Concerning the Case of Content Creation

A lot of Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 had me thinking “well, of course”. I think, in general, my favorite aspect of Warnock’s text is his common-sense approach; his recommendations are well-explained, and he comes from a surprisingly conservative position in explaining why he sets up his courses the way he does. He has the feel of an old-school writing professor who has moved to the online realm in order to keep proficient, efficient, and up-to-date. I like it. On those notes:

Socratic Seminars: Warnock makes an excellent point when he mentions we often see more success in online Socratic-style discussions than onsite. I’m willing to wager a good majority of English professors use Socratic Seminar discussion; I certainly do, as it is an effective and fun way to have students interact with course material. (There are, of course, always ground rules laid down beforehand.) One of the possible dangers during onsite Socratic-seminars is students “waiting for their turn to speak”—in other words, the inclination to forgo active listening, especially in regard to their peers’ comments and ideas.

For an OWcourse, students could be required to read and actually respond to their colleagues’ posts. Many of my experiences with online classes asked that I use my classmates’ actual words in my response-posts which made for better interaction and learning. This would lead to a better dialogue and actual conversation. Socratic Seminars are definitely activities I would use in my OWcourses.

Literature Circles
: The discussion of Socratic seminar made me think of literature circles, an assignment I use in several classes. Online, students can be broken up into groups of five. Each person would be assigned a specific role to complete alongside the reading for the week. Then, on the designated discussion board, each student would post their role and be asked to respond to the other four posts in turn. After the task has been completed, their roles would then switch, and the process repeat for the next week.

Peer-Review Groups
: One of Warnock’s suggestions for synchronous conversation that made me go “oh, duh!” was his recommendation to keep synchronous chat groups at five or fewer students. (As a quick side note, his exasperation with student lingo made me laugh; I had a class where I asked my students to each list and explain one colloquial slang-term they use nowadays, which made for a fun class. It led to fascinating dialogue on globalization’s effect on how we communicate and why.)

All of my onsite peer review sessions are conducted by breaking students up into groups of four; OWcourses take this method and improve upon it. My idea would be to have students spend several hours reading the other three student papers beforehand and write up responses via previously assigned guided questions. Then, with myself as a moderator, each group would meet up synchronously for one to two hours at a specific time. Each student’s paper would take a turn being the focus piece as the other three students give their feedback and comments. At the end, students would send or link their responses to each other.

I like this idea a little more than PeerMark due to the interactive nature and the ability for students to chat with each other real time. They could still copy and paste a lot of their comments—and I’d still certainly be asking them to look for and respond to specific concepts—but it gives them the space to ask questions and collaborate, reducing confusion and leaving each with a strong set of revision suggestions.

Chunking: Warnock paraphrases Smith and explains “online course content should include several components: it should be chunked into short learning segments; allow students to review the material; let students pause at any point without going back to the beginning and provide clear instructions” (30-31). Smith’s idea of chunking is invaluable. I think a lot of us already use it, but I can see OWcourses as needing a greater degree of space between ideas. Onsite, we have the advantage of witnessing confusion, answering questions right away, and slowing down the presentation of information when needed. Online, it’s very difficult if not impossible to know when students aren’t “getting it”. Therefore, breaking up a lesson into chunks is vital.

Syllabi: At the end of our certification process, I’ll probably realize I agree with around 98% of everything Warnock has to say. Yet another point of solidarity was his advice a syllabus be detailed and elaborate (38). For years and for every syllabus I’ve ever seen, the divide between the two mindsets seems to solidify: there are professors who like their syllabi to be as short and to the point as possible, and then there are professors who treat their syllabi as the keys to class success. I fall in the second camp, and strongly advocate having syllabi that are both easy to understand and thorough. In my experience, having a detailed syllabus has really helped my students greatly; I receive very few e-mails asking “obvious” questions, and students save time recalling basic class policies, assignments, and other information.

A few points Warnock makes that are invaluable to OWcourse syllabi are accessibility, message rules, and chat/IM/synchronous contact, accountability, and the schedule:

1) Accessibility (and on that note, chat/IM/synchronous contact): Letting students know—nay, ensuring students know exactly how to reach me will prevent many, many headaches. Aside from specifying how long it will take me to respond to e-mails, having a designated time each day or week in which I’ll be online in the chatroom will allow students to ask questions real time. I will aim to do this twice a week, but that’s just my as of yet inexperienced prediction. It could be that it’s only viable to conduct such Q&A sessions once a week. (Udemy does this, by the way, and it’s a fun and interactive way to learn about new subjects. I’m currently casually partaking of their free astronomy course.)

2) Message rules: This was a cool concept! Asking students to label their e-mails is a great way to organize the avalanche of messages I already receive. I’m going to try this out for my onsite classes, too.

3) Accountability: I have a clause in each of my syllabi detailing to students the workload and expectations for each class. (To be completely honest, this is yet another idea I’ve borrowed [with permission!] from Kelly Hagen.) I’ve copied and pasted it below:

Committing to being a college student is just like committing to a job: you have responsibilities and obligations as a student to be present, do your work to the best of your ability, and develop academically. For every unit you are taking, you should expect to spend approximately 2-3 hours outside of class per week working on assignments, projects, readings, etc. If you are a full-time student (a student taking 12 units in one semester), you have taken on the equivalent of a full-time job. Therefore, English 50 is comparable to a semester-long part-time job.

As severe as it sounds—and I do “lighten up” the tone while explaining it to them—having this clause really helps. Sometimes it seems that students treat their classes like clubs: they can participate when they want to, and they can ignore the work if it interferes with their jobs, hobbies, etc. Not only does this thought perplex me, it’s something I have a hard time not taking to heart. Letting them know these expectations helps mitigate the aforementioned potential issues.

4) Schedule: Of course, students need to know what they need to complete and when to complete it. Having as detailed a schedule as possible for my onsite classes has been indispensable; even when students miss several classes in a row, they can keep up with the work and stay on-track to pass. OWcourses need to have as much information as possible for the very same reasons. As there isn’t an in-person onsite class, guiding students with specific details on what to accomplish each day is essential.

Games!!!!!!!!: Finally, Warnock barely touches on the concept, but I immediately zeroed in on his idea to use video games and simulations. It reminds me of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline—a fascinating novel I highly recommend everyone read. I won’t spoil anything, but in the book, all students go to school via virtual reality. They literally put on a headset and tactile gloves to enter an online classroom and learn by being plugged into these simulations. While this possibility seems closer to reality than it did even three years ago, it’s still a bit of a jump from what I’ve been considering. I would love to somehow conduct a class session or two (or even an entire course) via an MMORPG. To be honest, I don’t know how I would do that, it’s just a desire at the edge of my mind. I think video games are vastly overlooked in the academic realm which is a real shame. There’s some excellent potential to teach a whole slew of subjects. Just think about games with co-op modes (Portal, for example) and problem-solving puzzles (any game with quests). These aside, there are lots of action-adventure games that contain well thought-out stories. All of these could serve as the basis for a whole bunch of assignment types and activities. …All I need is a grant to do some research, and I can provide both results and hard proof! 😉

As a side note, thank you for sharing Warnock’s blog with us, Curry—it made me chuckle to see our esteemed orator of online orientation has a BlogSpot. I had a BlogSpot back in the day. It’s lovely scholars such as Warnock are so free and open with their knowledge and resources; the generosity and teamwork expressed by so many of our notable instructors truly makes me proud of the teaching profession. There are so many wonderful people in our vocational sphere!

Random Thoughts on Tony’s Video
I loved the quip on Nixon discussing blogs and wikis. I’ve used Charlie Chaplin as a “guest-lecturer” to illustrate rhetorical devices and effective argumentation. 🙂

Two lovely comments from Tony: “I haven’t lectured at them…I’ve let them explore.” Yes. Exploratory learning has been proven time and again as highly successful and engages all seven learning styles.
“Individual students making individual decisions for themselves about sophisticated writing.” I think in OWcourses it will always come down to this point, which highlights the importance of students reaching conclusions themselves, rather than “banking” the info into them.

You know, I always thought that Coca-Cola commercial was pretty effective. And now that song will be stuck in my head for the rest of the week…