So You Do Not Understand the Directions . . . Hmm
S. Gutiérrez

Professor Tony Burman models a student-centered approach that will allow professors to design an engaging course content that allows students to develop critical thinking skills they can apply instead of regurgitating information. In Warnock’s “Chapter 4: Course Lessons and Content: Translating Teaching Styles to the OWCourse” and “Chapter 5: The Writing Course Syllabus: What’s Different in Online Instruction” allows potential and OWCourses instructors to reflect and rethink approaches to online learning from the student’s perspective.

The Syllabus and Other Critical Information

In previous WritingwithMachines, I expressed my dislike for Blackboard. However, after reading Warnock, I wonder how much could have been prevented, by following essential steps and providing detailed instructions in order for the professor, me, and students to have a fruitful online experience in those early years of learning to teach online.

As I mentioned before, I have, surprisingly, only had one Q&A post this semester. And it was for a PDF document that would not open for a student, but the document would open on my end. Even that minor discrepancy on the student’s end could have been prevented if I would have included as Warnock suggests the specific software, technology, students will need to use in the online setting.

I found myself smiling while reading Warnock since I practice what Warnock writes about the syllabus in Chapter 5. During the first week of class, my students read their syllabus, “Class Philosophy,” “Course Communication Policies,” “English 103 Glossary of Terms,” and “Required Books for English 103” (These are all Pages I create, using Canvas). In addition, by quizzing students on the week’s material, students will see that I am serious about the subject matter and that they cannot skip material. 

Chunking—An Online Necessity to Teach Online  

I have found that teaching online has improved my in-class activities because online assignments must be clear for students to follow directions without them feeling confused and/or getting lost. In online classes, chunking allows students to grasp difficult course content or rhetorical approaches. I was part of the generation that was thrown into essays; I do not recall doing specific activities that I could use or expand on in an essay. For this reason, any assignment that prepares my students for essay writing I title “X Application Paragraph in Preparation for Essay #2” . . . . I learned this approach from teaching online classes since I noticed that some students were trying to figure out shortcuts and/ or what to skip and still maintain a good grade. Not surprisingly, when students skipped these critical assignments, they do not do well on their essays. Such was the case of a student I will refer to as Carolina. Students were supposed to analyze a package, using the skills we reviewed in class in an Discussion Board Forum in addition to completing a Working Thesis Workshop, among other activities. When I noticed Carolina did not do well, in her feedback I wrote that we could discuss a revision. I revisited her work and noticed that Carolina had not completed assignments that would have helped her begin analyzing her package’s semiotic symbols. (I allowed Carolina to submit her work, and she did great.) I, of course, know that writing about a package, using a lens perspective is not easy, and I had to craft assignments that would allow students to practice their critical thinking skills and not become receptacles as Freire points out in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Students had to interpret colors, identify fallacies, advertising techniques, and rhetorical approaches instead of summarizing.

But Sometimes Whether I Chunk or Not 

What I find fascinating about OWCourses is that similar to f2f classes, every class has a personality. When I first started teaching critical thinking and writing, I was impressed with my MSJC online classes’ critical thinking skills and high caliber writing. However, this is the second critical thinking and writing class, where my students write as if they were in a freshman composition. It is rather shocking when instructions are clear and to the point, and students submit work that does not address the prompt, (which is demoralizing for me as an online instructor) since I take writing very seriously. And do wonder if a small percentage of students believe that online classes are “easier.” Sigh. What do you think? Do students have a faulty perception of online classes? (Write whatever, and you’ll get a good grade. Not going to happen.)

E-mail Guidelines Can Make the Haystack of E-mails Go Away

Unlike Warnock, I only encourage students to communicate via email if it is a private matter. I appreciated how the author requests his students to include specific details in order to identify and organize students’ incoming emails. These minor changes make teaching online a pleasant experience.

At MSJC, professors must open their course shell a week in advance. Before, I would feel overwhelmed as a digital immigrant; however, now I am grateful that my online class is ready to go before the start of the semester, so I can focus my energy on other classes. Several times, I have been on family trips when the semester has started, and it feels great to experience the freedom that comes with online teaching. This semester I  answered student questions via email all the way from Puebla. (Had I been teaching a f2f class, our family trips would be shorter.)

How Do I Continue Growing as an Online Instructor—Synchronous Conversations

I am looking forward to seeing how I can add synchronous activities in my online course, since even though I teach online, I have not explored this modern way of communicating with a small group of people. I found Warnock’s practice of opening a chat room before an assignment is due worth exploring (41). I can see myself setting a time for questions, and hopefully a student, such as Carolina, would ask questions and avoid writing essay that lacks an intellectual analysis.