A Treatise on Why Moodle Is the Best LMS

Once again, I am probably going to come across as something of a Luddite: to be honest, I like appreciate an LMS that is simple to use and easy to navigate. On that note, I strongly appreciated Warlock’s ninth guideline: don’t be any more complicated technologically than you have to be (19). When I heard MiraCosta was switching from Blackboard and Moodle over to Canvas, I felt a decent amount of apprehension and had quite a few misgivings. Canvas seemed (and honestly in many ways still seems) so difficult to use, at least in comparison to what I was using before, Moodle.

My LMS journey:
It started, of course (as many of ours have), with Blackboard. I used Blackboard as a student during my undergraduate and master’s studies, and thus creating my own course shells on Bb Learn as a teacher was fairly simple. However, Blackboard loves folders (and subfolders, and sub-sub folders), which often confused my students. After several years, I started to put all my resources for a class directly on the homepage. This surprisingly worked well: students accessed online dropboxes with greater ease, and more of them printed the readings out ahead of time.

My favorite LMS:
Eventually, Kelly Hagen introduced me to what would become my absolute favorite LMS, Moodle. I freakin love Moodle. It has everything I ever wanted in an LMS, but chiefly, a blog-style setup with the ability to put everything on one page, easy-to-create Turnitin dropboxes, and quick ways to incorporate any sort of media you can imagine within a matter of seconds.

What works well regarding Moodle:
The usability. As aforementioned, it takes a few minutes tops to create anything you want. When you create a new assignment, video, hyperlink, or other tool, simply clicking “add an activity or resource” opens up a quick-create option. (To see what this looks like, take a look at my attached video at the bottom). I’m an instructor who likes to constantly adjust my resources depending on what my students need; therefore, any computer-based class activities were uploaded to our Moodle page immediately and easily. On the other hand, Canvas always takes a minute or two (if not longer). Everything is very easy to find on Moodle because everything is right there on one page. If you disliked that aspect, it is equally effortless to create new folders or sub-modules. My students never had problems accessing any of the resources I uploaded on Moodle.

Which aspects of Moodle were problematic:
I noticed Curry’s inclusion of Prezi both in the video and in the annotated bibliography for this week’s discussion topic. When I reached that point in his video, I jumped up and shouted some inarticulate happy noise. I absolutely adore Prezi. How many of us have had students immediately ask, upon slide one of a PowerPoint, “is this also online?” With Prezi the answer is always yes. Prezi is basically a prettier, fancier, more creative and more interactive version of PowerPoint that gives the user the option to either keep your presentations private or allow them to stay public and accessible for anyone on the internet. (As a side note, a lot of teachers dislike that facet—some are a bit protective over their lesson plans, and that’s totally fine. I’m not; I like the idea of sharing what works for me, hearing what works for others, and working together with other instructors to create the best possible lessons. I do respect both sides of the argument though).

Prezi is fun. I love it, and so do my students. But, this is where Moodle can be somewhat of a problem: because Moodle streamlines resources, creating a dynamic space where you include notes, a video, and something else all in the same area can be particularly challenging if not impossible. Canvas answers this problem so much better than Moodle, and vastly better than Blackboard.

I really like Curry’s use of providing instructions via a video and a Prezi as well as an actual handout. As he mentions, it allows students to “pace the flow of information” and “linger on examples” which are concepts I’m finding increasingly essential in my courses. (Man Curry, I wish I had a professor like you when I was a student!) Anyway, having various systems students can use to understand a lesson, instructions, or course material is wonderful, and aligns perfectly with my “key-est of key principles” which is to respect diverse talents and ways of learning. By giving students options, they can learn BEST from what they feel most comfortable learning FROM. Therefore, having those resources all there on the same page gives students the freedom to interact with the teaching method they find most natural.

If I could invent my own LMS:
I do have a golden rule with new tools. It is equivalent to my method of evaluating a tool, as well: simply put, does the device seem to be helping my students, or is it superfluous and a waste of space? Or, even worse, does it detract from their actual learning? If an online LMS tool isn’t helping our students, why would we keep it?

I once upon a time used to know how to use simple html to build websites. As a preteen, I played around with website builders such as tripod to create fan sites for books I enjoyed reading as well as my own art and original fiction. Therefore, I like learning management systems that allow for the utmost creativity in the simplest fashion. What I’m imagining is Canvas with the usability of Moodle—a virtual space where I could drag and drop any sort of resource onto any area of the page with every facility.

I’ve now taken two different Canvas classes. The first was a webinar, and the second was the six-week program our amazing and wonderful online educators Jim Julius and Billy Gunn offer. (I even earned the certificate!) Regardless, I still find Canvas tricky in many ways. I’m sure if I were more tech-savvy, it could easily be the sort of LMS I dream of using.

Warlock Notes:
Warlock mentions our goal should be “to get past the technology and start thinking about teaching” and that “the technology should be relatively transparent and unobtrusive” (22). Yes. Yes to the ends of time. The danger in an OWcourse is my students failing to learn what I’m trying to teach because my technology is too complicated. I want to avoid that danger at all costs.

On the other hand, one point in which I disagree with Warlock is on the topic of e-mail. He suggests that “e-mail can do much of the work for [us] in an online class” (23). I welcome and even encourage my students to e-mail me with what I call the one q and four c’s: questions, comments, concerns, confusion, or need for clarification. They seem to feel very comfortable e-mailing me for the most part.

However, I also ask my students to refrain from e-mailing me and asking what the homework is or what we did in class that day. Although this may seem austere, I have that policy in place to do two things: one, it encourages my students to interact with each other. One of the keys to college success is networking and making friends and colleagues who share common goals. I have my students exchange names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses with several other students at the beginning of each semester; it helps them establish class contacts. The other reason I keep my e-mail policy in place is to encourage students to look at the syllabus. By this, I do not mean solely at the beginning of the semester; rather, I advise them to keep it on-hand as a resource they refer back to. I include a detailed schedule of what we do in class as well as what the homework is for every lesson. By looking at what we do each day, they stay mentally organized and on task.

Warlock jests “the new version of ‘the dog ate my homework’ is ‘my computer crashed’” (27). I also advise my students to make sure they have access to internet, printers, etc. A common e-mailed concern follows along the lines of “my computer crashed and therefore I couldn’t turn the assignment in.” I’m sure many of us are familiar with that old chestnut. I would like to think that most of these e-mails are met with a patient (though at times strained) compassion from me, but I also have started to include a disclaimer recommending they don’t wait until the last minute. I also suggest to my students that they be aware of their local libraries and other options for submitting online work.

What I want my online class to look like- Framework
What I want my online class to look like- Framework avatar

Hi my name is Vanessa O’Connor and this is my second semester teaching at MiraCosta. I currently teach ENG 100 and ENG 50. Although I have never taught composition online I have taught American Literature online and that was a very interesting experience that helped me to dabble a little in online quiz building and discussion boards. I also teach all of my English 100 and 50 classes as partial hybrids where most of the resources are housed on canvas as well as quizzes, text book materials etc.

“If you have your why for life, then you can get along with almost any how.”I love that Warnock starts out with this quote from Nietzsche. In chapter one he encourages us to develop our own online teaching persona and I realized that my online persona is not much different from my onsite persona. My “why” is to promote personal development through Mastery and Emotional Intelligence. I always start with my “why” and I allow the climate of my class to determine my “how”. On the first day of class I always tell my students that I teach what I most want to learn. I let them know that although I am their teacher, I am a learner first and I am excited to learn and grow with them. I always share what I am working on (right now it’s my book) and I show them all the marked up pages from my editor and expose them to the fact that writing is a process and a collaborative effort. Like Warnock I would also create an introduction discussion but I would use video rather than writing. By creating an introductory video I can communicate the same message I try to send on the first day of in-person class. Video also allows the students to see me and experience me as a person first before they begin their online interactions with me. I will also ask each class member to make a camera phone video introducing themselves and their reason for taking the class. I think that this will be a good way to pull back the veil of the computer screen and get to know each other as people and not just as words on a page. I would also like to do some live zoom calls but I am not sure how I would design that since there is not set time for an online class meeting.

In his introduction Warnock posits that the online teaching space is perfect for writing since so much of the communication for the class is done through writing. (xi) Although it can seem difficult to make the transition from in person teaching to online teaching the fact that students are constantly communicating through writing in an online class makes me hopeful because that in itself is an exercise that enhances practice.

My framework for teaching online or what I want my online class to look like:

Environment – My purpose for taking this online teaching class is to learn how to mimic my online class for the social environments of the world by incorporating what it takes to succeed in the real world outside of the college matriculation standards. My intention is to create environments that evolve emotional intelligence as well as intellect. I want to create an environment where students are constantly practicing and applying concepts with each other and in their world. As I design my online environment I plan to take Warnock’s advice that “you can approach teaching online more confidently if you view it as not being that different from teaching onsite. (xiii)

Collaboration – I have often heard that promoting interaction is one of the difficult tasks with online classes since the students never really get to see each other. I like the student centered approaches Warnock shares in the introduction and I am excited to explore ideas on how to create more of an in class feel with an online class. The online environment is more than fancy graphics, videos or detailed modules. It is a space to practice and apply the concepts with each other. I love how Canvas gives students the ability to collaborate through online peer reviews, group work and shared documents. I am happy to be living in the Internet age that has taken learning outside of the classroom and has made it even easier to collaborate remotely. Most of my in-class students use remote tools like Google docs to collaborate with each other.

Self-Awareness – I know that online teaching relies heavily on public sharing in discussion boards but I also believe in private writing. I want to explore ways in which I can encourage students to practice private writing to evolve their own self-awareness rather than having to always share with the public on a discussion board. I believe that as we deepen our self-understanding we increase our ability to succeed. Through journaling and personal writing we get the opportunity to explore our inner world and uncover our “why”. I do not think that this writing should be subject to the review of others as is usually necessary in an online course. When I teach in class I can instruct my students to journal and I can walk around and make sure that they are journaling without having to read their writing. I will not have that ability to keep them accountable in an online class so I would like to explore ideas on how to keep the emphasis on personal writing and journaling in an online class.

Sharing – I would like to explore ideas on how to create an online environment with resources so that the students can share their work outside of the classroom and be exposed to publication opportunities if they so desire. I really like the blog posting idea that Jim shares in the intro video. This gives students an opportunity to put their ideas out into the world and use them for things outside of class like scholarships and publications etc. I would really appreciate any other suggestions of resources and links I can share with my students that will give them opportunities to share their work with the world. My class room environment is built on the idea that writing is meant to be shared and I want to give them the opportunities to use their writing for more than just a grade. I try to encourage students to share their work and also help them to find publication for notable pieces.

Customization – The issue that I usually find with online courses is that it is usually a one size fits all approach however, every group of students is different and even though we teach the fundamentals they might need a different approach from us. Therefore as I design my online class I will be cognizant of leaving room for adapting to each group of students as well as evolution and constant growth.

Mastery – I always ask students to submit a two-sided folder with all of their pre-writing, writing and editing documents. This is easy in person because they are able to hand it to me but I am interested to explore ideas of how to do this online. I seek to develop a process oriented online course that rewards those who practice as well as rewarding the end results. Therefore I want to create games and interactive activities that encourage process sharing and creative ideas… if you have ideas of games, apps and software that can integrate with Canvas please share.

I want the online class to closely reflect my in class structure by encouraging practice and process activities, therefore helping students to understand that if you place more emphasis on mastering the process rather than the end result it is almost guaranteed that your end result will be great and you will be able to hit your mark not just once but over and over again. As I encourage mastery in this way I am encouraging them to understand that the writing process is a metaphor for success in any area of life because the process rather than the end result is the true treasure.

Here’s a sample of what I am doing in Canvas


An Exploration of Digital Reading Practices and Pedagogy
curry mitchell

The technology that supports active reading in digital environments is getting better. Common devices and freely available software make it possible to apply traditional, mindful reading practices to pdfs, digital textbooks, and Open Educational Resources. Still, these high-tech tools are not themselves enough to teach students how to meaningfully engage with text. Along with ever improving technologies and the exciting benefits of OER come a need to maximize the impact of classroom instruction, so students truly benefit from the reading/hearing/playing/watching/swiping they bring to new interactive modalities that are becoming ever more common in higher education.

The following list of resources and annotations seeks to explore:

  • How to support effective academic reading skills given the range of devices and apps present in our classrooms?
  • What new forms of effective reading are possible in networked, digital environments?
  • What digital practices best target comprehension and recall, critical reading and response, and/or active reading and intellectual engagement?
  • How to promote time management, preparedness, and accountability despite the distractions of digital access?

If you would like to contribute to this bibliography, please join our WritingwithMachines Canvas course and add your annotated resource to our Discussion on Digital Reading and Annotation before March 7th. Please join us March 8th from 7:00-8:00 in Zoom for a culminating discussion on pedagogy and demonstration of tools.

Thank you to Lisa Lane, dara, Rob Bond, Megen O’Donnel, Jim Julius, Denise Stephenson, and Anne Fleming for contributing!

Things to watch

Our Discussion in Zoom

Navigate to Lisa Lane’s Demonstration Notes and Tutorials, featured in our Zoom discussion

Using Mind-maps as a/during [Digital] reading process: Coggle for digital mind-mapping, by Anne Fleming, MiraCosta College Writing Center.

I have been working with several students who are frustrated with digital reading. Something I have been trying is both hand-written and digital mind-maps to interact with the text. When students mind-map, they slow down, process better, and their visual map of the information matches/ reflects some of their own cognitive processing. This video has some examples of hard copy and digital mapping and a few ways it can be used in a classroom setting. Here is the link to the Coggleit site.

MiraCosta’s Open Educational Lunch Extravaganza

Nicole Finkbeiner from OpenStax, Keynote

Student Panel

Faculty Panel

Things to Listen to

Assessing the Impact of Open Educational Resources hosted by Bonni Stachowiak of Vanguard University of Southern California with guest C. Edward Watson, the Associate VP for Quality, Advocacy, and LEAP Initiatives with AAC&U. Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast, http://teachinginhighered.com/podcast/assessing-impact-open-educational-resources/

A 30 minute podcast focused on the exciting impact of Open Education Resources on student success. The conversation offers compelling statistics and anecdotes, but it also arrives at one clear drawback stated by students about OER materials: digital content is harder to use than printed texts. Listen to this podcast to get excited about OER, and then explore the resources below that address the need to teach students how to succeed with digital resources.

Igniting Our Imagination in Digital Learning and Pedagogy hosted by Bonni Stachowiak of Vanguard University of Southern California with guest Remi Kalir, Assistant Professor, Information and Learning Technologies at CU Denver. Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast, http://teachinginhighered.com/podcast/igniting-imagination-digital-learning-pedagogy/

A 30 minute podcast that focuses on play as an approach to learning and accessing   digital annotation technologies like Hypothes.is.  The conversation explores social reading as a mode for professional development for faculty, but also digs at the potential combination of digital annotation with classroom discussion as a powerful means of accessing texts.

Things to Read

Beyond the Yellow Highlighter: Teaching Annotation Skills to Improve Reading Comprehension by Carol Porter-O’Donnell. English Journal, May 2004, http://www.collegewood.org/ourpages/auto/2014/8/17/63598523/Beyond%20the%20Yellow%20Highlighter.pdf

Most of us who teach in reading-heavy disciplines have, ourselves, developed effective reading habits that combine highlighting, post-it notes, dog-eared pages, marked moments, coffee stained favorites, and kinetic flipping-across-pages with one’s own hands instead of clicks. O’Donnell’s source offers analog (nostalgic?) touch-stones that we might start to imagine transporting into digital environments.

Recommended by Megen O’Donnel

Welcome to the Post Text World. Multiple contributors: Farhad Manjoo, John Yuyi, Nellie Bowles, Mike Issac, Claire Cain Miller, Sapna Maheshwari, Amanda Hess. The New York Times, 14 February 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/02/09/technology/the-rise-of-a-visual-internet.html

A mash-up of articles exploring current multi-modal mediums. While some articles offer angst, others, describe empowering modalities. The central question that threads these articles asks how traditional media consumption habits and routines will necessarily change. For us, that question might be: what shifts in classroom instruction should we adopt to facilitate more effective reading/playing/watching/listening/swiping?

Reading on Electronic Devices by Diego Bonilla. https://goo.gl/AFXF8i

An interactive tutorial. Bonilla weighs the pros and cons of using eReaders, focusing on the preferences, behaviors, and outcome goals a student or instructor might bring to an act of academic reading. This is a great source to start encounter early, to weigh the value of eReaders yourself.

Recommended by Jim Julius

Annotation Technologies: A Software and Research Review by Joanna Wolfe, University of Louisville. Computers and Composition (paywall: access through MCC Library). 5 October 2002, https://doi.org/10.1016/S8755-4615(02)00144-5 .

Most of the devices and programs discussed here are outdated, but the theory that underpin this study still ignites the pedagogical imagination on fire. In fact, some of the tools linked at the bottom of this bibliography seem to have caught up with Wolfe’s ambition. This is definitely worth skimming to gain a framework for thinking about current technologies and programs.

The Digital Reader, The Alphabetic Writer, and The Space Between: A Study in Digital Reading and Source-Based Writing by Tanya K. Rodrigue, Salem State University. Computers and Composition (paywall: access through MCC Library), 6 October 2017, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2017.09.005.

A one year study of first year college students who were taught “think-aloud” strategies–screen-casting while reading and responding out-loud–as a means to actively read digital texts. The video-audio think-alouds allow insight into “the cognitive and affective processes” students employ while reading in digital environments when their goal is to write a source-based paper. What’s interesting: many of these students demonstrate they are reading at the sentence-level opposed to the level of concepts or ideas when reading on screens. This article essentially calls for instruction supporting “reading strategies specific to digital environments.”

Social Reading and the Online Classroom (Part I of II) by Katherine Jewel, Teaching United States History, http://www.teachingushistory.co/2018/03/social-reading-and-the-online-classroom-part-i-of-ii.html

A survey of tools and classroom activites that promote collaborative exploration of sources. This is a great source to pair with your own exploration of Perusall (linked below under Things to Try), which will also be demoed in our Zoom discussion.

Recommended by Rob Bond

Writing in Online Courses edited by Phoebe Jackson and Christopher Weaver. Myers Education Press, 2018​.

Recommended by Denise Stephenson

Being a Better Online Reader by Marina Konnikova. The New Yorker, July 16. 2014, https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/being-a-better-online-reader.

This article motivated me to read Proust and the Squid (also another great reading resource) and think about how our brains are structured and that relationship to the act of reading. What I like about this New Yorker article is how it discusses what digital reading seems to do to us. When we digitally read we skim and scan, we flit through other content, and we exhaust faster than reading with a physical text we can hold in our hands. From a double consciousness perspective as both a teacher online and in f2f classrooms and as a coach doing writing center work, this article reveals the struggles our students face reading in the digital age. But this article can also be a jumping off point to possible inform how you will teach digital reading techniques and strategies in an f2f or online writing class.

Recommended by Anne Fleming

Things to Try

Google Play, iBooks, The Kindle app, The Canvas app…and other eReader apps

Beyond Highlighting: How to Get the Most From Your Annotations by Rahul Saigal. Envato How-to Tutorials, https://computers.tutsplus.com/tutorials/beyond-highlighting-how-to-get-the-most-from-your-annotations–cms-20013 .

Common devices that most students bring to class everyday are equipped already with tools that facilitate close reading, highlighting, annotation, quick searches, and more. The benefit: every student can access a digital resource in class immediately. The detriment: instruction on how to use these annotation tools must differentiate because every device and software tool is just slightly different from student to student. The article above offers a nice overview: a starting place to develop a for-all-devices lesson on effective digital reading and annotation.


Skills and Strategies | Annotating to Engage, Analyze, Connect and Create by Jeremy Dean and Katherine Schulton. The Learning Network: Teaching and Learning with the New York Times, 12 November 2015, https://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/12/skills-and-strategies-annotating-to-engage-analyze-connect-and-create/?_r=0.

Jeremy Dean is the creator of Hypothes.is, an annotation program, but this isn’t an ad. They discuss the definition of annotating, different programs for doing it, and detailed ways to use it with students.

Recommended by Lisa Lane


Individual and Team Annotation Effects on Students’ Reading Comprehension, Critical Thinking, and Meta-cognitive Skills by Tristan E. Johnson, Thomas N. Archibald, and Gershon Tenenbaum. Collaboration across Florida State University and ADL Co-Lab,11 June 2010, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2010.05.014

This article has been uploaded into Perusall, a collaborative annotation tool that can be added to a Canvas course. You can explore Perusall and annotate the above article on annotation using Perusall by first joining our WritingwithMachines course or you can enjoy a demonstration of this tool by Lisa Lane during our Zoom meeting on March 8th from 7:00-8:00 pm.

Recommended by Lisa Lane


Online Teaching? I Felt Like Jumping Out of a One-story Building
S. Gutiérrez

Good evening colleagues,

It is a pleasure to finally join WritingwithMachines this semester.

When it comes to technology, I had always felt like a dinosaur. (My parents never allowed me to play PacMan or any other video game when I was a kiddo.) However, as an adult, I do my best to challenge myself and embrace technology because I consider myself a lifelong learner. A few years ago, I started teaching online introductory composition, using Blackboard, and I must confess it was a painful experience. (And I mean that—I felt like jumping out of a one-story building. Blackboard had so many glitches.) But lucky for me I survived.

Currently, the three campuses that I teach at, Palomar College, Mt. San Jacinto College, and MiraCosta College, have adopted Canvas. Teaching a fully online class for MSJC, using Canvas, has been a wonderful experience; students have an easier time navigating the LMS, and students ask less questions in my Q&A 24 Hour Forum. I have only had two questions since the start of the semester. Even though I do not feel knew to online teaching, after watching my colleagues, Jim Sullivan and curry mitchell’s navigation videos, I can see that I must continue to work on my course design since I realize it is missing the “cool” factor.

In Warnock’s “Chapter 1 Getting Started: Developing Your Online Personality,” I appreciated his ice breaker where he asks students about their debate topics without them necessarily sharing a standpoint (7). I will add Warnock’s idea to my Check-in Post next semester, so students start thinking about their research paper and continue the conversation throughout the semester.

What follow are four key principles I value in my online critical thinking and writing course I teach for MSJC.

Reciprocity and Cooperation among Students

In Teaching Writing Online, Scott Warnock shares what students write to test their professors and see if they are truly reading their work. “In extreme cases, students . . . test you by cutting and pasting from week to week, or by inserting nonsense in the midst of their posts,” writes Warnock. Because I value reciprocity and cooperation among students, it is critical that all students participate by replying since it is a Discussion Board Forum requirement. In my online class, every week/module requires at least two Discussion Board Forums. This week I added a Thesis Statement Workshop I do in my f2f classes since last semester I noticed that students need more practice crafting effective thesis statements. Students are expected to craft a working thesis statement and a present a revised thesis statement, based on all the feedback from their fellow classmates and myself.


As a student, I valued my English professors’ feedback that allowed me to grow as a writer, so I do my best to present quality feedback. As a professor, I present feedback that is timely, and my students can utilize to strengthen their writing. I am the type of professor that comments while students post their work. (At times, I believe I provide too much feedback. Am I overworking myself?) And after reading Warnock, I wonder what effect I have on my students. Am I the harsh critic Warnock references? I hope not. I also input grades immediately—or two to five days after students submit their work with the exception of essays. I usually return essays with a week and a half at the most.

Learning in Community

I was able to migrate Ian Barnard’s teaching methodology, Whole-class Workshops, to the online setting. I believe this is where students shine and value each other’s writing styles. At one point in the semester, students are expected to upload or copy and paste their essays into Canvas. All students are expected to provide constructive feedback for their peers. I remind my students that they should be able to produce A work if they revise, by utilizing their peers’ feedback and my commentary. By adopting Barnard’s Whole-class Workshops in an online community, students recognize their strengths and learn from each other’s rhetorical approaches.

Humanity in the Classroom

Once I started teaching online classes, I learned I needed to reach, metaphorically speaking, inside students, so I created Metacognitive Journal Entries. These journal entries require a thoughtful reflection about their fears, the writing process, study habits, among other topics. I find that students open-up and learn that I am a professor that truly cares about them and their writing.

What follows is a video I created for you-all.

First Post–Thinking about My Teaching & Teaching Online
First Post–Thinking about My Teaching & Teaching Online avatar


Hi Everyone,

My name is Cara Owens.  I am excited to participate in Writing with Machines to see how all of you teach and teach online. I believe it’s always good for me to get out of my teaching bubble.

A little about me: I started teaching for MiraCosta a year ago–English 49 and English 100. I have taught at SDSU in The Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies as a lecturer since 1998. I started teaching RWS 305W online Summer 2017 and am currently teaching three sections of RWS 305W Online at SDSU, and one section English 100 at MiraCosta.

I like that you are asking us to think of a framework for teaching online. When I first started teaching online last summer, I was so worried about how to transition my class over and how to work with some new technology, that I overlooked this question for the most part.

So here are a few of my key principles for my teaching and online teaching.

1. Creating learning/writing community. Students often come in to my class not feeling safe sharing their thoughts and writing. I do Roll Questions in my f2f classes such as something general, “What is the last movie you watched?” to questions about the homework, “What was your favorite sentence in the today’s assigned reading?” or “What is the title of your paper.” This gets students comfortable in class.  I also have all of my students homework on Discussion Board (Bb and now Canvas) even in my f2f classes.

My first discussion board post is always “Getting to Know You.” Students have
to post a picture of themselves standing in front of my office. However, for my
Online classes this doesn’t work so I just have them post a pic of themselves
as well as tell us about themselves. For all my discussion board homework,
students have to read and respond to at least three student posts to earn full

2. Writing as a Process. For each paper my students write, I guide them through the writing process by creating a series of reading/learning/writing opportunities. So basically, my calendar is set up to mimic the reading-thinking-writing (and back and forth since it is not so linear) process. I hope is that by doing this four times over the semester, they will have an idea of what they need to do when they are assigned a paper to write in their other courses.

3. A Safe Place for Risks and Mistakes. I try to lower my students affective filters by talking about my struggles with reading and writing. For example, I don’t read an text and get it the first time. In fact, many of the texts I assign my students to read, I have read multiple times over many semesters, and I still need to read it again every semester. And every semester, I get a new view of the text.

Same with writing. I talk about my procrastination and fears. How my house
gets clean when I have something to write, etc… I always have my students
start their papers before they know they are starting their papers. My
discussion board homework typically has questions they must write on
directly related to the prompt for the paper. I tell them “ Don’t worry about
perfect grammar and punctuation. Just get your ideas in writing–we will work
on the other stuff later.”  By the time they have done their discussion
homework assignments (3-5), they have enough writing to actually use for
starting their rough drafts.

I also tell students hat no one writes an essay/paper/letter perfectly their first
try. In fact that Ernest Hemingway rewrote/revised his ending to Farewell to
Arms thirty-nine times(some say forty-seven times?). Depending on what I
am writing, I may revise six, seven, eight times or more; until I am sick of it or
there is a deadline. (Thank God for deadlines!)

This relates back to Writing as a Process. Writing a paper really starts out
with when we start discussing a topic and read a text. The reading and
thinking, the mistakes and misunderstandings are all part of the process that
leads to an understanding.

4. My Role as Co-Learner. Warnock quotes George Collison and his coauthors as “describ(ing) three key facilitator roles tht you can take in an online  environment: guide on a side, instructor or project leader, and group process facilitator (33)” (3). I think this on the right track, but for me there is something missing from these roles. I really think of myself as a lifelong learner. I am not an expert, but I do have a lot of experience in reading and writing! I set up a series of learning experiences in my classes that lead my co-learners/students through our courses. I guide and facilitate, but I also learn alongside my students. And, most importantly, I learn from my students.

Ideas I connected with from Warnock:


“The continuous writing environment makes it ever possible for students to learn through their own work in a studio-like environment (Grego and Thompson 8)” (xii)

“I think that most dedicated teachers–writing or otherwise… go through periodic moments of malaise during which they suspect that everything they are doing is wrong… “ (xv).

“…I realize the humanistic potential of this environment. Writing teachers have a unique opportunity because writing-centered online courses allow instructors dn students to interact in ways beyond content delivery. They allow students to build a community through electronic means” (xix)

Chapter 1

“Initially, I felt very unsure about what kind of persona–what kind of voice–I would have as an online teacher” (1).

In the online writing class, you might be surprised to discover that (possibly for the first time) you are a real audience for your students’ writing” (3)

“Students no longer write just at assignment time. They must always be thinking about their writing practices in their course interactions” (4).

“Because the students don’t actually see me, I try to create links between us, not just to develop a sense of camaraderie, but to create an audience for them” (8).

“‘Setting up an appropriate learning climate is key to establishing a successful learning experience’(qtd in Conrad and Donaldson 46)” (9).

Here’s a short video of my online course at SDSU–RWS 305W (upper division writing requirement)


#Goals for my hypothetical online course
#Goals for my hypothetical online course avatar

Warnock’s recommendation in the introduction to organize the class around “your teaching style and strategies (ix) resonated with me, and made the daunting task of setting up an online course seem more approachable.  I started thinking about a few parts of my onsite classes that I like the best and I think are most helpful to students. They include:  

  1. Student-generated information on the elements of writing. Usually a few (or a lot) of students have prior knowledge about how an essay is organized, what goes into the intro, how to do an MLA in-text citation, etc. In my onsite classes I acknowledge this and have the students fill in the blanks during these discussions. For an online course, perhaps I could have a blank google doc that students can edit, filling in the info and providing suggestions to each other about some useful writing tools. We could have a day or so to fill in a bunch of information, and everyone could contribute at least one idea. Ideally it would help students gain confidence before they begin writing.
  2. “Conversations” about the readings. This is my favorite part of the onsite course, and I’m not sure exactly how it would work online. In a f2f class, the initial questions I ask to generate discussions are merely a jumping off point, and students go off on tangents, relate it to themselves, and explore unanticipated areas of the text. I’d like to keep some of that flexibility, and some possible ways to do that might be to have students come up with these discussion questions, or different groups work on different questions, or lots of students responding their peers’ posts.
  3. Feedback at all stages of writing process. In my class, we break the essay down into small chunks, and peers and I provide some type of feedback at every stage. In my onsite course we are limited by the number of times we meet each week, but online I could play with the due dates in a more effective way. I would like students to write about or submit some sort of brainstorm initially to get ideas flowing. Perhaps they could be in groups determined by the prompt they wish to answer. Then submitting and getting comments on an outline, a paragraph or two of the essay, then full rough draft.  Perhaps the course could be organized by modules, then week 1-4 or whatever within each module. Each unit’s activities will follow a similar trajectory so the expectations and workload are consistent, as curry mentioned in his video.

I’m sure I could think of more, but perhaps it’s best to start small so I’M not overwhelmed, never mind the students!

Additionally, something that struck me in this week’s reading was the reminder that an online class, as Warnock points out, “by its very nature – requires students to learn to use writing to interact with others” as well as  EVERY SINGLE OTHER TASK (xi) in order to complete the course. At the very least, students will get tons of writing practice in different venues online, whether casual or formal, with the instructor or other students.

Lastly, here is my video tour, and here’s the link to the original video I reference.

(After posting 5 times with the video embedded in my preview but not on the blog, I’ve used a hyperlink instead…I only have so much patience.)

My Principles (…which I dearly hope I reflect in my online courses!)

Something funny and perhaps a bit counter-productive about me is, while I’m completely comfortable presenting and speaking in front of groups f2f (see, I’m already using Warnock’s lingo!), I become quite anxious at the thought of POSTING my thoughts where people can read them. (Perhaps a little old-school social media PTSD? Fear of appearing the “fool” (Warnock 5)? Who knows.) Well, regardless of that, here I go!

Before discussing the key principles of teaching composition I hope to organize my online teaching around, I did want to comment briefly on our reading. (Sorry, I can’t resist! It’s the literature student in me!) I both agree with and deeply appreciate Warnock’s approach stating effective online teaching happens through a natural transition of moving “teaching talent zones”—from f2f to OWcourses. However, and perhaps this will be brought up later, although I agree teaching online can be effective—even more effective than f2f meetings in some circumstances—as an English instructor, part of my natural transition means holding onto a few effective f2f activities. At risk of seeming a Luddite, the one I’m currently primarily fixated on is having students use hard copies of texts rather than eBooks. I say this in response to annotating my own copy of Warnock’s text and considering the learning that happens through the act of annotation. There are several studies illustrating how important annotation is to reading comprehension; one such study done by Carol Porter-O’Donnell (no relation!) titled “Beyond the Yellow Highlighter: Teaching Annotation Skills to Improve Reading Comprehension” is a fine exploration of the skills students pick up during this process. While I concede there are ways to annotate eBooks as well, I personally feel there is something more organic and natural when students use a combination of highlighters, post-it notes, and their own handwriting. They can see where they’ve marked important moments, read what they thought in response to significant passages, and flip through the book with their own hands. Perhaps I’m just a little old-fashioned in this sense. Ah well! And, again, this is not me saying anything against online teaching itself; in fact, I think online teaching combined with students using hard-copies of texts can quite successful. Here’s a link to the aforementioned article in case you’re interested, by the by: cool article on annotation 😀

Alright, and with that small and humble note of dissent, my principles.

Right away, my impulse is to jump to my key-est of key principles of teaching composition, which also happens to be Chickering’s and Gamson’s seventh principle: respect diverse talents and ways of learning. Rephrased, to make what I teach accessible to everyone, from any social, economic, political, or cultural background. Of course, I know this is a challenge that we as teachers are called to meet again and again, and along with my various attempts there have been quite a few failures. Still, when designing my courses, considering their content, and actually teaching those lessons, I try to consider if and how the content will be effectively understood by my students. To that point, I really enjoyed what Warnock acknowledges: OWcourses “provide a needed method of delivering courses to people whose lives have undergone significant disruption” (xix). He calls this the “humanistic potential of [the OWcourse] environment” (xix). This is a lovely thought. Just as my content needs to be relatable for all my students, I need to also present it in a way for all students to easily understand and consider. I admire the ability for online courses to reach out to all students, regardless of who they are and where they live. I have grandiose daydreams of humble farmers in Nebraska, metropolitan business people in Chicago, lobster fishers in Maine, and tech-savvy entrepreneurs all taking an online English course of mine, commenting on each other’s posts, and coming to new and enlightening revelations about the world we all inhabit! Anyway. Daydreams aside, I feel having a strong consideration of the multiple learning styles when designing a course is absolutely essential. Face to face teaching allows us to make up for any short-comings in a lesson plan on the fly; if I’m teaching an article and notice several students look stumped, I can switch up my activities in hopes they’ll comprehend the material in a different format. Online classes don’t have that advantage. A wall of text might do for a few students, but by also incorporating videos, links, discussion forums, and (as Jim does) a blog for hands-on work and reflection can all lead to a higher level of success.

Another principle I have is to make the online platform as easy-to-use as I can. I appreciate what Warnock—I’m so tempted to continually type “Warlock”—has to say about the importance of using a writing context in which students are comfortable (xxii). Frankly, I somehow never considered this. I think who I usually end up noticing more are the students who are UNcomfortable with technology, those who I believe Warlock—that’s what I’m calling him now—references as “traditionally aged students” (xxv). Even with my very limited grasp of teaching-based technologies and simplified Canvas course shells, I’ve noticed there are almost always a handful of students who have trouble finding readings I put online—even when I post them directly on our course shell’s front page. This usually translates into me spending quite a lot of time with each of my more traditional students on a one-on-one basis as I attempt to slowly and carefully guide them through the mechanics of Canvas, Blackboard, or in the past, Moodle. However, for every student who struggles to find various readings and essay dropboxes, I have seven or eight who would appreciate more material being available online. So, finding a middle ground between my students who practically live on the internet and my students who begrudgingly open a web browser will be a bit of a challenge for me. This concept does, for me at least, directly tie into my first principle of reaching students from every background.

Yet another of Chickering and Gamson’s principles that I share is their first tenet: good practice in undergraduate education encourages contact between students and faculty. This seems to transition into Warlock’s (that’s his name now.) discussion of teachers as audience. He quotes Tisha Bender in contemplation of our “voice” and the necessity of having confidence, enjoyment, and enthusiasm (2). He also thoughtfully regards how teachers can appear as “unapproachable sages” (3-4) which of courses can scare students away from candid interaction and comfortable participation. He also points out we should not be the “chum,” but to be honest, if this were a scale, I would much rather tip towards the chum side. It’s crucial to me that I stay the “teacher with a capital T” (5), but I simultaneously deeply value my students feeling comfortable and safe. For that reason, I try to incorporate humor, jokes, small stories, and silly metaphors to add some spice to my lessons. This usually invites students to make their own jokes, and more importantly, often leads to a relaxed environment. Again, in my experience thus far, my students seem to learn better when they are happy, relaxed, and—at least to some small degree—enjoying themselves. Therefore, in my online teaching, I will make sure to incorporate gifs, images, and videos that while on the topic of whatever we are currently talking about, are also a bit silly. I try and will continue to try maintaining a “voice” that is both confident and guiding while also warm and, at times, entertaining. One concept Warlock briefly touches on is the “level of formality in your greetings and complimentary closings” (9). My salutation of choice is “Kindest regards,” something I admittedly stole from a previous professor of mine in grad school. Once in a while if I feel the need to be more formal I’ll state “Best” instead, but I often worry that I send out the wrong impression with it. Anyway, I am constantly metacognitively considering my voice, and the balance between warm and authoritative is one I strive to maintain. That balance will hopefully lead to students feeling comfortable with sharing their thoughts and responses.

Frankly, I share all seven of Chickering and Gamson’s principles. I want my students to learn from each other through cooperation, feedback, and comments. I’ll probably steal in cold blood several of Jim’s and Curry’s ideas. I also, as Jim does, feel both rubrics and models are essential for my students, many of whom have often never written an analysis before. I think rubrics are great ways to communicate the expectations I have for them, while my feedback (oh so essential in a composition course) helps to (hopefully) build, nourish, and foster their skills. In my classes, active learning happens most often through student response, participation, and discussion. Doing that also builds reciprocity and cooperation: when the answer can be found by students working and thinking together, it invites them all to join in.

So, in short, while I have an endless array of principles I hope to always reflect, the key three are to make my online teaching accessible to every type of student, to incorporate a variety of media in teaching assorted lessons, and to make sure students feel comfortable communicating with me and with each other.

I really hope this was an accurate response to the assignment!

I have yet to teach a fully online or hybrid course, and my course shells are auxiliary places for my students to discuss and post work more than anything. Therefore, I wanted to share a model course I’ve seen. This one is a wiki from when I was a TA during grad school. (Does a wiki count? I can find something else if it doesn’t!) I’m pretty rusty on my video skills, but here it is: