The Power of Community in the Face-to-face and Online Environment

In “Chapter 14—Collaboration: Working in Virtual Groups,” Warnock writes about the many ways OWCourses can incorporate group work in the online setting. As I mentioned in “Warnock Says Professors Can Burn Out from Grading—Good to Know It’s Not All in My Head!” I am not a fan of peer editing in small groups. I do agree with Warnock when he writes, “a workshop-style can develop” (149) in online classes since that is what I have witnessed in my fully online class(es), where I adopt Ian Barnard’s Whole-class Workshops. When I started teaching online, I knew I would have to figure out a way to migrate my face-to-face Whole-class Workshops activity as a communicative teaching methodology into the online environment.

I learned about Whole-class Workshops during my graduate days at California State University San Marcos when Ian Barnard, professor of Rhetoric and Composition and scholar, visited our campus. Since then, I have adapted Barnard’s approach to the community college student. As a professor, I learned I did not want to deal with excuses: “I didn’t read,” “I was absent,” or “I didn’t get the attachment.” After learning about Barnard’s Whole-class Workshops, I decided my future classes would adopt his methodology but would have to adapt to the needs of community college students: 1) We would have to distribute and workshop student papers on the spot. 2) In pairs using different colored pens, students would learn to diligently read and mark up their peers’ work (for about thirteen minutes). 3) The entire class would provide feedback out loud. 4) Scheduled classmates (the workshoppees) would join the discussion with any lingering questions.

Writing Workshops Face-to-face Approach

For freshman composition and critical thinking and writing classes, I have had to design an approach that works best with my face-to-face classes. What follows is a rough ROUGH outline of my approach to Whole-class Workshops in the classroom:

1.        Craft a schedule that includes all the students in the class. (The workshops will take three weeks of the semester. Assign “Adapted from Ian Barnard’s ‘Whole-class Workshops: The Transformation of Students into Writers’ for English 100” at least three weeks in advance. Below you will see a screenshot of a sample Whole-class Workshop schedule. (I used to print out the schedule, but now students can easily access the schedule on Canvas.)

2.       For freshman composition courses, introduce students to Ian Barnard’s Whole-class Workshops: the role of the facilitator, the role of the workshoppee (I made this word up), the timekeeper, and critics (Everyone becomes the professor).

What follows is a list of steps I take to familiarize students to Whole-class Workshops and allow them to visualize the class sessions:

  • Discuss creative whole-class workshops (during my graduate days creative writing professors used the same model): “Let’s pretend you’re the poet, you’re the novelist . .
  • The setup (a large circle). Visually, this large class circle arrangement brings the class together. I always make sure we close the gap and ensure students never give a fellow classmate his, her, or their back if a student trickles in a bit late.
  • Tell students about the number of copies they must make (11-14) and being ready (stress accountability). In graduate school, we printed all our classmates’ work.
  • Discuss the importance of attendance and participation. (During workshops, I take notes on who arrives late and who responds during the workshop.)
  • Discuss the types of questions we will address during Whole-class Workshops.
  • Food—writers love treats. We talk about the food we will be sharing and eating during these workshops—Starbuck’s coffee and tamales . . . fruit
  • Discuss four memorable unfavorable/strange Whole-class Workshop scenarios (The time a student facilitator’s pupils were dilating (Palomar College), the time a student fainted (MiraCosta College), the time students had a giggle attack (Palomar College), the time a student presented a paper that presented one logical fallacy after another (A long time ago at Palomar College)
  • Answer any muddy thoughts about Whole-class Workshops

3.        Whole-class Workshop Reflection and Grade

  • In my f2f classes, when we conclude our writing circles, students write a Metacognitive Journal Entry about their Whole-class-Workshop experience that includes the students grading themselves.  

Fully Online Whole-class Workshops Approach

1.        Create a Whole-class Workshop Module (Students read the Whole-class Workshop introductory material at least three weeks in advance), assign “Adapted from Ian Barnard’s ‘Whole-class Workshops: The Transformation of Students into Writers’ for English 103,” introduce students to the Whole-class Workshops Schedule, and assign a Whole-class Workshop Quiz. Below you will see a screenshot of a sample of a fully online Whole-class Workshop schedule. 

What follows is a list of steps I must take to ensure we have successful Whole-class Workshops in my online classes:

  • Students participate in one Peer-editing Free-write Discussion Board Forum to discuss previous peer-editing experience—positive and/or negative.
  • Share a list of questions students can address during Whole-class Workshops.
  • For every Whole-class Work Week, I must create 7 to 8 Whole-class Workshop Discussion Board Forums. Students must attach and copy and paste their essay to their designated Whole-class Workshop Discussion Board Forum (In case a student’s paper looks off, students can access the attachment.)
  • Students must post their essays by Wednesday, and classmates must critique and reply to their classmates’ essays by Sunday.

2.       Online Whole-class Workshop Reflection Assignment

  • Students write one Metacognitive Journal Entry about their first Whole-class Workshop experience after the first week of workshops.

3.        Similar to a face-to-face class, if students are absent, they get 0 points for participation, and their grade is negatively affected. (Students who test me, meaning, perhaps, if they don’t participate, I won’t find out, write to me right away to inform me they misunderstood the assignment when they notice their grade significantly dropped.) I, of course, allow online students to add their feedback. In my face-to-face classes, as stated in the syllabus, students cannot make up missed Whole-class Workshops.

Whole-class Workshop Failures and Successes

In my few years of teaching online teaching, I have only had three or four memorable negative Whole-class Workshop incidents: 1) The white male student who did not think his fellow Black female classmate should write about racism 2) The white male student who would not address his classmates by name. 3) A female Latina student who claimed in a Metacognitive Journal Entry (private message) her fellow classmates’ feedback was not strong. I responded to the student that, perhaps, it meant she was a high caliber writer; I also shared my not so favorable college peer-editing experiences. Not surprisingly, when it was finally her turn to receive feedback on her paper, her classmates did provide constructive feedback.

Students in my face-to-face class and online classes get to share an essay that they are proud of or a paper that they are struggling with (I do not decide this—this is the pattern I have observed). At the end of each workshop, students leave a workshop with more than a handful of ideas they can apply to their essays (In my classes, revisions are due at the end of the semester). Students comment on how much they appreciated reading their classmates writing styles. Over the years, I have enjoyed being part of these discussions, and judging from students’ body language in my face-to-face classes, they too enjoy Whole-class Workshops since  these workshops allow students to grow as writers and thinkers. And students know it!