The Third Thing
J. Williams

I am looking for the third thing.  It’s the transition quest.  Going online and looking for your on-the-ground class is a fool’s errand.  Leaving behind everything that worked face-to-face is foolish.  So — the third thing.  It’s not a marriage or an offspring or an evolution.  In my experience teaching online, it’s something that hasn’t yet been built.

My ideas are still steeping.  However, I want to develop a classroom online that has qualities like a one-click environment, which is one where a single click will take a student where he or she needs to go; a human environment, which is one where students can see and hear the human in their peers and professor (This would require better integration of audio and video.); and an all-inclusive environment, which is one that does not limit participation or create unnecessary hierarchies of learning through the overuse of fixed synchronous participation.  My course currently is, and for the near-future will remain, a module-based course.  The emphasis in my course will be reading, research, and writing, so tools that facilitate development of these skills will be prominent, like forums that allow discussion of the reading and collaboration through writing workshops.  I would hope, if well built, students will want to be present and that they will be able to present.


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Unit 4:

The Dream
The Dream avatar

In all of my syllabi, I include a list of “Top Ten Reminders.” The last reminder is dedicated to interaction and sharing: “Avoid learning in a bubble. Interact. Take chances. Risk embarrassment. Help your peers become better writers and thinkers. Help build a unique community. If you discover something on YouTube that’s related to a reading, share it with the class. If you watch a movie that’s relevant to our discussions, share it with the class. If you find a brilliant sentence that makes you jealous and keeps you from sleeping at night, share it with the class. Don’t be selfish with the good words. Sharing is better than not sharing.” With this in mind, I just wanted to thank you all for sharing the goods. I feel super lucky to have ongoing access to all of you and your amazing ideas. My students will no doubt benefit from your generous minds.

In terms of my dream class, at the recent mid-semester meeting, Violeta Sanchez, Tyrone Nagai and I shared six approaches or six ways of thinking about the shared lens assignment:

  • Overt vs. Covert
  • Discovering vs. Rediscovering
  • Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up
  • Narrow vs. Wide
  • Backwards vs. Forwards
  • Bound vs. Unbound

On the one hand, these approaches were offered as a way to sort of breathe new life into the assignment. On the other hand, they were really about teaching and calling attention to the options we have as writing instructors. To use a food metaphor, in my mind, they are some of the best ingredients we have available to us. How we’re able to cook with them, however, changes based on the kitchens in which we cook and those for whom we do the cooking.

In the F2F classroom, I feel free and excited to play with these kinds of approaches. Using them here feels far more doable and like I have a greater chance of creating those magical “ah-ha” moments we strive to create. I love teaching covertly, for instance, and introducing without introducing, so students can rediscover that which they had just discovered but in a way that’s suddenly meaningful. In the OWC, it ain’t so easy. I mean, using these approaches is possible, sure, but at this point, because of my lack of experience and execution, I find the effect to be far less magical. It’s like experiencing bananas foster tableside versus onscreen: there’s fire and yet there isn’t.

In addition to featuring holograms and teleporters, my dream course would be one that enables me to utilize these kinds of approaches in a manner that somehow feels more like the tableside spectacle. There would be heat and smell. Speaking of which, early celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse used to remind his audiences during Emeril Live to call their cable providers to request Smell-O-Vision. He wanted them to experience what he was smelling in the studio from their couches. In many ways, my OWC could benefit from something like Lagasse’s Smell-O-Vision. If I could find ways to migrate these approaches to the OWC, meaningfully and frequently, and ultimately use them to build rich communities, that would probably be better than a hologram and pretty close to a teleporter.

Here are my posts. Thank you again, folks:

My Dream Course!
My Dream Course! avatar

My dream online course consists of three core principles: communication, engagement, and risk-taking.

Communication is obviously key to any class, but with the absence of a F2F setting, I want to do everything in my power to amp up the discussion in the online classroom. I was thinking of ways to enhance online communication over the last few weeks and I thought of how I could scaffold the discussion. Essentially, I would try to break down the online communication in a way that mirrors my F2F class. First, I would ask a smaller group of students to have a discussion (perhaps via Google Docs or Zoom).  After the small group discussion, I would ask students to write an individual post expanding on an interesting point from their group. After the individual posts, I would ask students to respond to a different person’s response outside of their original group. This scaffolding would ideally build stronger conversations throughout.

When it comes to engagement, what I see being the “best” would be my presence.  Since I will not be meeting with the students F2F, I want to make sure that my students view me as being available. I would hold virtual office hours (much like some of you already do), which could possibly turn into a larger group discussion if multiple students show up. I would also build in multiple opportunities to students to get feedback from me prior to a due date. The main thing here is making sure my students see my engagement and realize that the online course is the same as a F2F course in terms of my investment.

My dream course is also one built on risks. I, as an instructor, need to take more risks when it comes to relying on technology. I need to become more familiar with tools like screencast-o-matic, Zoom, and just get used to recording myself. I also would want to attempt to do some video feedback in lieu of one-on-one conferences. Becoming more familiar with these items will most likely help me in my F2F classes as well. I also want my students to take risks in my online course. I would like them to work in alternative mediums such as a mag or another digital platform. I feel like incorporating new, exciting mediums into the writing class could also help the engagement of my course.

Overall, I am leaving with this semester with some wonderful ideas and I look forward to attempting them.


Here are the links to my previous posts:





My Dreamy Dream Course; Or, I Can Be Super Impatient
My Dreamy Dream Course; Or, I Can Be Super Impatient avatar

I am not ready to dream about an online course. Mainly, I need to spend some time teaching online before I can really understand what works and what doesn’t in order to have the dream.

I do, however, often dream about onsite writing courses. My students are currently spending a lot of class time in the computer lab for our Media Literacy Group Project. I’m not sure if my dream is necessarily a flipped classroom model, maybe some sort of blend? The dream is that my composition course is very tech-enhanced. I want to teach it in a computer lab space.

Pedagogically, I want to spend class time moving back and forth between discussion and application of those discussions in the form of writing. Shocking! I know. It is a writing class after all. I already do this with a lot of in class writing because it is important to me that students practice whatever it is we are discussing related to writing in that moment, so we both figure out what they need more time with. We have discussed various forms of accessibility, but what practices will make the writing process more accessible to students? For me, it is engaging in it with them, teaching them how to keep moving forward.

I already do a lot of in class writing, but handwritten in class writing is limiting. It is limiting for purposes of practical revision. It is limiting for them turning it in and me returning it the next class period. They scribble to me, normally really great ideas. Then the moment is over. I scribble back. We are already in a different place; they are already thinking about it differently. It limits me engaging with students while they are actually writing. It is limiting for how we can use it during that class period; sometimes I really long for the days of the doc cam or a classroom that still has one.

The technology and its uses we have considered in this sequence have really pushed me more towards what technology provides for the experience of writing. I would prefer to use the technology to implement a lot more student drafting during class time, and by drafting, I mean the actual writing, not just the brainstorming, idea development, or handwritten introduction they can take home and type up later. I think about all the tools available through the internet that can change the purpose of student writing and how students understand themselves as writers, which also supports my anti-rubric world.

As shown in my course design video, I value a lot of transparency and being in tune with their actual experiences writing, not just the products of that writing. Since my pedagogy focuses on student writing over any other content, the lag of waiting for drafts slows down the momentum of the way I want the class to function. In many ways, some of the issues that have come up here with the delay of the discussion board for class discussion is an issue I have with delays created by students doing a lot of the actual writing outside of the classroom space.

Part of this computer and drafting in the classroom dominated approach also connects to how I function in the classroom space. I am a collaborator. When left on my own, I need a lot of time to work through my thoughts and ideas; I think and write very slowly. When interacting with my students and their work, my thoughts move really fast. I can show them in the moment how rethink nearly anything they produce for their purposes, not mine. For how hands-on I am, I am also oddly hands-off.

I had a glimpse of this once when I taught a M/W/F class. Fridays were drafting days, and I fought hard to get the coveted computer lab space. Even though we were sitting in the same room, we had an open chat through the WebCT LMS (was that early Blackboard? They looked a lot alike). Students would ask me questions through the chat or invite me into their document or I would just come into their doc to check on them and leave a piece of feedback. It is like a mass of individual mini-conferences happening every week and pushes students writing further.


Simple, yet barren.
Simple, yet barren. avatar

Honest disclosure: I had every intention of finally investing in a webcam/microphone for this week’s post, but I get anxious when dealing with purchasing a new electronic (a silly analysis paralysis), so I put it off and here we are. On the bright side, I have finally read every review for every webcam/microphone combination in existence. So, instead of providing you with a wonderful video tour of my bleak Canvas page, I am going to have to use screen shots to guide this post.

Another honest disclosure: online presence in my F2F courses has always been rather minimal, so my Canvas page is pretty barren.


Home Page: Believe it or not, the above photo is actually an improvement for this semester. This is my first semester using Canvas, and I used to just have an empty landing page on my prior Blackboard page. Once again, the online community in my class has always been supplemental. Essentially, the online aspect of my course was just to send out emails, collect assignments through Turnitin and post files. Canvas has really pushed me into thinking about a more serious integration.


Announcements: I have started utilizing the announcement section a lot more this semester due to the Canvas App. Most of my students use the Canvas app on their phones, so sending out announcements is the fastest way to get my students information.


Modules: I started this semester by reorganizing my modules at my students’ request. I used to have these sections organized by types (prompts/readings/submission links), but students asked for them to be organized on a week-by-week basis. In the end, this reorganization has definitely worked for the better.

So far, that is all I use Canvas for. After seeing all of your posts, I realize I need to step up my game. I do have a lot of goals for the upcoming semester in terms of polishing my course, and here there are in no particular order:

  • Get a webcam/microphone, and utilize more video feedback/discussion.
  • Polish my home page to utilize links (much like the Writing with Machines page). I think this is the one I am most interested in as it seems like any way to consolidate and streamline is beneficial (especially with the push to the Canvas App).
  • Utilize the syllabus section of the website and move away from just posting the .pdf.