks students to add comments to a Google Doc in addition to providing summative comments as a kind of final reminder for the writer.

In terms of my own role, for the Canvas DB drafts, I’ve been using simple rubrics and providing additional written feedback through SpeedGrader, ultimately working hard, as Warnock notes early in Chapter 11, to immerse myself “textually into the class” (122).  (On a related note, visual immersion is also vital, in different ways and moments, hence my modest class photo. It’s designed to give students a big-picture view of their class, an opportunity select a digital seat, and a chance revisit the those elementary school days when class photos were taken.) But back to the topic: To reinforce individual comments, I also provide feedback via announcements and weekly notes. What are these weekly notes of which I speak? Essentially, my Canvas home page, which is designed to mimic smartphone home screen with apps, includes a “Weekly Hints & Notes” section (see upper-right icon with the cookies):

Canvas Homepage

This icon is linked to a Google Doc that allows me to easily address student issues, share excellent examples, drop quiz hints, and provide context for the week. In this sense, the assessment-feedback approach in my online class has looked something like this:

  1. Post assignment
  2. Read assignment responses
  3. Provide specific feedback via SpeedGrader
  4. Offer general feedback via Weekly Notes
  5. Post announcement reminding students to check the Weekly Notes

While there’s plenty of room for refinement and utilization of other technologies, what’s nice about this approach in general is how the weekly notes work for both on-ground and online sections. I can utilize the Weekly Notes to address common issues for all of my 100 courses and, in a sense, tie the sections together through common issues. Speaking of tying, to tie back to our text, I also like how this approach allows me find different ways to “respond a lot,” which Warnock recommends “in the beginning of the term especially” (123). Moreover, I was thrilled to hear Warnock address the significance of early responses: “So in week one, if you give students a message board icebreaker to introduce themselves (see Chapter 1), write back a lot. These bits of information place a sharper focus on you as an audience. After a series of responses, you will have given students a snapshot of yourself, and they will be better prepared for the writing ahead” (123-24). Though my relationship with Warnock wasn’t made official until after the start of the semester, we seemed to be kindred spirits with with regard to this aspect. During the first week of class, I began with an icebreaker introduction assignment and spent significant time responding to student introductions by sharing connections and asking questions, all of which has resulted in a dialogue that continues to this day.

Where I Might Be Headed – Given all that Canvas and LTI tools like Turnitin offer, I’m well aware that I’m barely scratching the surface when it comes to assessment tools and feedback approaches. There’s no question I’m primarily relying on written feedback, for instance, to respond to work. Guilty as charged! In the coming weeks, however, I look forward to playing with some of SpeedGrader’s media features and responding to final drafts via Turnitin.

One possibility I’m particularly excited to play with for my second unit came not from Warnock or my Letters colleagues, but from a place a bit closer to home: my brother, Dean, who teaches English at the high school level. Essentially, to assess revisions, he had his students record themselves reading parts of their drafts. Because he doesn’t have access to an LMS like Canvas, he used Padlet and YouTube for the assignment. In his guidelines, he included a few key suggestions: “Before uploading your video, watch it. Don’t like how it sounds? See an opportunity to be clearer? A transition needed somewhere? Fix your essay, and read it again. Your recorded essay should be relatively smooth sounding. It should flow from idea to idea. Work out the kinks before publishing your video.” Here’s how it turned out:

Padlet Revision

Before I even had a chance to view the Padlet page with the vids, I immediately recognized the value in this kind of formative assessment technique. That is, I recognized how he had found a relatively simple and covert way to get his students to slow down, rethink their ideas, and revise their work. In other words, he was designing effectively based on his audience. He could have said something like this: “Seriously, guys, you need to slow down and reread your work and really ask yourself if these are the best possible words.” Instead, he tapped into the zeitgeist, the essence of specific cultural practices for many of today’s millennials–taking selfies, recording Instagram videos, sharing content on social media–and married it to formal writing. As the reflective comments indicate, many students found the approach challenging yet useful:

  • “Although I felt uncomfortable recording the video, I believed that it really did help.”
  • “My experience from the video recording was frustrating because there were many distractions. I did watch the video after [I] recorded it to be sure it was clear. I probably recorded my video about 10 times. I feel that recording did help because I caught minor mistakes that needed to be fixed.”

There’s much to say about details like “uncomfortable” and “distracting” and recording a video “10 times,” but I think it’s okay to save those thoughts for a later date. Many students, as we know, have no problem submitting an unbelievably rough draft on which they’ve spent little time. But tie that same draft to social media and suddenly, it seems, students slow down. Now, it’s not just words on a page being shared. Now, it’s words plus them. It’s this “plus them” factor–the innovative tethering of the writer to the work, the packaging of the author with the product–that has great potential. It’s somewhat akin to how I feel about delivering content as a newer online instructor: If I have to post a PP lesson on active vs. passive voice, for instance, no problem. Bring it on! But if I have to turn the same PP into a Screencast-O-Matic lesson that includes my clearly weary, unshaven face in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, creating and ultimately sharing the lesson takes on a whole new significance. The additional visual element leaves me feeling not so unlike many of many of my brother’s students: uncomfortable and frustrated, yet also more aware and hopefully clearer.

As I consider what’s ahead in my classes, I’m excited about playing with this approach, especially because the media option in Canvas makes it relatively simple for students to generate audio/video content. Soon, my students will be working on the first part of their second essay–a one-page mini argument, in the form of a letter, that’s intended for a specific audience. The brevity of this first part, I think, really lends itself to my brother’s approach. In addition to posting written drafts, students could also post video or audio versions of their essays. Will this new element yield similar results? Will my students find it useful and meaningful? Tediously painful? Bittersweet?

I’ll keep you posted.

Without my illegible handwriting, how will they learn anything?
J. Williams

I’m going to open with — I like my illegible handwriting in the margins of student papers.  I find it difficult to capture the same kind of flourish in the online environment.  And, I have, through years of repetitive thinking, convinced myself that my students find the scribbles endearing.

That said, I really do prefer to scratch it out on a physical surface.  I find that I can leave a more dynamic comment that way, literally drawing connections between disparate parts of a paper by … drawing.  I am also faster at leaving feedback in this format — at least, at this time I am — which our author brought up as a legitimate concern just in case some of us have a hundred or more students making similar mistakes in their writing.

To this end, I have been eyeing the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro, thinking that I might be able to approximate the physical grading in the electronic environment by using a stylus to write on the electronic copies students send.  I have been teaching online for 10 years, and I have spent a lot of time waiting for this moment when technology would finally catch up and allow me to return to a pre-technology form of grading.  Yet, last spring, during the first leg of this prep, we spent some time considering whether we should be trying to force our on-the-ground practices into the online environment unchanged or whether what we are really talking about is a translation of those practices.  In other words, we should be taking our best practices from our years of on-the-ground teaching and re-imagining them in the online environment.

So, I should be asking myself, How does my handwritten feedback translate to the electronic grading environment?

And, I think the answer is — it doesn’t.  What does translate is my commitment to substantive feedback.  So, what tools are available in the online environment that might not only facilitate the communication of feedback to students but enhance it?

One strategy I will use will be to reduce the amount of time I spend on low-end, repeated comments through macros.  If I can auto-fill the comments I make a million times across student papers, like those associated with punctuation and in-text citation formatting, I can spend more time on high-end feedback.  I have resisted this move because it has always felt like, well, cheating.  However, if I am writing the same comment fifty times in a single grading session, what’s the difference between my repeated handwritten note and the one that the computer fills in automatically?


Another tool that I plan to make use of is combining typed comments with voice comments.  The opportunity for this has existed for a while, but not the ease of it.  I trained in Canvas in the spring, and I am teaching my first two courses in this CMS this fall, and including voice comments while grading is integrated into this system and easy to use.  I like the opportunity to explain a comment I make with a quick verbal elaboration, rather than getting into typing out a lengthy response.  It’s what I would do if a student approached me in class to go over a bit of feedback he or she received.  I can also see using this feature for my global, end comments on papers.  Video feedback is also pretty easy to use through Canvas, but I am not convinced that it will provide something essential that I can’t accomplish with a combination of typed and voice feedback.

I don’t know that these strategies really affect my philosophy about providing feedback so much as begin to satisfy my concerns that feedback in the online environment has the potential to be less than the student needs.

Unit 1: Feedback and Assessment
Unit 1: Feedback and Assessment avatar

This is such a big question, curry!  Feedback happens everywhere!! My current primary tools for providing instructive feedback are rubrics and the Suggesting feature in Google Docs, but this post will focus only on rubrics since Google docs seems pretty straight-forward to me. I do offer other types of feedback on low-stakes writing—reading responses and reflection activities, for example—but my intent in this feedback is to be encouraging, supportive, or just to let the students know that I am reading every word they write 🙂 . I think this type of feedback might fall into what Warnock refers to as response–when he distinguishes between response and grading. When/if I am able to teach online, I imagine that I will heavily use Canvas’s recording feature in addition to these tools–both to improve the variety of feedback students receive and to help personalize the online environment.

I saved samples of papers I’ve graded over the years. These are the papers that never got returned because students dropped the class or because they disappeared at somepoint during the semester. Writing this blog post, I became curious about how my comments have changed, so I reread my comments on some of these essays. I was struck by how much of my marginalia (Y E S ! I’ve always wanted to use that word in earnest!), focused on the specific assignment in my early years of teaching. Over the past dozen years, though, I see a shift, and my comments are largely about specific skills. I attribute this shift to when I started to hone my rubrics.

My philosophy with rubrics is that they are teaching tools. I believe students should learn from them not about not only their performance on the specific task but also how to improve specific writing skills. I break the rubric down into critical thinking, structure, evidence, sentences, grammar, vocabulary, and documentation. Here’s what my current English 100 rubric looks like for argumentative essays (I have a different rubric for a rhetorical analysis essay assignment and for our new lens essay assignment): http://www.writingteachertools.com/english-100-grading-rubric/

All this might be (actually, I’m sure it is) a long way to get to my focus of this post: optimizing the rubric tool in Canvas to improve not only my feedback but also students’ understanding of my feedback in onsight classes and (hopefully) in online classes.

I remember during our fall certification sequence somebody sharing research about how infrequently students actually read our comments—not much 🙁 —and have thought about why this might be ever since. One reason might be that students don’t understand what we mean by the comments. For example, if the comment is that the paragraph lacks development or focus or unity or coherence, I can imagine some of my students not knowing what the heck I am talking about—despite the fact that I feel like I’ve explained these concepts—in overwrought detail—a zillion times.

So . . . here’s my idea for using the rubrics tool in Canvas. I’m considering using them to maximize both peer- and self-evaluations at various drafting stages in order to reinforce student understanding of basic compositional concepts and/or their understanding of specific critical thinking skills. In f2f classes, I’ve been doing versions of the types of evaluations I’m imagining, but with pen and paper and perhaps with not as much clarity of instruction or accountability as might be possible with Canvas. My intent is that these peer- and self-evaluations promote deeper understanding of what sometimes seem to be amorphous concepts like development and unity.

One of the resources I found in curry’s annotated bibliography discussed various types of rubrics in Canvas: Single Point, Analytic, Primary Trait, Holistic (here’s a direct link to the PPT, if you want to check it out:


I mocked up a few of these rubrics to concretize how I might use each of these rubric types.

Single Point – Use to improve thesis
Analytic – Use to improve Level One Unity* 
Primary Trait – Use to improve Level Two Unity*
Holistic – My final grading rubric

(No mock-up here!  I ran out of time!)

*These are teaching tools I created to help explain the concept of unity to students. You can check them out here and here.

Canvas Questions:  To implement these evaluations, I’m guessing that I create an Assignment that requires peer reviews and then attach the corresponding rubric. Does anyone know if this right, or am I missing something?

Also, does Canvas have a way for the instructor to grade a student’s comments on a peer review? I tell students that I consider peer reviews as a type of test, an open-book, OK-to-ask-me-questions-during-type-of-test, for which they receive grades based on the quality of their comments and demonstration of understanding the assignment requirements. I know where I can see the student’s peer comments, but I couldn’t figure out if I can grade that student’s comments.

Welcome to the new WritingwithMachines Blog!
curry mitchell

It’s new. It’s shiny! It’s supported by our very own MiraCosta College (at least, they’re lending us the prestige of their wordpress url)! And there is even a little \w/M/ avatar saluting you from the corner of your browser tab!! Look at that little guy! How cute!!

To find the archive of our past blogs, please visit writingwithmachines.com . For all things new and exciting and techy and teachery…bookmark this blog


WritingwithMachines in Fall 2017
curry mitchell

The WritingwithMachines group is looking forward to the fall semester. This blog is about to become enriched once again as we begin our pedagogy-based course on teaching composition with technology, the second course offered in our Certification Sequence. This semester, our “brown-bag” discussions will move to an online forum. We’ll miss the snacks, but we’ll likely enjoy the more flexible and accessible forum Zoom affords. If you are interested in participating in exchanges that explore the intersections of writing, reading, technology, and pedagogy, we hope you will join us for one or many of these discussions.

WritingwithMachine’s Fall Certification Sequence

The Fall Certification Sequence will begin September 11th. Faculty who participate will complete 5-units over the course 10-weeks, covering topics such as:

  • the benefits and limitations of digital feedback and assessments
  • how issues of accessibility and universal design are linked to concepts of rhetoric and composition
  • how to create collaborative assignments using networked technologies

We hope many of our colleagues who completed the Spring Certification Course will continue to edify our discussions this fall, and for anyone interested in joining us now, more information about how to prepare for the Sequence will be forthcoming. In the meantime, please scroll down and explore this blog, or contact curry mitchell at cmitchell@miracosta.edu for more information.

WritingwithMachine’s Fall Meeting Schedule

The WritingwithMachines group will host 3 open-discussion meetings in the fall on 9/21, 10/19, and 11/16 from 7:00 to 8:00 pm in Zoom. Participation is FLEX eligible. Stay for the whole hour or drop in for a bit. Enjoy rich inquiries with colleagues regarding reading, writing, technology, and pedagogy. Oh, and Canvas…we’ll probably talk about Canvas too.

Contact curry (cmitchell@miracosta.edu) if you’re interested, or check back on this blog to find the url to join the discussion. Hope to see you there!!