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)


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  1. Pingback: Sequence 1 Wrap Up | WritingwithMachines

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