In this video, I share an activity that uses group writing to generate engagement and collaboration, introduce rhetoric, and give students a more meaningful sense of their first major essay.
In this video, I share a simple way to generate pre-semester engagement using student favorites and Google Docs.
In all of my syllabi, I include a list of “Top Ten Reminders.” The last reminder is dedicated to interaction and sharing: “Avoid learning in a bubble. Interact. Take chances. Risk embarrassment. Help your peers become better writers and thinkers. Help build a unique community. If you discover something on YouTube that’s related to a reading, share it with the class. If you watch a movie that’s relevant to our discussions, share it with the class. If you find a brilliant sentence that makes you jealous and keeps you from sleeping at night, share it with the class. Don’t be selfish with the good words. Sharing is better than not sharing.” With this in mind, I just wanted to thank you all for sharing the goods. I feel super lucky to have ongoing access to all of you and your amazing ideas. My students will no doubt benefit from your generous minds.
In terms of my dream class, at the recent mid-semester meeting, Violeta Sanchez, Tyrone Nagai and I shared six approaches or six ways of thinking about the shared lens assignment:
- Overt vs. Covert
- Discovering vs. Rediscovering
- Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up
- Narrow vs. Wide
- Backwards vs. Forwards
- Bound vs. Unbound
On the one hand, these approaches were offered as a way to sort of breathe new life into the assignment. On the other hand, they were really about teaching and calling attention to the options we have as writing instructors. To use a food metaphor, in my mind, they are some of the best ingredients we have available to us. How we’re able to cook with them, however, changes based on the kitchens in which we cook and those for whom we do the cooking.
In the F2F classroom, I feel free and excited to play with these kinds of approaches. Using them here feels far more doable and like I have a greater chance of creating those magical “ah-ha” moments we strive to create. I love teaching covertly, for instance, and introducing without introducing, so students can rediscover that which they had just discovered but in a way that’s suddenly meaningful. In the OWC, it ain’t so easy. I mean, using these approaches is possible, sure, but at this point, because of my lack of experience and execution, I find the effect to be far less magical. It’s like experiencing bananas foster tableside versus onscreen: there’s fire and yet there isn’t.
In addition to featuring holograms and teleporters, my dream course would be one that enables me to utilize these kinds of approaches in a manner that somehow feels more like the tableside spectacle. There would be heat and smell. Speaking of which, early celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse used to remind his audiences during Emeril Live to call their cable providers to request Smell-O-Vision. He wanted them to experience what he was smelling in the studio from their couches. In many ways, my OWC could benefit from something like Lagasse’s Smell-O-Vision. If I could find ways to migrate these approaches to the OWC, meaningfully and frequently, and ultimately use them to build rich communities, that would probably be better than a hologram and pretty close to a teleporter.
Here are my posts. Thank you again, folks:
Full Disclosure – My apologies for the late post, folks. My fiancé and I just had a baby, which has left me learning how to balance work and fatherhood mid-semester. Good times.
Thanks for Waiting – Reading “OWI Principle 1” about inclusivity and accessibility brought back memories of classroom moments where students would give me that look that essentially said, “Seriously, Tsuyuki, I wish you would have given this to us earlier. Now we have to go back and change things.” As I made my way through the guidelines and eventually the effective practices for “OWI Principle 1,” it didn’t take long for me to feel like the topic, “Accessibility and Universal Design,” could have come earlier. There was definitely that initial thought: Dang, Curry and Jim, why didn’t you give this to us earlier? Why wasn’t this our first topic? Now I have to go back and change everything. But then I snapped out of it, remembered how I tend to teach bottom-up vs. top-down, and wondered where I would have been had I started with such an explicit framework. In other words, thanks for saving this topic for later. Doing so allowed me to design authentically and unfiltered, which I see as good and bad, but mostly good. But now, after taking in this week’s readings, I have a chance to revisit, rethink, and refine. While some of this is already happening, much will happen later.
Today – In terms of recent upgrades, I recently addressed “Effective Practice 1.4” by adding Zoom to my online course. What a great resource! I mean, I had some sense of it though the online Canvas workshops that were offered during Flex, but hosting an unscheduled Zoom session after receiving an email from a student who wasn’t making progress with an essay was an amazing experience. It was spontaneous—similar to an onsite student who drops in when you’re not holding hours—yet surprisingly productive—similar to that onsite student who drops in and isn’t expect much but leaves with printouts and promising direction. While there’s still a sense of regret for not using Zoom sooner, I’m far more excited about my next session.
Tomorrow – In terms of what’s ahead, I greatly appreciated the tips in Emily Moore’s Faculty Focus article, “Improve Accessibility in Tomorrow’s Online Courses by Leveraging Yesterday’s Techniques.” The recommendations made perfect sense, and I was glad to see her include examples throughout to illustrate her ideas. (In thinking about Warnock and some of my comments about his chapter on collaboration, I think his text would benefit at times from these types of concrete examples.) During the upcoming winter break, I look forward to revisiting my course and applying Moore’s ideas to my content—everything from succinct writing and annotated links, to pronoun usage and captioned videos. I’m also going to revisit Bill Pelz’s JALN article, “(My) Three Principles of Effective Online Pedagogy” (2004), which focuses on letting students do most of the work, interactivity, and types of presence. While I’m still making my way through it, the article seems like a nice supplement to Moore’s.
Candy Contributions – That being said, while I found Moore to be helpful overall, for new and experienced online instructors, I had a hard time getting on board with her thoughts on cutting extraneous material. According to Moore, “Sighted students can learn to ignore extraneous ‘eye candy’ and text. That’s not the case for students relying on screen readers, which give the same presentational weight to long-winded, repetitious material and critical course concepts. Make sure every paragraph, image, activity, and video clip you add to an online course contributes directly to your course’s stated learning objectives.” Really? Every element? Everything has to tie back to an objective? Personally, that sounds awful. I mean, I’d probably have to scrap my class photo! I understand the concern in terms of those students relying on screen readers, but I can’t imagine a course that’s “all business, all the time.” Community is often rooted in that which doesn’t tie back to objectives. I won’t get into specific examples that are meaningful to the course experience yet don’t tie back to objectives, but if the concern is screen readers being unable to ignore optional/extraneous content like a sighted student, couldn’t we simply add a brief disclaimer to non-objective-based moments in the course? What am I not seeing? Help me, Jim J!
Rethink Culture – Ultimately, what I like about this week’s topic is how it feels familiar. It reminds me of some of the subcommittee work we’ve done in PG&E. It calls to mind how MCC has evolved since I was hired back in 2010. By evolve, I’m referring to what we now offer, who we now represent, those we now celebrate through PDP, for instance, and opportunities like the Cultural Competency Conference. Consider this month and how we’re experiencing this evolution via a robust number of events dedicated to celebrating distinct heritages and histories: Pilipinx, LGBTQIA+, Latinx and Chicanx. In my mind, when I think of how we’ve evolved and where we are today, I can’t help but place ideas like “inclusivity” and “accessibility” in the same space as, or maybe under the umbrella of, cultural competency. Am I alone in thinking WwM is enabling us to become increasingly competent in the dynamic culture that is OWI?
Larger Context – The other day I received the latest issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College (TETYC). This particular issue is a special issue dedicated to preparing two-year college English teachers. In the feature article, “TYCA Guidelines for Preparing Teachers of English in the Two-Year College,” the task force makes one explicit reference to online pedagogy. It’s included toward the end of a curriculum bullet point: “Expand graduate course offerings to include topics valuable to faculty teaching in open admissions and teaching-intensive colleges and universities, including two-year colleges. Such topics include basic writing, literacy education for culturally and linguistically diverse students populations, writing assessment, writing program administration, writing center theory, online pedagogy, and multimodal composition (Calhoon-Dillahunt et al. 15). As someone who hasn’t been subscribing to TETYC for all that long, I was wondering: “To what extent are WwM-ish conversations being addressed by TETYC and TYCA?” This year’s TYCA Pacific Coast conference at Miramar was dedicated to “Inspiration, Innovation, Inclusion,” for instance, but I’m not sure what it looked like or to what extent OWI was represented because the ECCTYC link is broken 🙁
Still, I do wonder how two-year college scholarship has addressed this world in which we find ourselves so immersed these days. If the answer is that it really hasn’t, perhaps our posts are at the beginnig stages of something bigger.
Full Disclosure – I started working on this post and generating ideas for a collaborative assignment before reading Chapter 14. There were two simple reasons behind this approach: I had a few ideas that I didn’t want to lose, so I started writing before they had a chance to escape. The second reason is about influence: I wanted to get me on the page first and then see if Warnock and I shared some of the same ideas. This resulted in a section that encourages students to consider collaboration approaches and a system that works for the group, which speaks to Warnock’s point about student roles (149). I found this section to be particularly helpful and assuring. That being said, while I’m definitely an online newbie, at this point I’m not sure I agree with Warnock’s idea of “identifying a clear leader” (149) in each group that instructors can check in with. It makes sense in terms of instructors being able to check in with designated students, but I don’t like the idea of establishing, at least early on, roles with obvious connotations. I’d prefer to let these roles surface gradually, organically, and ideally remain title-free. However, as you’ll read below, I do emphasize the importance of developing a system and setting “reasonable goals and deadlines early on that can be adjusted based on the needs of the project and group.”
Finally, perhaps this was just me, but I was really hoping Warnock would share actual content—i.e., the instructions and guidelines he gives his students for the argument website project he mentions (148). I wanted to see what the students were seeing to get a better sense of how he actually delivers ideas. To what extent is his language bound/closed vs. unbound/open? Where and when, if at all, does he offer clear “must/should” requirements? How does he go about inviting his students to explore exactly? For this reason in particular, I’m including actual steps/content that I’m planning to share with my own students later this semester. But it’s just a draft. I look forward to hearing any thoughts on how I’m delivering the assignment to students. Is there too much at times? Too little? Am I too prescriptive? Room for clarification? Where are the holes or gaps? Potential issues down the road? Is the reflection letter too short? Too long? Is the project too complicated and ambitious? Grading thoughts? Do I need additional layers? How might you rethink parts? Should I scrap the whole thing?
Context – In a few weeks, my students will wrap up Unit 2 and begin Unit 3. This third unit will focus on food production and ultimately result in essays based on John Robbins’s No Happy Cows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Food Revolution. After reading the book and getting a sense of the various topics—pork, chicken, beef, soy, chocolate, coffee and more—students will consider what’s not in the book and eventually argue how a new chapter on a specific topic would strengthen it. In other words, they get to join the conversation. What’s particularly challenging for students is making clear, meaningful connections. They have to know the book well in order to argue why a new chapter idea is a good fit; they have to be able to articulate, for instance, how a new chapter would build upon or set up existing chapters and ideas. It’s kind of like a book review. Kind of.
In addition to reading the book and thinking about new chapter ideas, students will also take part in a collaborative group project related to the topic of food. Essentially, they’ll be creating brochures that spotlight human rights issues tied to food. This emphasis compliments the third section of the book, “Industrial Food Production—and Other Dirty Dealings,” which examines human rights issues in the chocolate and coffee industries.
Below are some of the instructions I’m planning to share with students. I’m still developing content, and I’m even thinking about delivering the content through a Canva brochure like the kind they’ll be creating:
The Group Project
The Challenge – This assignment includes two parts, the brochure and the reflection letter.
The Brochure & Audience – Together with your group, you’ll create a stunning brochure designed specifically for English 100 students. This will be your specific audience. Building on some of the ideas from Unit 3 and No Happy Cows, your brochure will spotlight a specific human rights issue tied to food production and include the following elements:
- Visuals – Since it’s going to be a stunning brochure, you’re probably going to need at least two relevant visuals.
- Words – You’ll contextualize your visuals by addressing current status, causes, impacts, previously attempted/proposed solutions, and your group’s new proposed solution. What’s taking place today? How might you introduce and show the issue? What are some of the causes behind this issue? How did we get here? How does the issue impact people (physically, mentally, etc.), specific communities, industries, the environment and more? What has been done to address the issue? What new solution has your group created?
- Works Cited – Of course you have to use one of your panels to cite your sources, which include your visuals.
Ultimately, to create a memorable brochure, you’ll need to utilize the tools you acquired from our second unit on communication and rhetoric. In other words, you’ll need to demonstrate your ability to use visual and textual rhetoric based on a specific audience. It’s not just about generating awesome content. It’s also about how you deliver this awesome content.
The Reflection Letter – After you complete your brochure with your group, you’ll develop your own reflection letter (500 words minimum), based on your unique experience, for future English 100 students. Essentially, you’ll reflect on the collaboration experience—your system, the process of creating the brochure, how you thought about the audience, your role in the group, what worked, what didn’t, what you would do differently and more. In addition to explaining the experience, you’ll also need to provide specific (showing vs. telling) advice to future English 100 students about how they should approach the assignment. You’ll submit your reflections through Turnitin, which is to say, I’m the only one who will be reading these reflections.
The System & Getting Started – Figuring out the best way to collaborate will be essential to your success. What works for one group, might not work for another, so try to develop a system that works for your group. Some of you might begin with a Google Doc (set to “edit”) to brainstorm ideas. Others might start by adding initial thoughts to the DBQ 10 post. There are also options like email, FaceTime, Google Duo, and video conferencing sites like Zoom. Finally, if you’re in the same area, some of you might even find that meeting in person at a coffee shop or MCC is the most efficient way to get started. Overall, it’s probably a good idea to get a sense of schedules and see when folks have time to work on the project. Even if you can’t meet in person or chat via video call, you’ll probably be more productive if you set reasonable goals and deadlines early on that can be adjusted based on the needs of the project and group. Without a sense of schedules and some kind of system, you could easily grow frustrated waiting around for a response or for someone to submit a portion of the project. Seriously: Get organized early to avoid headaches later.
The Issue – After you chat with your classmates and establish a system that works for your group, you should start researching various human rights issues tied to food production. Where should you start? Excellent question! Personally, I think Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are great places to locate current issues and legit articles, but there are plenty of others just a few clicks away. Don’t forget our wonderful library and librarians—they’re excellent resources—and don’t forget about moving beyond Google. There’s Google Scholar, for instance, as well as MiraCosta’s Databases. Once you’ve had a chance to share your research with your group, you’ll need to select a human rights issue to feature in your brochure.
The Template – Head over to Canva, which you already used for DBQ 8, and check out the “Brochure” templates. You and your group will need to decide on a template. Don’t forget your audience.
The Grading – Half of your grade will be based on your group’s brochure and half will be based on your reflection letter to future English 100 students.
The Groups – Open DBQ 10 to discover the magic that is your unique group.
I recently finished responding to three sets of drafts, which is to say, the timing of this first topic is timely. Of course, given who’s facilitating the discussion, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that our first topic of discussion comes at an opportune moment. Thank you, WwM hosts, for this great opportunity to reflect!
What I’m Doing Today – In my online sections, I’ve mainly been using the Canvas discussion board (DB) to assess writing. Specifically, during these past few weeks, I’ve used the board for weekly discussion board questions (DBQs) and essay drafts. I’m also using Google Docs toward the end of the workshop process as a formative tool. How does it work exactly? For each major essay, students complete three formal workshops prior to submitting a final draft. For first drafts, I use the Canvas DB to facilitate the workshop process. I find that it creates a more inviting, less formal space to generate, share, and respond to ideas. Students don’t have to worry about margins, spacing, or other MLA issues. It’s all about ideas, appropriateness, and development–elements I addressed in my response to the question about that which often prompts feedback. In terms of workshop format, since this is a my first time teaching 100% online, I’m keeping things relatively simple. How simple? For the first Canvas DB workshop, students complete two steps:
- Part 1 – Copy and paste the first 1-2 pages of your draft directly into your post. Do not post a link to a Google Doc. Although we will be using Google Docs this semester, you only need to paste your draft into your post for this first workshop.
- Part 2 – Provide feedback to the draft posted before yours by replying to the post and using the following workshop questions. If you are the first to post, you can reply to the draft of your choice. If you are the last to post, I will respond to your draft.
While this approach certainly limits the amount of feedback being received, I think limited feedback is actually beneficial at this early point in the semester because it’s less overwhelming, especially for those new to the workshop experience and/or those less confident in their writing. During this critical part of the semester, I’m far more concerned with easing students into the workshop process, posting drafts and offering feedback, and fostering an online culture and community that is comfortable and constructive. By the third workshop, however, students are posting active links to their Google Docs and offering focused feedback to key passages based on guiding questions and prompt guidelines. So, whereas the first two workshops ask students to post and respond to the Canvas DB, the third workshop asks students to add comments to a Google Doc in addition to providing summative comments as a kind of final reminder for the writer.
In terms of my own role, for the Canvas DB drafts, I’ve been using simple rubrics and providing additional written feedback through SpeedGrader, ultimately working hard, as Warnock notes early in Chapter 11, to immerse myself “textually into the class” (122). (On a related note, visual immersion is also vital, in different ways and moments, hence my modest class photo. It’s designed to give students a big-picture view of their class, an opportunity select a digital seat, and a chance revisit the those elementary school days when class photos were taken.) But back to the topic: To reinforce individual comments, I also provide feedback via announcements and weekly notes. What are these weekly notes of which I speak? Essentially, my Canvas home page, which is designed to mimic smartphone home screen with apps, includes a “Weekly Hints & Notes” section (see upper-right icon with the cookies):
This icon is linked to a Google Doc that allows me to easily address student issues, share excellent examples, drop quiz hints, and provide context for the week. In this sense, the assessment-feedback approach in my online class has looked something like this:
- Post assignment
- Read assignment responses
- Provide specific feedback via SpeedGrader
- Offer general feedback via Weekly Notes
- Post announcement reminding students to check the Weekly Notes
While there’s plenty of room for refinement and utilization of other technologies, what’s nice about this approach in general is how the weekly notes work for both on-ground and online sections. I can utilize the Weekly Notes to address common issues for all of my 100 courses and, in a sense, tie the sections together through common issues. Speaking of tying, to tie back to our text, I also like how this approach allows me find different ways to “respond a lot,” which Warnock recommends “in the beginning of the term especially” (123). Moreover, I was thrilled to hear Warnock address the significance of early responses: “So in week one, if you give students a message board icebreaker to introduce themselves (see Chapter 1), write back a lot. These bits of information place a sharper focus on you as an audience. After a series of responses, you will have given students a snapshot of yourself, and they will be better prepared for the writing ahead” (123-24). Though my relationship with Warnock wasn’t made official until after the start of the semester, we seemed to be kindred spirits with with regard to this aspect. During the first week of class, I began with an icebreaker introduction assignment and spent significant time responding to student introductions by sharing connections and asking questions, all of which has resulted in a dialogue that continues to this day.
Where I Might Be Headed – Given all that Canvas and LTI tools like Turnitin offer, I’m well aware that I’m barely scratching the surface when it comes to assessment tools and feedback approaches. There’s no question I’m primarily relying on written feedback, for instance, to respond to work. Guilty as charged! In the coming weeks, however, I look forward to playing with some of SpeedGrader’s media features and responding to final drafts via Turnitin.
One possibility I’m particularly excited to play with for my second unit came not from Warnock or my Letters colleagues, but from a place a bit closer to home: my brother, Dean, who teaches English at the high school level. Essentially, to assess revisions, he had his students record themselves reading parts of their drafts. Because he doesn’t have access to an LMS like Canvas, he used Padlet and YouTube for the assignment. In his guidelines, he included a few key suggestions: “Before uploading your video, watch it. Don’t like how it sounds? See an opportunity to be clearer? A transition needed somewhere? Fix your essay, and read it again. Your recorded essay should be relatively smooth sounding. It should flow from idea to idea. Work out the kinks before publishing your video.” Here’s how it turned out:
Before I even had a chance to view the Padlet page with the vids, I immediately recognized the value in this kind of formative assessment technique. That is, I recognized how he had found a relatively simple and covert way to get his students to slow down, rethink their ideas, and revise their work. In other words, he was designing effectively based on his audience. He could have said something like this: “Seriously, guys, you need to slow down and reread your work and really ask yourself if these are the best possible words.” Instead, he tapped into the zeitgeist, the essence of specific cultural practices for many of today’s millennials–taking selfies, recording Instagram videos, sharing content on social media–and married it to formal writing. As the reflective comments indicate, many students found the approach challenging yet useful:
- “Although I felt uncomfortable recording the video, I believed that it really did help.”
- “My experience from the video recording was frustrating because there were many distractions. I did watch the video after [I] recorded it to be sure it was clear. I probably recorded my video about 10 times. I feel that recording did help because I caught minor mistakes that needed to be fixed.”
There’s much to say about details like “uncomfortable” and “distracting” and recording a video “10 times,” but I think it’s okay to save those thoughts for a later date. Many students, as we know, have no problem submitting an unbelievably rough draft on which they’ve spent little time. But tie that same draft to social media and suddenly, it seems, students slow down. Now, it’s not just words on a page being shared. Now, it’s words plus them. It’s this “plus them” factor–the innovative tethering of the writer to the work, the packaging of the author with the product–that has great potential. It’s somewhat akin to how I feel about delivering content as a newer online instructor: If I have to post a PP lesson on active vs. passive voice, for instance, no problem. Bring it on! But if I have to turn the same PP into a Screencast-O-Matic lesson that includes my clearly weary, unshaven face in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, creating and ultimately sharing the lesson takes on a whole new significance. The additional visual element leaves me feeling not so unlike many of many of my brother’s students: uncomfortable and frustrated, yet also more aware and hopefully clearer.
As I consider what’s ahead in my classes, I’m excited about playing with this approach, especially because the media option in Canvas makes it relatively simple for students to generate audio/video content. Soon, my students will be working on the first part of their second essay–a one-page mini argument, in the form of a letter, that’s intended for a specific audience. The brevity of this first part, I think, really lends itself to my brother’s approach. In addition to posting written drafts, students could also post video or audio versions of their essays. Will this new element yield similar results? Will my students find it useful and meaningful? Tediously painful? Bittersweet?
I’ll keep you posted.