Crafting a Dream Class
Kellen

Hey gang,

I’m gonna think about my dream OWcourse, which is currently just a translation of my current f2f one. My course examines popular and scholarly essays about children’s literature, toys, cartoons, and games to teach students how to critically analyze cultural artifacts using class readings and their own experiences. My thinking is to take seemingly transparent or superficial objects and dive deeply into them, empowering students to repeat this process on their own. As I think about this course in an online format, I envision four guiding principles: be redundant, be collaborative, be intersectional, and be responsive.

  • Be Redundant: I want to bombard students with the syllabus, while also structuring the class through reiterative, weekly assignments that build into essays (I also talk about it here). Taking a cue from many of my esteemed peers, I want to send out a weekly schedule on Sunday morning that would provide a list of what to read, what to do, and when to do it. When students access the Canvas site, they will be shown the same information (which they’ll also find on their syllabus, in the “To Do” column, and in the calendar). Each week, students will be asked to write short response papers to that week’s reading and to comment on two of their peers. These short writing assignments will help students brainstorm potential ideas for their essays, while also enabling me to intervene at multiple points to help them with their writing.
  • Be Collaborative: One project will require students to work in groups to create a website (like a WordPress of maybe a Wiki), and I want to use Canvas and Zoom to help students work asynchronously and synchronously to think through collaborative writing and work habits. I want students to explore the possibilities (and limitations) of collaborative, multimodal projects such as designing class-curated webpages, wikis, course blogs, and other forms of “public writing” that require students to think about and write for a wide range of audiences. Moreover, I want to encourage students to work together to improve their own writing through intensive, recursive peer review. To tie back to point (1), I want collaboration to become a redundant part of my class.
  • Be Intersectional: This principle applies more immediately to me in my course design. As Dr. Woods encourages, my courses need to be explicitly and critically conscious of representation in order to ensure that my students are being exposed to a variety of viewpoints, particularly from marginalized populations. This begins at the bottom with course readings and examples that guarantee that I incorporate positive, empowering representations of different groups. Moreover, that I turn these selections into moments to dwell on intersectionality and to use our own lived experiences as lenses through which to interpret cultural objects (like this one that I just bought to teach next semester).
  • Be Responsive: Finally, I want to continue to explore the best practices of responding to my students. In addition to developing reiterative writing assignments, I want to establish grading practices that best reach students and help them to succeed. In my f2f course, I’ve started experimenting with Screencast-O-Matic and have received pretty positive reviews from students thus far. My feedback on their most recent essays was more in-depth and personalized, and, while I feel weird that I have little written trace of it, I think this approach has benefited students. On more accurately, I’ll see if it benefits students when they turn in their final two essays. But if not, back to the drawing board! In short, I want to find ways that reach students and ensure that they aren’t being left behind.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/americanhorrorstory/images/0/09/8x03_Cordelia_Goode_Vitalum_Vitalis.gif/revision/latest?cb=20181002015522

In the end, these online platforms have really expanded how we can teach writing and reading at the college level, and I’m excited to continue exploring the possibilities next semester!

For the sake of redundancy… Also because literally almost everything I’m currently watching is about witches. I should just make my class about witches. haha

Be Intersectional
Kellen

To start, Dr. Woods outlined five pillars that must absolutely structure our course design and interactions with students. I feel pretty confident in floating the hypothesis that none of disagree that we need to be intrusive, relational, relevant, community centric, and race conscious. However, after watching the video and reading the “NCTE Principles for Online Writing Instruction,” I feel like a sixth pillar is needed: be intersectional. As feminists, queer theorists, and Black studies scholars have stated, “intersectionality” refers to the idea that we need to attend to the multiple, intersectioning dimensions of a person’s identity (i.e. gender, class, race, sexuality, religious identity, ethnicity, etc.). As this post unfolds, I’m gonna use just a few of Dr. Woods’s pillars to imagine strategies that push us to be intersectional—at least I hope.

Be Relevant:

When discussing course texts, Woods implores us to make them inclusive of students of color. Every syllabus needs to have Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous writers that are integrated throughout the course rather than segregated to specific sections. This is, of course, a substantive issue that we must to tackle in the early stages of conceiving our OWCourse. However, I think there are some important day-to-day ways that I will take to ensure that I remain culturally relevant.

  1. Proactively Countering Deficit Messages: As Woods suggests, we need to actively push against negative stereotypes that our students encounter. However, as we do this, I need to be sure to think about how these messages differ according to race, class, gender, sexuality, immigration status, age, ability, etc. As we select course texts and images, we must think about the broad range of student identities. Can our course be truly relevant if there are no texts by ciswomen? What if there are no texts by queer authors? What about writers from the working class? If we have gaps in our syllabus, how do we turn these into teachable moments?
  2. Proactively Developing Writing Methods: I think we need to develop assignments and strategies that encourage students to think critically about Standard American English (SAE) AND NON-Standard forms of American English. As we include pieces of writing from various backgrounds, we notice that the grammar, syntax, mechanics, organization, and evidence can change in small and large ways (Borderlands/La Frontera, for example). As we incorporate more perspectives, we need to develop strategies for making our modes of evaluation relevant and responsive while still preparing students to write SAE. What might assignments that critically analyze alternative grammatical forms look like? How might we develop alternative rubrics for various styles of English? What do those look like? How could we get students involved in that process to teach them about the variety and values of English comp?

 

Be Community Centric:

Woods suggests a few strategies for developing a sense of community in our online courses. These range from making introduction forums to sharing reflection essays/videos. Are there ways that we can make these practices self-reflexively intersectional? When thinking about potential answers to this, I recalled an idea proposed by a friend who studies digital media (and something that reminds me very much of Karla’s fantastic post from two weeks ago):

  1. Introductory Tumblrs (or Instagram) Mirror Assignments: To start the class, I will ask all my students to create and curate a Tumblr page that will give the entire class an idea of who they are. They will need to choose a theme. They will need to find and share images that they like or think are interesting. With these images, they will need to write captions that explain why they chose what they chose and create hash-tags to link them to other conversations. I’ll probably get into some pretty heavy restrictions too (ya know, be respectful/appropriate kinda stuff). But I hope this project can teach students about how we carefully and consciously craft digital personalities that respond to various parts of our identity, even when we might just think that we are sharing a meme. I hope this kind of assignment would be a low-stakes and playful way to introduce mirror assignments—assignments where students are asked to reflect critically on their own self.

 

Be Race Conscious:

Representation matters. Woods rightly implores us to embrace race discourse (Black minds matter) and to address microaggressions seriously and immediately. Additionally, we need to ensure that our stock images are racially sensitive and diverse. 100% agree. I think we need to go even farther though to be not only race conscious but gender conscious, sexuality conscious, class conscious and then think about how these different identities link up in an online format.

  1. Monitoring Microaggressions Online: How do we most monitor for microaggressions related to race and to gender? In my f2f course, I have been conscious of making sure that my women students and students of color get to speak in class, that they are not interrupted, and that their perspectives are heard. I challenge myself to ensure that I have gender parity in my course readings and am working to have better racial representation as well. While I’m pretty attentive to gender dynamics IRL, I have to wonder how these might manifest in online formats. Are these issues that are diminished or exacerbated by an online format? How do we ensure that students engage equally with posts by women? How do we ensure that our diction does not cross the line into hostility? How do we ensure that we don’t erase students who do not subscribe to the gender binary? How do we ensure that we don’t erase trans students without forcing them to out themselves?
  2. Analyze EVERYTHING: When selecting “stock” images for our course, I think we might consider how to turn every image into a teachable moment. I’ve been trying to put this into practice more and more in my class as students become increasingly comfortable calling out the gaps in cultural representation. This has been an expected problem this unit, which focuses on children’s toy advertisement (which are disproportionately feature white kids). Because of that, I’ve been working on developing ways of turning gaps into productive moments of teaching that I think lend themselves to online formats!
    1. Follow up example: In my comp class, we talk about race and Barbie (a lot). We discuss the traditional gendered, classed, and racial dimensions of Barbie and how they erase particular groups of people. In particular, we think about the exclusion or Black dolls. However, this semester, students also began pushing on the absence of Asian, Latina, and Native American dolls. In migrating this course, I feel like this assignment could lend itself to having students think about the intersection of race and gender. Students would find an example of a doll and discuss how its representations of femininity are influenced by race (or vice versa). Students will write up their responses and share them with the class to see the variability in answers (especially if they do Ken dolls). By doing assignments like this, I hope to teach students to identify gaps and absence and to think about what those gaps might signify.

 

 

Be Intersectional.

            I feel like I’m rambling so I’m gonna wind down. In the end, intersectionality, taking a kaleidoscopic inventory of a student, is an unacknowledged sixth pillar that must necessarily inform our approach to online course design.

Blurring the Line between Group Work and Group Projects
Kellen

We must see group work as a component of a group project. The two are not necessarily distinct or different in my mind. Effective group work grows into a group project. In Janette Larson’s video, she distinguishes between group work and group projects in a helpful way, but one that I think I’m gonna push against ever so slightly. Whereas group work consists of low-stakes assignments that can be done quickly and in class, group projects are high-stakes assignments that require outside meetings and work. In my own classroom, this is largely how I have treated them up to this point, but, in OWcourses, I want to begin scaffolding major group projects through group work that adds pebbles to the bucket across the semester. Group work-projects, if you will. To help you imagine this, I want to brainstorm you through this collaborative work-project that I’ve been chomping at the bit to do: the Canonizing Climate Fiction working site.

The assignment is a semester long project that results in a class-curated website on climate fiction, or literature about climate change. This course website will do three things (which correspond to three/four assignments). I want it to be populated with critical blogs and essays written by students about the novels, poems, short stories, and films that we analyze in class. I want it to act like a Wikipedia on climate fiction. I want it to have multimodal presentations that introduce readers to critical issues/keywords in climate fiction in an entertaining and educational way. I currently envision each one of these components as an assignment or series of assignments that students will perform throughout the semester both independently and collaboratively.

To start, I need to cultivate student buy-in. That’s where the website fits in, at least in my mind. Rather than having an assignment that is written for me and read by me, I want to develop assignments that students recognize will be read by others, strangers, potential employers, future friends, longstanding enemies, and perhaps other scholars in the field. While these seem like high stakes, I want to make it feel more doable through lower stake assignments.

Critical blogs would be my first step. These feel like the most natural assignment to migrate first, considering so many instructors already do them online. In the first few weeks, I want students generating and responding to content a lot. Similar to what we are doing here, I will ask them to respond to an open-ended prompt and then ask them to respond to a set number of people. These will be short: 1-2 pages. Furthermore, I will help students to recognize that these are the beginnings of their critical essays. Therefore, I can use this as a way to get students to start writing early and to set them on the path for revising later.

Transforming these blogs into critical essays would be my next turn. In order to do this, I will divide the class into working groups based on their interest. These groups will be in charge of identifying and generating content for the website by working together to revise blog posts into more formal essays that they are used to writing/reading. I want this to be done via groups because I want students to collaborate to decide what blog posts are most successful. Rather than having me act as an editor, I want every student in the class to assume that role to some degree. Additionally, I see this as a reiterative assignment. That is, students will be asked to send their essay through multiple rounds of revision with multiple people in their group at different stages. I want to really use this as a time to highlight the repetitive process of good revision, and I really want students to have time to develop something that they are really proud of, especially since it will be publicly available (with exceptions).

While working on this, I’ll also assign these groups various texts for which they will be in charge of creating Wikipedia pages. Students will either work in partners (or in triplets) on a single author or text. I will ask that they to essentially reproduce a Wikipedia page about their subject in form and content. I will task them with deciding what kind of information is most critical and how they want to organize it. At the same time, I’ll assign another two groups the job of peer reviewing their Wiki post. Much like Wikipedia, all students in the class will act as experts and will be in charge of correcting and refining their peers’ ideas.

Finally, I want all of these different elements to converge with a multimodal presentation in which the different groups work together to combine their thoughts into a coherent project with a clear thesis and strong, well-analyzed support that is visually/aurally interesting. For example, if one of the groups is organized around “Race and Colonialism,” then they might discuss how a novel, a poem, and a film work together to explore how narratives of climate change can illuminate the sovereignty of indigenous communities in the United States. For here, students can combine their own ideas from their blog posts, their essays, and their Wikipedia posts into a project with even bigger stakes—projects that they would be incapable of doing independently within the same constraints. Importantly here, I would also want to introduce them to new publishing formats such as StoryMapJS or TimelineJS that can give them new ways of thinking about the assignment/their argument/organization/publication.

When it comes to collaborative assignments, I think Janette hits the nail on the head. Without student buy-in and clear expectations, it won’t meet your own goals. Through these scaffolded assignments, I hope to teach students about the process of crafting, drafting, and publishing information in ways that can prepare them for future classes/careers. Additionally, I hope that these kinds of group work-projects can introduce students to collaboration in non-threatening ways. Most of these can be done independently to some degree, but to full completion. In this way, I also hope to show students that working fully independently is a myth. Good writing rarely happens in isolation, and I hope is work-project assignments can begin transforming how students think about composition more broadly.

I’d actually love to hear people’s thoughts on this. I’m not gonna lie. This is a massive project. I actually kinda see it as an on-going project that last for multiple years and multiple semesters. In this way, I hope that students can recognize how collaborative work is not limited to their current semester. Rather, they are still in collaboration with students from the past and with the students who will take this class and revise upon their work.

Sorry that got long… 🙂

Testing the Waters: A Playful Approach to Writing Response Tools
Kellen

Sometimes I write too many notes on a student’s paper when I grade them electronically. It’s sad, but true. I own it. I’ve been trying to pull back, telling myself “Kellen! Don’t overwhelm them! Be judicious, but, for everyone’s sake, be pithy, mate!” That’s why I’m excited to test out some of the tools Scott Warnock glosses to see if I can give more detailed feedback in a way that is more consumable for students. Namely, I wanna try these three in particular: macros (cuz they seem easy, right?), rubric software (cuz I love me a rubric), and Camtasia (cuz wouldn’t it be nice if I could just say things?). Oh! I’m also gonna totally just add a quick something about peer review stuff at the end.

I can totally get on board with Warnock’s assertion that all writing in an OWcourse is an opportunity for improvement—an opportunity for you to respond to a student in real time without the looming pressure of a grade. However, I am equally wary of burning out—of providing really stellar feedback to the first few papers before becoming increasingly fatigued until I just quit in frustration and watch Netflix. Of course, according to Warnock, I could just create what are called ‘macros’ to input common comments using ordinary keyboard shortcuts. Stunning! I love shortcuts. But, I’m not gonna lie. I tried for a solid 30 minutes without figuring it out. So, if anyone knows how and wants to walk me through it, I’d be so appreciative!!

After failing to master macros, I moved on to playing with the rubric software that Warnock briefly discusses. Unlike the macros, these felt much more intuitive and not terribly different than the rubrics I make on Word. Well, at least RubiStar because that was the only one I could easily access. It’s free, which is something I love. That said, it looks like Rubrix looks to be a viable, perhaps sleeker version of it that is more responsive to the most recent technologies. However, it costs money so I wasn’t able to actually do more than watch an informational video that is fully of a lot of fun cartoons that will tell you about how great rubrics are (5 Stars: would watch again!). Either way, I think these both provide really exciting possibilities for providing visually organized ways of expressing expectations without overwhelming the student (or yourself) with comments. I literally just passed out rubrics this week, so I may try to implement one of these and pilot it with my students this semester to see how they respond to it.

Finally, I am most excited to try Camtasia. I didn’t actually get a chance to explore it yet, but I hopefully will soon. A representative from the writing center came to my class Thursday and told me more about how they use it for students and have seen good results from it. In terms of an OWcourse, I think this is an especially great tool to cultivate an online persona. This can be particularly important for rough draft stages. Being able to create a file that students can consistently refer back to in order to hear your feedback in real time (…well in simulated real time…) sounds incredibly productive to me.

Getting to speak directly to your students in this way can help establish a more comfortable environment in which to receive feedback. I try really really hard in my comments to make sure I sound upbeat and positive, which can lead to a lot of extra words. By being able to just vocalize these feelings, I can save myself time while still be encouraging. Most importantly, I can customize my feedback for every single student, which feels completely less viable in other formats. Maybe this could even be a way of addressing an issue that Megen raises about potentially feeling like a “brick in a wall” in her post. Through this tool, you can start talking to students through their writing in a personal way from brainstorming to outlining to drafting to revising. By making these videos really personal and attentive to the nuances of each students writing, we might be able to recreate some of that student-teacher interaction found in f2f classes.

To conclude, I wanna talk about peer review software. I’m a firm believer that teaching our students how to be effective peer reviewers will make them stronger writers. I try to incorporate peer review workshops into my f2f courses pretty regularly. Learning how to identify issues in other people’s writing can help us recognize those same problems in our own. However, while Warnock offers tons of great examples for how to recreate peer review in virtual spaces—wikis, blogs, Waypoint, etc. The idea of creating small working groups that would be organized via Canvas sounds the easiest to produce, so I’m going to try to pilot it this semester for their last essay (when they’ve hopefully had ample in-class practice with peer review). I’ll be sure to report results!

In the end, these tools sound like really great ways of improving our ability to respond to students while also saving ourselves some time. Without a doubt, there is an air of utopianism attached to some of these tools that I’m sure I’ll be disabused of when I start implementing them more fully. In that interim, I’m going to start trying to incorporate some of these elements this semester in my f2f classes to test how their limitations and affordances.