Behind the Scenes of Online Teaching
S. Gutiérrez


It’s That Time . . .

As a class this semester, we explored various topics including tools for online teaching, the gamification of online classes, the migration process and modalities, best practices for discussion forums and grading, and even shared lens perspective assignments and approaches to keeping students engaged and learning/reading in the online setting. English Professors, John Warnock, curry mitchell, Jim Sullivan, and Tony Burman, facilitated these discussions, laying the groundwork for future online teaching. After completing this Spring 2016 sequence, I am inspired us to explore synchronous activities and, perhaps, to resuscitate my online avatar (I used a couple years when I was teaching online introductory composition). Most importantly, I discovered I did not have to comment on ALL my students posts and replies. (I am still feeling nervous about the latter one.)

What follow are my reflections this semester:

“Online Teaching? I Felt Like Jumping Out of a One-story Building” (Unit 1: A Framework for Teaching Online)

“The Locura or the Simplicity of Online Teaching” (Unit 2: Exploring Technology

“So You Do Not Understand the Directions . . . Hmm” (Unit 3: Developing Content)

“There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Feedback!” (Unit 4: Teaching the Writing Process Online)

“Do Online Students Learn? READ? WRITE? YEP!” (Unit 5: Reading and Discussion)

Not bad for a digital immigrant! 😉

Do Online Students Learn? READ? WRITE? Yep!
S. Gutiérrez

Scott Warnock’s chapters, “Readings: Lots of Online Options, But the Book Is Not Dead!” and “Conversation: Online, Course ‘Talk’ Can Become Writing,” present approaches that produce positive results (and pitfalls) in online teaching.

This week’s material has allowed me to reflect on the issue I was attempting to grapple two weeks ago: Am I providing too much feedback? Again, the answer that online professors suggest is that too much feedback can muffle students’ voices, and it makes sense. If a student always gets too much criticism (feedback), then why would he or she want to write a response?  Hmm Shockingly, Gilly Salmon’s commenting guidelines are the following: “enough, but not to much, intervention” (qtd. in Warnock 76). Warnock then adds commenting “should be not more than one in four messages from you” (76). I do recognize now that I need to back off a bit since I assumed, prior to reading Warnock, that responding to all my students was part of the online teaching methodology.

I was surprised to learn Warnock provides extra credit to diligent and active members of conversations (81). I found that practice a bit troubling.

Shoudn’t all online students be treated equally? What message is being sent to students who do not meet Professor Warnock’s expectations?

On How to Produce Well-Crafted Responses

Warnock’s approach to grading in Teaching Writing Online will be morphing into my rubrics and prompts. I noticed the nonconducive pattern the author refers to occurred this last week in my online class. Warnock provides the following solution to avoid copycat posts: “My rules include posts should contribute to the overall conversation. If I post and opening prompt that asks a question, and seven students simply respond to it in similar fashion, by student seven I am giving 8s, even on otherwise good posts. This is one way students are building on the conversation” (88). My guidelines state that students must present at least five sentences (Recent change). From now on, I will specify “critical” sentences that do not simply repeat their classmates’ comments. I will consider a word count since “Me too!!!”  (qut. in Warnock 80), of course, “does not qualify as an ‘official’ post” (80). And surprisingly, students do write these responses under time constraints. For instance, this this past we concluded Whole-class Workshops in my online class. A student wrote three sentences, and one of them was “Great work!” Sigh. (FYI: I overlapped the research paper due date with the last Whole-class Workshop. I will do my best not to replicate that issue.)

No-no in Online Teaching

My goal as an online instructor is for every activity to prepare students for their essays. I might even be crafting assignments that are to closely related to the class’s essay prompt. Because I want students to succeed, I include several application paragraphs for their last essay, since in my eyes, the material can be difficult to grasp. However, Warnock critiques this approach by warning, “If all posts are extended essays in response to my prompts, the message becomes a series of disconnected essays responding to the instructor’s questions than a conversation (82). I will revisit my online discussion forums and will see if my prompts need revisiting since I present rather complex prompts compared to Warnock’s message board one-sentence questions/prompts (86). To be honest, from a critical student’s perspective, I would expect a professor to write more than one sentence (As a student writer, I observed and appreciated my professors’ rhetorical approaches). As a college student, I never took online classes prior to teaching online, so unfortunately I do not know what most online English prompts look like.

Contemplating Synchronous Activities

Another topic Warnock shares in chapter 7 and 8 is an introduction to synchronous approaches even though he prefers asynchronous message boards, which I rely on in the online setting. In the next few weeks, before the start of my summer online class, I will be contemplating at least one synchronous activity I can repeat throughout the semester.

Lens Perspective Writing

For my online critical thinking and writing class for Mt. San Jacinto College, I have to teach five essays. For Essay #5, I present two prompts—one for students who are interested in analyzing a film and the other for students who are interested in writing about two texts. For Option I, students will apply WEB Du Bois’s the double consciousness/the veil to Jennifer Baszile’s The Black Girls Next Door. What follows is Option II lens perspective assignment:

NOTE: I will be returning to film in my f2f classes; that is why I selected this assignment.

Films through a Lens Perspective Discussion Board Forum in Preparation for Essay #4

For this activity, using Seger, Hagedorn, Omi, and/or St. John’s as a critical framework, analyze the representation of a specific character in a film of your choice. Be sure to include detailed observations and an intellectual analysis. That is, based on Seger, Hagedorn, Omi and/or St. John’s lens perspective, how does the director depict the character? What is the director’s purpose? How does the director’s representation of the character affect the viewer? Add a screenshot of a scene that includes the character you selected, so your classmates can follow your keen observations. Post your semiotic analysis by Saturday, April 28, 2018, at 10:30 PM, and reply to two of your fellow classmates’ posts by Sunday, April 29, 2018, at 10:30 PM. (10%)

Length: One paragraph (AXES)

Check-Off List:

  • Does your assertion include the name of the film and your argument?
  • Have you presented a vivid description of the character to support your claim?
  • Did you include a lens perspective?
  • Have you provided your rationale?
  • Does the paragraph follow a logical spatial order using prepositional phrases and/or transitions?
  • Have you carefully proofread your work, including spelling?
  • Does your bring the paragraph to a satisfactory close?

Writer’s Tips:

NOTE: Summary is not critical thinking.

        Discussion Forum Post Rubric

Full credit

Presents a limited topic, a lens perspective, well organized central supported idea, an abundance of telling details, apt word choice, sophisticated sentence structure, and mastery of grammar and usage conventions of standard English.



Two replies made prior to the due date. Both replies demonstrate thoughtful feedback.


Partial credit 

Presents a limited topic, a lens perspective, some organization and inadequate development, a general word choice, and some distracting errors in grammar and usage.


Two replies are made prior to the due date that reflect little to no effort to provide thoughtful feedback.


Not passing

Missing an argument and a lens perspective, a lack of organization,  inadequate development, a vocabulary that is too general, sentences without much subordination or parallelism, and serious errors in grammar and usage.


0 points

No replies are posted.



There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Feedback!
S. Gutiérrez

In Warnock’s “CHAPTER 4: TEACHING THE OWI COURSE,” he presents a critical comment that I needed to read as I continue to teach online classes. Warnock quotes  CCCC OWI Committee Expert/Stakeholder, Rich Rice: “‘A best practice would also be realizing as an instructor you do not have to read every single post or grade every single thing to be effective.'” As an online English professor, I comment on all my students’ work, and I cannot seem to restrain from doing so.

Hmm What to do? HELP!

Christopher Syrnyk, in “Is There a Person in This Text? Synchronous Online Writing Instruction and Personhood as a Collaborative Gesture,” he presents an excerpt that presents an example of a chat exchange with UW-Madison’s Online Writing Center TA, Timothy Johnson. What I found surprising is that Syrnyk does not capitalize the beginning of sentences and even includes fragments. If I am horrified at Syrnyk’s chatting, I clearly take writing too seriously.

Hmm What to do? HELP!

To watch a silly video I produced at the wee hours of the night, follow the link.  

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.

The Locura or the Simplicity of Online Teaching?
S. Gutiérrez

As I read Warnock’s “Tech Tools and Strategies: Use Only What You Need,” I realized how insane it was to jump into teaching online while being a digital immigrant.

Seriously, who does that? 

I did.

Warnock chapter makes it seem as if teaching online can be “easy” not the nightmare that I experienced using Blackboard. If technology is not a professor’s first language, of course, he or she will feel like jumping out of a one-story building. Such was my case.

Using several LMS, including Blackboard, Canvas, and Cougar Courses, has allowed me to see that teaching online can be simple as Warnock describes in his table that assesses an online class’s use of technology: Pedagogical Need, Technology for That Purpose, Availability, and Training? Your Learning Curve (20-21).

Several years ago if I had read Warnock’s suggestion “use only what you need” (19) teaching online would have been less intimidating.


From using Blackboard, I learned that it is important for a company to continue to improve its product. The Blackboard team, unfortunately, did not fulfill that demand. Although I am grateful Blackboard was the LMS that I allowed me to experiment with OWcourses. I’m glad I no longer have to use Blackboard. Adios Blackboard—never again.

To begin, Blackboard had awkward glitches. At times, I was unable to delete spaces. Spaces. Other times I could not change a font. A font. I would was waste 30 to 50 minutes fixing a silly little error. Locura.

However, what I do miss from Blackboard is the ability to compile journal entries. I want the online experience to be the same for my online students as it is for my f2f students. In my f2f classes, my students compile their journal entries in a Green Book, where they can witness their growth as critical thinkers and writers.

I also miss the Blackboard Wikis tool. Students could all work on a single document and edit their work and all the information would stay within Blackboard. Canvas did away with Wikis, unfortunately.  (I will continue to explore Canvas.)


I was going to give up online teaching, but luckily for me Mt. San Jacinto College transitioned to Canvas. The new LMS allowed me to be patient with technology. The awkward Blackboard glitches went away! (Remember I shared that I had two questions since the beginning of this spring semester. I revisited my 24-Hour Q&A Discussion Forum, and it was really one question. With Blackboard, I had quite a few questions  . . . .

Canvas has organized my course design and allowed to me easily access student work when I am inputting grades. (I used to open five windows or more to tally up students grades. I no longer have to waste my time doing that. When I access Canvas’s SpeedGrader, a student’s work shows up in one thread. Marvelous!) Canvas has simplified my life as an online professor.

I was happy to see that my online English class does meet the needs Warnock presents in his table with exception of “Create audiovisual materials for students” (I could use more) and “Facilitate group projects.” I used to have an avitar when I first started teaching online in order to avoid seeing videos of me. Awkward. About group projects, how would I approach group projects online? Help.

Cougar Courses

I used Cougar Courses to teach WMST 350: Chicana/Latina Feminism at CSUSM, and I just went with it. I figured it out on my own. Once you are familiar with one LMS, you simply look for a similar tool. The only issue I had with Cougar Courses was the Gradebook. The Gradebook. I talked to two math instructors about the issue; they told me it was too complicated and, therefore, did not use CSUSM’s gradebook. Ha!

It’s a locura to teach online if you are a digital immigrant. But it is rewarding and simple if similar to students if we professors “make sure that all participants have the necessary skill level with the communications tools” (qtd. in Warnock).

As I have matured in the online setting, what can I imagine or would like to see in an online class?

Online Prerequisite

I would require students to take a free one unit prerequisite course prior to taking an online class. Over the years, I observed that the students who dropped did not necessary lack the skills that an online class required. Instead, students lacked self-discipline. For this reason, I would require students to learn that they must be self-disciplined, self-motivated online students. If students could practice in an online one-unit class what it feels to work, do homework, and engage in an online class, perhaps, less students would drop.

A prerequisite component of the class would allow students to practice taking a quiz, submitting assignments including an essay, and participating in discussions, among other activities.

Online Teaching? I Felt Like Jumping Out of a One-story Building
S. Gutiérrez

Good evening colleagues,

It is a pleasure to finally join WritingwithMachines this semester.

When it comes to technology, I had always felt like a dinosaur. (My parents never allowed me to play PacMan or any other video game when I was a kiddo.) However, as an adult, I do my best to challenge myself and embrace technology because I consider myself a lifelong learner. A few years ago, I started teaching online introductory composition, using Blackboard, and I must confess it was a painful experience. (And I mean that—I felt like jumping out of a one-story building. Blackboard had so many glitches.) But lucky for me I survived.

Currently, the three campuses that I teach at, Palomar College, Mt. San Jacinto College, and MiraCosta College, have adopted Canvas. Teaching a fully online class for MSJC, using Canvas, has been a wonderful experience; students have an easier time navigating the LMS, and students ask less questions in my Q&A 24 Hour Forum. I have only had two questions since the start of the semester. Even though I do not feel knew to online teaching, after watching my colleagues, Jim Sullivan and curry mitchell’s navigation videos, I can see that I must continue to work on my course design since I realize it is missing the “cool” factor.

In Warnock’s “Chapter 1 Getting Started: Developing Your Online Personality,” I appreciated his ice breaker where he asks students about their debate topics without them necessarily sharing a standpoint (7). I will add Warnock’s idea to my Check-in Post next semester, so students start thinking about their research paper and continue the conversation throughout the semester.

What follow are four key principles I value in my online critical thinking and writing course I teach for MSJC.

Reciprocity and Cooperation among Students

In Teaching Writing Online, Scott Warnock shares what students write to test their professors and see if they are truly reading their work. “In extreme cases, students . . . test you by cutting and pasting from week to week, or by inserting nonsense in the midst of their posts,” writes Warnock. Because I value reciprocity and cooperation among students, it is critical that all students participate by replying since it is a Discussion Board Forum requirement. In my online class, every week/module requires at least two Discussion Board Forums. This week I added a Thesis Statement Workshop I do in my f2f classes since last semester I noticed that students need more practice crafting effective thesis statements. Students are expected to craft a working thesis statement and a present a revised thesis statement, based on all the feedback from their fellow classmates and myself.


As a student, I valued my English professors’ feedback that allowed me to grow as a writer, so I do my best to present quality feedback. As a professor, I present feedback that is timely, and my students can utilize to strengthen their writing. I am the type of professor that comments while students post their work. (At times, I believe I provide too much feedback. Am I overworking myself?) And after reading Warnock, I wonder what effect I have on my students. Am I the harsh critic Warnock references? I hope not. I also input grades immediately—or two to five days after students submit their work with the exception of essays. I usually return essays with a week and a half at the most.

Learning in Community

I was able to migrate Ian Barnard’s teaching methodology, Whole-class Workshops, to the online setting. I believe this is where students shine and value each other’s writing styles. At one point in the semester, students are expected to upload or copy and paste their essays into Canvas. All students are expected to provide constructive feedback for their peers. I remind my students that they should be able to produce A work if they revise, by utilizing their peers’ feedback and my commentary. By adopting Barnard’s Whole-class Workshops in an online community, students recognize their strengths and learn from each other’s rhetorical approaches.

Humanity in the Classroom

Once I started teaching online classes, I learned I needed to reach, metaphorically speaking, inside students, so I created Metacognitive Journal Entries. These journal entries require a thoughtful reflection about their fears, the writing process, study habits, among other topics. I find that students open-up and learn that I am a professor that truly cares about them and their writing.

What follows is a video I created for you-all.